Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Apple petals are scattered by the wind."

Of all the Japanese subcultures that I could be a fan of, I don't think I could get much odder looks than when I tell people I like enka. I could dress up as a maid or a doll, watch sumo or anime, listen to J-rock or J-pop (which I do, obviously) and they wouldn't blink an eye, but when I say I also listen to these melodramatic ballads everyone is taken aback. I think it's the old-fashioned feel of it - we in America aren't surprised that foreigners know our nowadays pop culture because it's easy to come across, especially with television and the Internet. But to discover long-ago folk songs one has to go searching, and why would you go searching for something you didn't already have an interest in? Which is an ongoing struggle I have with the Japanese mentality, because to me not knowing about something is exactly the right reason to search for it.

Lately, there are a few artists setting out to combat that "music for grandparents" image that has afflicted enka. I think I've mentioned the entertaining "Prince of Enka" Hikawa Kiyoshi. Then there's Jero, of course, whom I continue to have a huge amount of admiration for. Imagine my surprise when I turned on the TV the other day to find him doing a duet with someone as much of a revitalizing breath to the genre, and almost his equal in surprising talent. That little creature is Sakura Maya, and once I got over the shock of a ten-year-old singing lines like "You know, dear, I am unkind simply because I like you" (not to mention the man's part singing, "The you who speaks selfishly like a child is really cute") I looked for more of her performances. Of course I have to throttle my instinctive jealous loathing of anyone half my age having already done more with their lives - than I could, for that matter, in the next ten lifetimes.

Cute goes far in Japan. Cute can get you regularly on TV - as much I adore Ponyo's Ohashi Nozomi, I'll admit she doesn't have much in the way of singing talent - same for the Melon Pan Song singer, Yuppi. Maya-chan is in a whole new ballpark. She's on pitch, has dynamics, and knows all the mannerisms of performers who have been doing this for decades. Unfortunately she doesn't have a huge repertoire yet (but check out the sparkly mic!), but if as I predict she will be in the business for a while, we have time to hear more.


While on the subject, Miki Takashi, who wrote the music for Tsugaru Straits - Fuyu Geshiki that I talked about a while ago, died of cancer a couple of days ago. A tribute to him is on TV. So I felt like trying to translate the lyrics by Aku Yuu.

Ever since I got off the night train from Ueno,

It's been snowing at Aomori Station.

In a crowd of people returning to the north,

Everyone is silent.

All I can hear is the roar of the ocean.

I'm also alone, boarding the connecting ferry.

Staring at the gulls that seem frozen, I cried.

Ah, Tsugaru Straits - the winter scenery.


"Look, over there is the north tip of Cape Tappi,"

A stranger points their finger.

I wipe the window clouded by my breath to look,

But all I can see is the distant fog.


Goodbye, my dear. I'm going home.

The sound of the wind shakes my heart,

I can only cry,

Ah, Tsugaru Straits - the winter scenery.

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