This is probably more Japanese culture than you probably ever wanted. These are two signiature Harumi Miyako songs. It is real old stuff. The genre is called “enka.” Enka is unabashedly sentimental music . . . Well, OK, let’s be blunt: it’s totally over the top gushy sugary sappy syrupy maudlin music. Typically the arrangement is rigidly stylized and over-orchestrated. The two modes of enka are represented here: upbeat and downbeat. The music is so formulaic you can predict everything that’s coming in an unfamiliar song half a minute before you even hear it. It is a staple at karaoke bars for people my generation or older and is to some extent a dying genre. I don’t much like enka in general. But when it’s done a certain way it sends chills up my spine.
Harumi Miyako sends chills up my spine. The warbles and grace notes, the nasal inflections, the full throated cries from the gut that approach and even surpass Janis Joplin’s, giving way to passionate, vulnerable little whimpers. It’s really something else, though definitely not for everybody.
Anko Tsubaki wa Koi no Hana (Anko Camellias, Love’s Flower)
Namida no Renrakusen (Ferryboat of Tears)
In The Karate Kid (part 1) Mr. Miyagi calls enka “Japanese blues.” I think it would be more accurate to call it Japanese Country & Western. We know that the perfect Country & Western song has already been written. Is there an enka equivalent? If there is, it would have to make mention of the following: weeping, teardrops, sake, drinking, an empty whisky glass, a cigarette, smoking, emptiness, being alone, being abandoned, hold me, love, sigh, winter wind, autumn leaves, falling leaves, strand of hair, falling snowflakes, snow, cherry blossom, any seasonal flower, rain, port town, the cry of seagulls, boat/ship, island, some kind of fruit tree, hometown, mountain, farm, field. Then we’d have the perfect enka song.