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Harumi Miyako & Two Songs

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.

Great translation of Anko Tsubaki here. There is a good translation of Namida no Renrakusen here, but it’s in a Youtube cover of the song by Masako Mori that I find unbearably sappy.


10 responses to “Harumi Miyako & Two Songs

  1. I don’t know if I have the patience to actually listen to Enka but its pretty interesting and I’d read anything you wrote on it. Totally the country/western music of japan.

    • wdydfae


      Not exactly, but there is some connection to WWII era martial music. Just take out the lilting back beat, replace female voices with male, and then you’ve got the music that nationalist groups blare out of their trucks and vans. These chord progressions and melodies come from the WWII era, and strike a chord (so to speak) with older folks partly for that reason.

      The Youtube that I masked up there turns the ferryboat into a battleship and the song into a wartime tragedy of star-crossed lovers:

      From there it’s but a short step to battlestar Yamato:

  2. Isee … err, hear what you mean . “Ferryboat of Tears” makes me want to feed the seagulls and then fly kamikaze against our enemies for the glory of the Emperor.

  3. Jose Villalobos ⋅

    Does anyone know the particular song Mr. Miyagi sings? I’ve heard that Pat Morita improvised, but that it was part of an actual song.

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