Singing and Identity

Twenty years ago, when I lived in Kyoto for the first stint, I remember being stunned by Scottish bagpipers in Hankyu (or was it Takashimaya) Department store. Of course I was surprised to chance on them, but more profound was the impact of their (huge) sound on my heart. I'm not Scottish by the way, but they were from near enough to where they suddenly, screamingly, made me feel I belonged. Even now I often think of that musical encounter as a seminal moment in my sense of identity.

These days, having moved around a lot and now living in Kyoto for a second stint, I often ponder the idea of belonging to a geographical place, and I wonder if it is a not-good thing. I wonder if the idea of belonging somewhere smacks of refusal, rewinding, recoil from broadening horizons and fuels the narrow mindedness behind many social problems of our time. But certainly we are formed by what we grow from; by the sights and sounds on which we honed our senses and the frames up which we climbed. And since we carry those senses and frames of reference with us, wherever we are, we can freely revisit them in our minds and affirm our foundations.

There are some songs I feel I have always known, and when I sing them I find a thread that links my life together. When I hear, or even imagine, other people singing the same and different songs, I know that music connects us to eachother across space and time. Then I believe that, besides proving my own origin, path and continued existence, the act of singing witnesses an internal/eternal place that somehow we all belong to, wherever we come from.

Afterthoughts -
My Mum tells me that the first tune I could sing by myself was Blaydon Races, so I put some words from it as a footer to this blog page. Come to think of it, I have never actually learned the words - I just sing da da da, which may well be exactly how I did it as a baby.

My Granddad could play harmonica and piano, and he had an accordion (a Honer Double-Ray Black-dot which is currently in my parents' loft). Although he had 8 children, none of them played any instrument. But my Mum could pick out Annie Laurie on it, so when he was old he gave it to her. I never thought to ask her how Annie Laurie went - I wonder if she can still play it. Now I am doing singing workshops in Japan I find that the melody of Annie Laurie is well known here. So I have learned Annie Laurie recently, aged 44, in Japan.


Song related Japanese vocabulary

Source: Websters Online Dictionary et al

by kanji
(uta) : song
歌謡 (kayou) : song
演歌 (enka) : enka
歌詞 (kashi) : lyrics
歌手 (kashu) : singer (lit. song hand)
(kyoku) : tune/number
民謡 (minnyou) : old/trad folk song
by sound (incl. homophones)
ぞくよう (zokuyou) : ditty, folk song, popular song, wordly matters
ぞっきょく (zokkyoku): folk song
ぞっか (zokka) : ditty, folk song, popular song, popularization, secularization, vulgarization
かよう (kayou) : available, caring for the sick, comely face, floral leaf, in such a manner, like this, lotus leaf, lower leaves, solubilizing, soluble, song, taking care of oneself, to attend, to commute, to go back and forth, to ply between, Tuesday
りよう (riyou) : application, barbering, folk song, haircutting, hairdressing, popular song, use, utilization


Mine at Field 13 Dec.

This Saturday....
20:00~22:00 No charge! 投げ銭制 (Pass the Hat)
ゲスト:Felicity Greenland(song)


Dale Russ, Japan, Nov-Dec 2008

This from Shiori-chan at the Gael:
We are pleased to announce that the Seattle's Best fiddler, Dale Russ, is coming back to the pub. He is a fantastic fiddle player, played as a member of Suffering Gaels, Setanta, etc. His performance is well known in the U.S and across Japan. Splendid melodies he creates is completed temperament and also elegant and modesty, softly comes to your heart.
Dale's dates:
Nov 30 Brick-One, 5-15-7 Sendagi bunkyo, Tokyo. Solo concert and short lecture 2pm start, 3500 yen.
Dec 4, 5, and 12 The Gael, Shijo Kawabata agaru, Kyoto, 8:30 -11pm.
Dec 7 Gnome, Nijo Kawaramcahi sagaru, Kyoto 7:30 start.
Dec 13 Blue Monk, Hommachi.


Hanz Araki at Gael 24th Nov.

Portland flute player and singer Hanz Araki played his annual concert at Gael Gion on Monday. In this past year something velvet has happened to his flute playing and his voice, that gives more depth and lustre to every note.  He was joined by Kerry Novotny on guitar and backing vocals and Take Nagahama on bodhran, unobtrusive but distinctive, and to me this was the perfect trinity. 
Dancers, players, singers and friends of various nationalities traveled far to see him, for besides being a magical player and singer Hanz is a diamond of a guy. With his Japanese heritage, shakuhachi pedigree and modern American life Hanz epitomises the new world musician and in particular the links between Japan and American Irish music. I once saw him write on Facebook that he was 'still short', and in stature this is true, but in his heart and reach I would say he is actually a giant. 
Hanz is pictured (R) with guitarist/singer Finn MacGinty (L) and fiddler Dale Russ (C)

This from the Gael website....
11/24 Hanz Araki Special Live 2008
皆さんは映画『タイタニック』でのあの有名な船の下で行われたダンスパーティーのシーンをご存知ですか??  そのダンスシーンでのアイリッシュ音楽を指導されたハンズアラキさん。
尺八琴古流家元「伍世荒木古童」を父に持つアイリッシュフルーティストです。アイルランドと日本人の血を引く彼、ハンズアラキが奏でるアイルランド民族音楽を是非この機会にお楽しみ下さい!! ご予約はお早めに!!


Elgar in J-rap Seamo's "Continue" CD

Japanese rap artist Seamo's 10th 'single' Continue, released October 15th 2008, samples Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 (aka Land of Hope and Glory) on its title track. (In fact the 'sample' lasts the full length of the track.) Seamo's same track was previously used as the theme song to the Japanese TV drama "Yume wo Kanaeru Zou".
There are four tracks in all on the CD - track 2 乾布摩擦 uses traditional Japanese instruments. Tracks 3 and 4 are instrumental-only reprises of Tracks 1 and 2.
The promotional video of Continue, featuring Seamo as an Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit, among pantomime tin-soldiers and Victorian athletes, is vaguely (very vaguely) reminiscent of a video backdrop Jim Moray showed at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (2005?).
I am sorry I can't translate the lyrics yet, but it is roughly about being true to yourself, not giving up, and following your own path in life. The video makes it look as if it all refers to England, but the lyrics don't seem to at all.
If you are outside Japan and would like this CD, contact me and I'll send it to you - it will cost about seven UK pounds + p&p.
Seamo - Continue PV


Where have all the flowers gone 花はどこへ行った

Pete Seeger's Where Have All the Flowers Gone has been covered (in Japanese) by three Japanese bands:
Mr Children, Yellow Magic Orchestra, The Water of Life

International List of Covers
Wikipedia (J)
Mr Children YOUTUBE


Ethno - a second album from Mine

Launch gig Oct 25 at Uzura Gallery (Showa era Dental Surgery) details here.

Mine just released their new second album "Ethno".
The band members are Shimizu Shunsuke on flutes, Tsuyoshi Tatebe on wood bass, Genta Fukue (also of Butterdogs) on guitar and Kouji Tamura on fiddle. Guesting on two tracks each are Issaku Yamamoto on fiddle and Felicity Greenland (that's me) on bodhran and vocals.

Mine are usually called an Irish band, and indeed their first album, Minability, was based on Irish trad melodies. However, although they were clearly captivated by the contemporary recordings (such as Lunasa and Flook) they had learned from, at times they made you ponder what else might become of trad music without its cultural reference points.

Ethno takes a step towards answering that question. By the time Mine reach this second album, the 'Irish band' suffix denotes the music's ambience rather than provenance. With a wider range of influences, all original tunes, and two sets of songs from France and the Hebrides, this album is about as Irish as, well, as a Japanese man with an Irish flute. It does trace familiar rhythms and shapes - hints of an old air, glimpses of dancing, a sense of flight - and as a result it could certainly be said to seem Ir-ish, but now with Japanese harmony between the leads, vivid street guitar, a jazz sprite in the bass, it is all cast in a more varigated light. Their original influences are still clear, but they are less encumbered by them. That is how the songs are approached too: Bertaeyn is patches of two French songs tied by a common walking-maid motif - neither tale is complete but together they make a new story; Mouth Music (a three song set) has been learned through a Chinese-whispers chain of non-speakers of the original languages (Hebridean and Irish) - it may retain fragments of the original meaning but more likely it has taken on a life of its own.

Mine grew out of the Irish sessions in Kansai area, but I think they are only called an Irish band for want of a better word now. Their music is neither traditional nor Irish, yet it plays no small part in the warm reception, particular perception, and evolution of Irish music in Japan.


Sessions 'Abroad' - Bali

I asked an English friend in Bali about sessions there, and here's his reply. It was interesting for me to hear his news as, yes, here in Japan too, some of the stuff that goes down best would be considered hackneyed back home. This is what he said..
My brother has a pub here in Bali and every Tuesday we play British folk music. There were 4 of us playing but it has now dwindled to 2 as people have left the Island. Just when it got difficult we were approached by an Indonesian Band who play Irish music, they are very good considering. We booked them and they play Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, on Tuesdays they back us.
My brother plays melodeon I play guitar and sing. I have been digging out all the stuff I have been playing since the 60's, It has really made me work and while back in the UK much of what we play would be considered hackneyed it still goes down very well here. The pub is usually packed on a Tuesday.
Friends passing through from Australia often come and visit and play with us and we have the odd Irishman who knows a song or two.
Traditional music, in fact all folk arts, are very strong here in Bali. It is a fascinating to understand that because the Balinese
have a complete all-embracing traditional culture which is closely tied to their religion, their music, dance and traditional drama is alive and well and everyone takes part on a daily basis.

What's that pub, well it's the Cat and Fiddle http://catfiddle.com/
(To be continued)


Bernie Overton RIP ホイスルのオーバトンさん

バーニーオーバトンさん (Bernard Overton) が平成20年6月14日になくなりました。Sadly, Bernie Overton (1930-2008) passed away 14th June 2008 at his caravan in North Wales. He had been suffering with Parkinson's Disease for the last few years. The low D whistle was pioneered by Bernie (at the request of Finbar Furey) and his design is well respected in Japan.
Video - Japanese player Hatao on his Overton whistle
Overton Whistles


Sukiyaki Song 上を向いて歩こう

Ue o Muite Arukou (1961 Japan) aka "The Sukiyaki Song" (1963 US, UK) by Kyu Sakamoto (坂本 九) (1941-85) is possibly the best known Japanese 'pop' song in the UK or US. There are lots of versions on the web; here are a few basic links...
Sukiyaki Song info on Wikipedia
Sung by Kyu Sakamoto on YouTube
English translation of the Japanese lyrics.
English version sung by A Taste of Honey & their lyrics
Kenny Ball version with his Jazz Men
Guitar Chords on Chordie

More comments on the song, this time from Deep Kyoto : Most people are familiar with the "Sukiyaki Song" - I was surprised though when I first learned it had nothing to do with sukiyaki! It's proper title is "ue wo muite arukou" or "I look up as I walk" but British jazz player Kenny Hall figured "Sukiyaki" was an easier name to remember. Actually it's a sad song of lost love and loneliness... Just recently my girlfriend told me how the singer, Sakamoto Kyu, died in an air crash in 1985. It's a pretty moving story. Between the first sign of mechanical failure and the final crash, 32 minutes passed. Knowing it was the end, Sakamoto had enough time to write a farewell note to his wife - though the vibrations of the plane made his writing shaky. Of 524 people only four survived but the final messages of Sakamoto Kyu and other passengers were also recovered. I don't think I can ever listen to this song now without feeling a wee bit teary...


Gig at Field - Review

Leslie Denniston & Felicity Greenland at Irish Pub Field Kyoto 2008年4月24日木曜日、by うみさん
Felicity greenland/Vocal、Guitar、Bodhran
Leslie Denniston/Vocal、Bodhran

Paddy & Bridget

Paddy & Bridget: Two Japanese players, Isao and Masako Moriyasu, known as Paddy and Bridget, are well known at Willie Clancy week in Miltown Malbay and wrote a super book in Japanese (lots of photos and some English titles so you can see how thorough it is) about their experiences of 'people, drink, and music' in Ireland ISBN 448793149 published by Tokyo-Shoseki. They also have two CDs Paddy and Bridget and Their Great Friends.
Paddy & Bridget will give a lecture at Women's College of Liberal Arts 4th June 2008

Paddy & Bridget Lecture/Concert

Mr & Mrs Moriyasu (aka Paddy & Bridget) are to give a lecture on their Irish music experiences and a performance (they play flute and concertina respectively) with Irish harp/concertina player Grainne Hambly:

Wednesday, 4th of June 2008. 15:30 to 17:30
Shoukei-kan Hall, Music Department Building, Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts, Kyotanabe Campus.

The event is open to the public.
More details when I have them or pls watch out for it on the Doshisha website.
Paddy & Bridget are mentioned in this blog here.


Twa Corbies 二匹のからす

Audiofile (Recording: London 1995 with Rory Campbell)

1. 一人で歩きながら / 二匹のからすのカーカーを聞て、
一匹はもう一匹に / 今日はどこへ食べに行こうかと言うた。
2. あちの土壁の向こうに / 殺されたばっかりのナイト爵がいって、
だれも知らず… / タカとイヌと奥さん
3. タカは狩猟して行ったり / イヌは捕らえた野生鳥を持って帰ったり
4. あなたが彼の白い首の骨に座って / 私は彼のきれいな青い目をつつく。
金髪の毛で /
5. 彼のためにうなり声でも / どこに行ったか知らず
白くてはげた骨に /
Japanese translation by Felicity Greenland (draft)

Morris Dance モリッス踊

John Hegley morris dance photo compilation in the Guardian (click title above)
今日のGuardian新聞のモリッス踊写真コンピレーションビデオ:上のタイトルをクリックして下さい。モリッス踊はイギリスの伝統的な踊で、このビデオで色々な種類の写真を見えます。ナレーターはパホーマンス詩人のジョンヘグリーさん(John Hegley)です。
I have heard that there were Morris sides in Kobe and Kyoto in the not too distant past (1970s and 80s).


Mouth Music/Twa Corbies 口音楽/からす二匹

Two songs with Rory Campbell in London (1995)
二つのスコットランドの歌 (ロンドン1995)
Learned from "Broken Hearted I'll Wander" by Dolores Keane and John Faulkner

TWA CORBIES ー からすの二匹

Learned from Les Denniston.
Japanese translation 日本語


Kawa no Nagare no You ni 川の流れのように

This remarkable song was composed by Akira Mitake, with lyrics by Yasushi Akimoto. Originally sung by Misora Hibari, it was released on Japan's Columbia Music label on January 11 1989. She died in June of the same year. Eight years after its release, it was voted number one in an NHK poll of the best Japanese songs of all time.
Misora Hibari 美空ひばりoriginal singer
A few interesting covers
Los Panchos (Mexico)
12 Girls Band (Shanghai) 女子十二楽坊
Mariachi Vargas
Placido Domingo
Angklung (West Javan instrument)
Gentra Seba (on Angklung, W. Java?)
KMS and MMS middle school orchestras (Japan)
Fuga Akira (electric jazz guitar, Japan)

Partial English translation (adapted from Taiwanensis on Youtube)
Unknowingly, I have walked here
This long and narrow road.
Looking back, far away
I can see my hometown
On the uneven and winding road
There is no map to follow.
And so life goes on.

Like a river flowing leisurely,
Time passes through the ages
Like a river flowing endlessly,
The sky is reddened by the setting sun....

See also the 'Enka' post

Smoke on the Water

Here is the Kabuki-za Orchestra with part of the Suntory Hall Orchestra, playing Ooedo No Hikeshi (大江戸の火消し) (The Great Fire of Edo) based on Smoke on The Water.
The piece commemorates the 250th anniversary of the 1657 Great Fire of Tokyo (then called Edo), which was reputedly started by the cremation of a furisode (maiden's long-sleeved kimono) in honour of the souls of three young girls. (There a various English translations of the Japanese lyrics in the comments.)

Kabuki-za Orchestra: We Will Rock You 2007
Super Metal Missionaries Japan: Smoke on the Water, 2008?
Senor Coconut: Smoke on the Water, Tokyo Oct 2006
Senor Coconut: Yellow Fever Japan interview 2006
Deep Purple: Smoke on the Water, Live at Budokan, Tokyo 1975
If you liked those you might like these...
Shamisen: Kevin Kmetz: Led Zeppelin: Black Dog
Shamisen: Yoshida Brothers: Rising

Thanks to Eric Bray for the Kabuki-za heads up.


Demae Chindon

The title above links to an article in English about the street band based at Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto. (There is also a link to their site in 4. Musicians in Japan (see Links right)).


加茂川会 Kamogawa-kai Chanson & Sakura

At the weekend I paid my first visit to a Kamogawa-kai event - their Annual Cherry party. This year it was hosted by Mr and Mrs Oyagi in their huge beautiful old Japanese house on the banks of the Kamogawa River, one of the most spectacular spots for blossom-viewing. The weather was gorgeous, and so was the buffet laid on by the "twenty-four ladies" of Kamogawa-kai, but even more amazing was the chanson concert, which I'll tell you about in a minute.

Kamogawa-kai is a non-profit international friendship organisation established in Kyoto in 1984. Among their many projects, they arrange monthly cultural visits in the Kyoto area to (in their own words) "deepen your appreciation of different cultures and peoples".

Of the 49 people there on Sunday, about one-third were from outside Japan - there was a space-scientist from India, research-doctors from Malaysia, students from all over China, and many other countries represented including Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Chile, UK and US. It's not always easy to talk to strangers but the program made it so, with greetings by each language speaker and a funny round of self introductions, Mr Oyagi's song in four languages, and plenty of time and space to mingle under the weeping sakura.

But I must tell you about the chanson. This was all Japanese, some songs peppered with French refrains. A pianist accompanied four singers who took turns and made flamboyant costume changes for each set: Mrs Setsuko Okuzawa sang 'Paris', 'Se-shi-bon', 'Jolie Momu', 'Adieu' and 'Sorezore no Table', variously in black evening dress and red trilby, silver flapper wig and mauve boa, and blue velvet sheath; Ms Sueko Yokoyama sang 'Kanashii no Venice', 'My Way' (in Japanese) and 'J'aime Paris au mois du Mais', sporting a blue music hall dress and My Fair Lady hat followed by a QE2 blue beaded frock with medieval sleeves; Mr Kiyohide Okuzawa sang 'San Francisco no rokumai no kaiha', 'Watashi no kodoku' (my loneliness), and a song about whales and another of a kamikaze pilot thanking his mother in his will - he wore a pale pink sports jacket which matched the blossoms perfectly; the MC, the Kamogawakai comedian, sang 'Bon Voyage!' and 'Ikanaide!' (Don't Go!) with all her heart.

The concert was brilliantly put together so that wherever they were from, everyone in the audience could empathise - sorrow, seduction, loneliness, broken hearts, lost time - the sadder the song the more the melodrama, so that strangers from all around the world found themselves beyond language, laughing and crying together. A hilarious, profound, generous and delicious day.

1. KAMOGAWA-KAI 加茂川会 (国際交流グループ): k*a*m*ogawakai1984@yahoo.co.jp (take out the *s)
2. The SINGERS are all members of ITC (International Training in Communication) in Kobe.
3. There will be a big CHANSON CONCERT in Osaka 21st August 2008 - I'll try and get details to post.


Pete Cooper, Osaka ピーットクーパー大坂

Just got back from Pete Cooper's concert in Yotsubashi, Osaka. It was brilliant and the audience were very appreciative (all Japanese except for me and an American man who had heard about the concert from internet radio). I guess maybe 30-40 or so people came - many of them from among the 18 participants of the previous day's workshop.
Pete is a well known London fiddler and teacher. He plays in a wide variety of styles and travels widely too. He has already played in China and it was great to see Pete in Japan for the first time.
He started off each set with solo fiddle and fiddle-singing (incl. the Lake of Ponchartraine, and some American bluegrass songs) and then was joined by Tamiko-san of Tokyo Fiddle Club (the concert organiser) and Omori-san on guitar or fiddle (who played Irish, Swedish and Russian tunes fantastically).
Pete had a noticeably thoughtful approach to his non-English speaking audience: He had found out some Japanese phrases - Good evening (konbanwa), thankyou (domo arigatou/maido), the numbers to count the players in, and cheers (kampai), which went down well, and in his English chat he slowed down just a tiny bit, sometime repeating things in different words so that everyone could get his succinct explanations and jokes. Lots of people had their photos taken with him afterwards, I think because they had appreciated him so much as a person as well as as a musician.
Tonight's three fiddlers had also been to Kyoto yesterday to play under the cherry blossom now in full bloom at Yasaka Shrine in Maruyama Park (Shijo Higashioji).
Good luck in Tokyo tomorrow Pete. I hope you will come back here every year - I think you might have made a few new friends here.

Green Grow the Rushes O

An old home recording from Camden, London
Recorded 2000? - thanks to Gervais Currie
Robert Burns' GREEN GROW THE RUSHES O ロバートバーンズ


Four songs related to Kentish travellers
Recorded 2004 - thanks to Neil Anderson at Portobello Music
(Anon. from Jasper Smith)*

(Anon. from May Ann Haynes)*

POOR LEONARD かわいそうのレナード君
(Trad. from Mary Ann Haynes)*

BORSTAL BOY ボースタル男の子

Song sources:

* field recordings made by Mike Yates on 'Here's Luck to A Man - Gypsy Songs and Music from South East England', Musical Traditions'
graffiti photographed by Simon Evans in EFDSS' 'Root and Branch 1

Simon Evans is a BBC Radio Kent presenter specialising in Gypsies and folk music. His excellent programme about the Hartlake Bridge disaster is here. His Open Productions page is here.


Three songs with Les Denniston in Kyoto, Japan
Recorded 2007 - thanks to Sugaki-san and Anime-san at Field
( Cyril Tawney -
copyright Gwyneth Music)



Karaoke: Japan v UK カラオケ: 日本 v UK

Karaoke in the UK is quite different from karaoke in Japan. The main difference is that in the UK it is mainly in pubs, whereas in Japan it is mainly in smaller, more intimate settings.
When I saw karaoke in London, Manchester and Brighton the singer had to go up on stage in a huge pub before an audience largely composed of strangers; it was solo, and a 'performance' rather than self-entertainment for their group; it was kind of just for laughs and it raised a few; it took courage - Dutch or otherwise. Not everyone gets to sing - or wants to - and many would like to but dare not.
In Japan, karaoke is not so daunting. Japanese bars are incredibly small and karaoke bars in particular are ooh very dark; you sing in your seat, surrounded by your friends, and there are two mics or more up for grabs. Everyone gets a few turns. There are songs in both Japanese and foreign languages - sometimes with spelling mistakes and funny English. Lately, 24-7 karaoke boxes are gaining popularity over the karaoke bar. In a karaoke box you rent a private room to sing with/for your friends (or alone) so if you don't want to sing to strangers, or if you just want to be with your own mates, or if you want the mic to go round quicker so that you get more chances to sing, the box is even better than the bar. You can alter the pitch of the song, order room-service (of food and drinks) by intercom and stay as long as you like. In the highest state-of-the-art boxes you can even get a score based on how in-tune you were! They're booming such that more multi-storey karaoke-box complexes are being built all the time in spite of zero population growth.
Link: How to do Karaoke the Japanese Way


Karaoke: regional Britain カラオケ

I recently read that, compared to the rest of Britain, karaoke caught on much quicker in Scotland and Ireland - "that's where they had the tradition of collective singing...and more of a tradition of the ballad," Simon Frith proffered in the article in the Guardian.
I can't dispute the statistics, but it's illogical to conclude from them that karaoke is the evolutionary successor to ballad and collective singing traditions, and that the relationship is causal. Besides, collective singing in the British Isles is not the preserve of only Scotland and Ireland. It's a trivial issue in the grand scheme of things, but I think that what the statistics are purported to reflect is spurious. Here are a few reasons....
Collective singing The Welsh are world famous as singers. And in both England and Wales - aside from the old traditions of ballads and work songs - there is singing in schools, church congregations, football crowds, rugby teams, working men's clubs, scouts, coaches, hen-nights, birthdays, Christmas carols, folk clubs, open-mics, and community choirs; there are thousands of applicants for TV talent contests, and uncounted millions of singers in bathrooms and cars. Has karaoke been tried and failed all over England and Wales?
Market forces The spread of karaoke has many influences. Unlike the kinds of singing mentioned above, karaoke is a commercial enterprise and hosted by another commercial enterprise - its spread surely depends more on market alternatives/competition and the economic vicissitudes of pubs than on any ballad or collective singing traditions. Pubs and karaoke alike have a social role, sure, but economics determine their birth and survival.
Demographics There are loads of Scottish and Irish people in England and Wales, and other people from other countries with rich song traditions - surely enough to get a bit of karaoke off the ground.
To make any attempt at explaining the regionality of karaoke we need more details about exactly who is singing and where - there may even be an inverse relationship between singing traditions and karaoke.

As for karaoke itself, the British Isles' style is quite different from that in Japan. I wrote about that here.
There are a few Japanese-style karaoke bars and boxes in London (one box, coincidentally, in Frith Street). The bars are small and tend to be expensive business account type places. Boxes, on the other hand are cheaper and open to everyone. They really are the next generation. Being dedicated venues, boxes are more of a commitment for owners than either karaoke bars or the machine-hire variety but if karaoke boxes were more widespread in the UK, the regional propensity-for-a-sing-song as measured by karaoke uptake would probably look very different.


Enka 演歌

Enka 演歌 is a popular kind of Japanese sentimental singing using elaborate ornamentation and melodramatic vibrato. I notice that if I ask Japanese people if they like enka, they either say Yes! or they laugh. Its nostalgic qualities, variously maudlin or clap-along, make it the karaoke style of choice for the best middle-aged after-parties. Its origins and influences are probably mixed: minyo (Japanese traditional folk song), Korea, China have all been cited. It even sounds a bit like Portuguese fado (Portuguese influence in Japan is huge due to historical sea trade) and certainly plays a similar social role. It was popular throughout the Showa period (1925- 89) though it has morphed during that time - gradually acquiring orchestral backing and glamour post-war - but retained Japanese instrumentation and an intense and celebrated old-Japaneseness. It is supposed to have its roots in earlier 'disguised political' street-song of the Meiji period (1868-1910) which was also called enka. To distinguish the Meiji and Showa forms the latter is sometimes called Kayoukyoku 歌謡曲 which means 'ballad music', but it refers only to the 'pop' part of the enka spectrum and mainly distinguishes the older style crooning from the more youthful 'J-pops'.
Kitajima Saburo 北島三郎 (1936- ) was a wandering entertainer ( nagashi ) before he became the most popular male enka singer. Due to parts of his movie portfolio he is a favorite singer of the yakuza. He also appears on the Red and White Show on TV at New Year - the Japanese equivalent of the Andy Stewart or Jools Holland New Year Shows. The most famous female enka singer is the amazing Misora Hibari 美空 ひばり(1937-1989) whose last song, Kawa no Nagare no yo- ni 川の流れのように (Like a river flows) was voted the best Japanese song of all time in an NHK poll in 1997. No doubt the voting reflects the immense pleasure to be had giving it your all in karaoke - it's a full-flighter! The Misora Hibari Kan memorial museum in Arashiyama, in which her records, films, costumes and dressing rooms were on display, closed down in 2006 - the exhibits transferred to the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Sumida. She was a child film star (see Tokyo Kid) and is known as the queen of enka and an icon of the post-war reconstruction. Here is Misora Hibari singing Yawara (dressed as a bloke). She also recorded a Japanese/English version of la vie en rose and a macaronic L.O.V.E. among her 1,200 records.
New enka singers are still emerging. Hikawa Kiyoshi is perhaps the best known of the younger ones. Here is Kiyoshi pitched against Kitajima Saburo in a TV show.

Violin enka バイオリン演歌 In 2005 there was an article in the Daily Yomiuri newspaper about a violin-enka-singer (fiddle-singer) in a Tokyo park. I went in search of him but on the day I went it was raining so no music. A year later I couldn't find him. His name was Ken? Morita 森田銀月, and he wore Meiji-era clothes - flat cap, kimono and hakama. I'll dig out the article and fill in the details. PS Just found his picture on a website (click parag title).
Other violin enka links:
Yousan02 violin day
Tanosiki violin enka
Teidaisei Yumeji 帝大生ゆめじ


Irish music in Kyoto 1980s

Who was playing? (Where were they from; where now) What did they play?
Jay Gregg (N. Carolina; Kyoto) banjo (now fiddle and guitar)
Kyoko Maeda (Osaka; Kyoto) whistle
Atsushi Akazawa ( ?; Kyoto) fiddle and bouzouki
Les Denniston (Glasgow; Kyoto) song, bodhran
John Matthews (Cheshire; Wales) pipes
Rory Campbell (Belfast; France) song, whistle, bodhran
Jake Costello (Minnesota; Kyoto) whistle, black-flute
Larry Rone (Texas; Texas) black-flute
Liza Woo ( ? ; ?) piano
Takashi Tomoya (Hokkaido; Kyoto) guitar, fiddle
Felicity Greenland (Merseyside; Kyoto) song, whistle, bodhran

(.......the music isn't all Irish.......what can it be called?....... )

Bibliography - Western Song in Japan

Information in English about Western songs in Japan
- on the web

Music education in Japan by Kensho Takeshi
Music in Japan Today by Takako Matsuura
The Beginnings of Western Music in Meiji Era Japan by Ury Eppstein
Japanese Children's Folk Songs before and after contact with the West by Elizabeth May
Tokyo Kodomo Club 東京こどもクラブ 1965-80
History of Japanese Music @ Far Side Music site
Irish Music and the Experience of Nostalgia by Sean Williams
Asia Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage
Common Repertoire - a related article on this blog
- in print
TACHI Mikiko, Representations of American Folk Music in Japan: A Study of Heibon Punch Magazine, 1964-1970:- International Popular Culture Association Conference, Aug. 2005, Swansea, Wales, U.K.
TACHI Mikiko, American Folk Music in Japan: Crossing Cultures and Reconstructing Authenticity, 1960-1970:- American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Nov. 2004, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.
- audio
Misora Hibari - 不死鳥パートII全曲集IILabel: Ho Son. Catalog#: J-013. Track 19 Bara-iro No Jinsei is a version of La Vie en Rose made popular by Edith Piaf, with alternate lyrics: Verse 1 of 2 is in Japanese, Verse 2 of 2 in English.
Misora Hibari sings L.O.V.E.

Far Side Music

Amazing recordings of Japanese music, including street music, are available from this London distributor. (Click title)

Nagashi 流し

Nagashi is the Japanese word for a kind of wandering minstrel (lit. flow-er/drifter). In their current form nagashi are closely linked to enka, a song style that developed in the early 20th century. Lately nagashi are rare but they may be spotted in the areas frequented by the older generation in Osaka, Tokyo and Kyoto, moving from bar to bar (usually singly) with their guitar taking requests for popular songs, particularly enka (hence the generational preference). They will either sing themselves or, more likely, play for customers who want to sing (they were a pre-cursor of karaoke). Formerly, nagashi were not the only wandering entertainers. Street musicians played enka for passers-by and storytellers with a picture box (often fixed to the back of a bicycle) told illustrated tales. Among the musicians were accordionists, and fiddle-singers playing 'violin-enka' well known for using their music as a medium for political subversion. Recordings of Japanese street performers are not very easy to find - the UK distributor Far Side have some.
Related post: Enka


Tokyo Kodomo Club 東京こどもクラブ 1965-80

Tokyo Kodomo Club (Tokyo Kids Club) 東京こどもクラブ 1965-80 produced records and books for kids with songs and stories from around the world, including the song London Bridge is Falling Down and Are You Sleeping (which I guess is Frere Jacques). Among the stories were an adaptation of Aesop's fable Town Mouse and Country Mouse called Country Mouse and Tokyo Mouse, Little Black Sambo and The Merchant of Venice. Two 'Folk for All' albums were produced containing: Danny Boy, Waltzing Matilda, Auld Lang Syne, Early One Morning, Rock-a-bye Baby and Greensleeves. For the full track lists click the links above.
A related article on this blog - Common Repertoire


British Songs in Japanese Schools 1962

Today in a second hand book shop I found a set of 3 thin textbooks from 1962 for the Junior High School curriculum (years 1,2,3) published by the Monbusho (Ministry of Education). They contain quite a few songs listed as Irish and Scottish (and Spanish, German and Italian) folk songs. The text is all in Japanese, including the lyrics (not translations but Japanese alternatives), but I could make out the tune of The Minstrel Boy and read Hotaru no Hikari (Auld Lang Syne), so I have had the set put aside. I am very excited and plotting to go through them with my fiddle and a wodge of post-its as soon as I can go back to the shop with my Y5,000 tomorrow. It'll be reinventing the wheel - there must be a list out there already - but I'll enjoy it.
By the way, this little experience really made me think about literacy - my reading of both Japanese and music is pretty basic but if I hadn't been able to read them at all I would have missed the opportunity altogether. There are always ads for EFL teachers like me to work on literacy programmes in Africa. At 43 I felt acutely the benefit of simply being able to read.
Bibliography: Western Songs in Japan


セシル・シャープのアパラチア民謡集 +++

Dear Companion: Cecil Sharp's Appalachian collection et al on this....
上のリンクで色々な音楽と歌の情報。。。man's blog.


Across the Miles - Happy Birthday Sharps!!!

Sharps Singers Club (or Sharps Folk Club) in London will celebrate it's 20th Birthday on Tuesday February 5th 2008. It's the first folk club I ever went to, and a source of many great songs, friends, triumphs and embarrassing moments.
Happy Birthday Sharps! and massive thanks to Sheila Finn, Sue on the door, Gerry Milne, Jerry Stuart and all the motley crew for keeping it going for all these years. I'll be thinking of you (I may even have a wee sherry to celebrate).

BBC Virtual Session バーチュアルセッシュン

BBC Radio 2 ラジオのおかげで上のタイトルをクリックしたら色々な曲を一緒にどうぞ!
Click on title


Les Denniston レズリー・デニストン

Leslie Denniston came to Kyoto from Glasgow in 1975 to study kendo. He is still here!
He was probably the first unaccompanied traditional-type singer I ever heard - around 1989 I learned loads of songs from him, here in Kyoto - Jock Stewart, Twa Corbies, and General Taylor among them. Along with Bob Barraza, Les started me off on the bodhran and I got my first and favorite one by sea-mail from Les's maker Eamon Maguire. In the end everyone wanted one and I ordered six - Eamon told my friend "stick with her - she's rich!" (He didn't and I never have been.) The number of people playing Irish music in Kyoto in those days
was pretty small.
Now me and Les do a lot of singing together including Scottish Nights where Hideko (Mrs Denniston) explains the songs and background in Japanese. Les also plays every Saturday night at Hill of Tara in Kyoto (Oike-Kiyamachi) with Taro Kishimoto.
Les is a great interpreter of Robert Burns' poetry - without the book!
More about Les in his own words here (his photos include Akazawa Atsushi, Jay Gregg and John Matthews) or watch this 1983 kendo video of Les on the BBC documentary Way of the Warrior (this link is Part 4; he is actually introduced at the very end of Part 3 - if you can watch that too Part 4 makes more sense)


UK-Japan 2008

Is it a festival? Just quickly posting this link (click on title). It says on the site, "UK-Japan 2008 will be a year-long season of exciting events, performances and exhibitions to showcase the UK's contemporary creativity in the arts, in science and innovation, and in creative industries." There is an invitation to participate/endorse your event.


New Year Music お正月の音楽

Happy Shogatsu! It's New Year (of the rat) and all the BGM has miraculously switched to trad. (BGM is background music. Did you know? I didn't. Here such acronyms abound.) At all other seasons Kyoto shopping is fuelled by Western and J-pop, but for New Year it has all been replaced by koto (a giant 13-string zither) and shamisen (3-string 'banjo') pinging out warabe-uta, traditional Japanese tunes such as might normally be heard only in school concerts and tourist traps (oh, and pedestrian crossings). Today I was browsing (mainly for a woolly toilet seat cover - a strange but necessary invention - no CH!) to these old national favorites. I knew most of them as, earlier in the year, I had availed myself of a CD of 'Children's songs' from the local 100 Yen Shop (= Pound Shop). Imagine shopping to Hot Cross Buns and the like. I wonder if the Arndale Centres would be game?
Click on title for lyrics and translations of these tunes/songs.
Later...it occurs to me that some of these songs were originally street cries anyway - cf. Hot Cross Buns.