I’ve been taking a long hiatus from blogging, but will return shortly this month. Thanks for following!
Today, May 1, 2012, marks the 30th anniversary celebration of Japan’s one and only “utahime” (“diva” in Japanese) – Akina Nakamori.
As mentioned in many of my previous posts, Akina was Japan’s top female singer in the 1980s. She was, and still is, the “Madonna” of Japan – in the sense of changing her image for each song she released. Akina’s legend has influenced many young female artists to this day including: Ayumi Hamasaki, Hitotoyo, Rimi Natsukawa, Kumi Koda and the list goes on.
Akina has a very special place in my heart as she was the first Japanese idol/artist that I listened to completely in real time back in the 1980s. She was one of the reasons why I became interested in Japan and the Japanese language.
Akina has been taking a rest from the entertainment industry due to health reasons as of October 2010. It’s been a year and a half since her fans have heard from her; however, Akina has managed to send a message through her fan club newsletter earlier in the year, and to commemorate her 30 year anniversary, Universal Music has released “THE BEST TEN AKINA NAKAMORI PREMIUM BOX”.
THE BEST TEN was a music television program which ran from 1978 to 1989 and counted down the singles rankings each week. This was prior to Japanese artists making promotional videos to promote their songs. The way J-pop fans could tune into see their favorite singers would be by watching this program.
Although Akina’s debut single “Slowmotion” did not chart on the program, her follow-up song “Shojo A” (translated in English as: Girl “A”) debuted at No. 9 on September 16, 1982. She hit the top of the Best Ten charts with her third single “Second Love” which took the top spot for a record 8 consecutive weeks.
This was only the beginning for Akina as she set record after record on the television program including: No. 1 artist with the most no. 1 songs in the history of the Best Ten (17 songs) and No. 1 artist with the most weeks at No. 1 in the history of the Best Ten (69 weeks).
The DVD box is the perfect way to celebrate the music of this living legend and watch her transformation from a young female idol to artist extraordinaire.
HAPPY 30TH ANNIVERSARY, AKINA NAKAMORI! YOU ARE THE LEGEND OF DIVA!
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,800 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.
Only 3 more days until Christmas, my favorite holiday in the year. I’m not going to say too much in this post other than I hope you enjoy the pics of the lights around Tokyo. Here are a few…
Last night, I went to see the Ken Hirai Live Tour 2011 JAPANESE SINGER at Saitama Super Arena with a dear friend of mine.
This marked the fifth time I’ve seen Ken Hirai perform live – and you know what? He NEVER disappoints. The show was AMAZING! Ken Hirai is definitely “THE” Japanese male singer of this day and age. His vocals were cool and crisp – I swear, out of all the concerts I’ve been to, the vocal levels for Ken Hirai’s are the best. The songs were soulful, emotional, touching, fun,…and the feelings go on and on. You truly get your money’s worth and I’m grateful to have been a fan of his all these years.
Ken Hirai originally hails from Mie Prefecture and paid his dues during his university years singing at live houses in the Yokohama area. There he learned different music styles including R&B and soul. Ken submitted a homemade music video to Sony Music and successfully landed a recording contract with them in 1993. His first release was in 1995 with the song “Precious Junk” which managed to peak at No. 50 on the Oricon charts. However, immediate success eluded him. Ken’s next few singles failed to chart. He was on the verge of losing his contract in 2000 with Sony Music when Ken had his first major breakthrough hit with “Rakuen” (translated as “Paradise”). It peaked at No. 7 on the Oricon charts and sold 600,000 copies in Japan.
“Rakuen” opened the doors for Ken and he churned out hit after hit. He scored his first No. 1 single in 2002 with the cover of the standard “My Grandfather’s Clock” by Henry Clay work, re-named “Ookina Furudokei”. Ken performed the song live from the actual location of the clock in Massachusetts, USA, on the annual NHK music show “Kohaku Utagassen” at the end of the year.
His biggest hit to date is “Hitomi Wo Tojite” (translated as “Close Your Eyes”) in 2004. The song peaked at No. 2 on the weekly charts, but was the No. 1 of 2004 selling over a million copies. The song is from the movie “Sekai No Chushin De, Ai Wo Sakebu” (translated as “I’ll Shout for Love from the Center of the World”) and is based on the premise of a first love lost tragically through death. Every time I hear Ken perform this song, it just tugs at my heart strings. A lot of his ballads do. And ballads are his forte.
This concert showcased tracks from Ken Hirai’s most recent album “Japanese Singer” with his major hits including “KISS OF LIFE”, “POP STAR”, and “Aika (Elegy)”. With one note, he can make your heart soar…and with one lyrical phrase, he can break your heart. It was magic. All of the ballads deeply moved me, but the song that really did it was the single “Boku Wa Kimi Ni Koi Wo Suru” (translated as “I Will Fall In Love With You”) released in 2009. You can see a live performance of it from 2009 below, but this song (which happened to be the final one before the encore) just took me in. Simply amazing.
I managed to score invitation tickets to the show, which I gave to two of my friends and in turn, they got me Ken Lollipops (laugh)! Thanks ladies!
The following are some of my other favorite songs from Ken Hirai: “LIFE is…〜Another Story〜” (2003), “Kimi Wa Tomodachi” (translated as “You Are My Friend” – 2004), “POP STAR” (2004), and “Omoi Ga Kasanaru Sono Mae Ni” (translated as “Before Our Thoughts Become One” – 2005)
In closing, Ken has won numerous accolades over his 17-year career including numerous MTV Video Music Awards and Gold Disk Awards. Thank you for sharing your gift with us – may your voice grace us for many, many, many years to come!
I have to say, this may be a collaboration made in heaven.
Singer: Seiko Matsuda x Producer: Mariya Takeuchi
“Tokubetsu Na Koibito” (English translation: A Special Lover)
Figuring out why it didn’t come to fruition earlier is a surprise.
Seiko Matsuda, Japan’s epitome of the eternal pop idol of the 1980s, celebrated her 30th anniversary in show business on April 1, 2011. Seiko is one of the two divas (the other being Akina Nakamori) who reigned supreme in the 80s at the top of the charts. With 24 consecutive No. 1 hits on Oricon from 1980 to 1988, Seiko’s 30-year career has been a colorful one. Setting off trends like the “Seiko-chan cut” (similar to the popularity of the Farrah Fawcett mane in the US); the term “burikko” (meaning “goody-goody” or “cutesy”); and “mama-dol” (a take on “Mom” and “idol” after Seiko’s first marriage to actor, Masaki Kanda, and the birth of her daughter, Sayaka, in 1986), Seiko released hit after hit in the 80s with songs created by acclaimed lyricist Takashi Matsumoto, and melodies by “new music” artists such as Yumi Matsutoya (under the pen name, Karuho Kureta) and Motoharu Sano (under the pen name, Holland Rose).
When the 90s began, Seiko took a large step and left her production agency, Sun Music. She set off to start a music career in the US which didn’t fare well in the long run. No longer was she singing songs crafted specifically for her by the top music creators. Seiko took a hand in writing lyrics and eventually music for herself. She began producing herself and although her songs cracked the top 30, they didn’t have the lustre of the 80s. But through trial and error and maintaining the image of the sugar and spice pop-idol, Seiko garnered her 25th No. 1 single in 1996 with the self-created song “Anata Ni Aitakute” (translated as “I Want To See You”) as she made the switch to from Sony Music to Universal. The 2000s saw Seiko continuing in music and acting as well, with a guest appearance in the FOX TV drama “Bones” in 2010 and several movies including the Bruce Willis hit “Armageddon”. However, to be truthfully honest, the last time I honestly listened to Seiko’s songs was when she re-teamed with Takashi Matsumoto for her 1999 album “Eien No Shojyo” (translated as “The Eternal Girl”). That is until now.
Mariya Takeuchi, one of Japan’s renowned singer-songwriters next to Yumi Matsutoya and Miyuki Nakajima, debuted in 1978 and was initially groomed to be a pop-idol. With hits like “September” and “Fushigi Na Peach Pie” (translated as “A Strange Peach Pie”) , Mariya appeared on many television music shows in the late 1970s – a time when music video still hadn’t made even the slightest mark in the industry. Her voice, in many ways reminiscent of the late Karen Carpenter, and smile captivated Japanese music fans everywhere. However for Mariya, the pop-idol scene was not her thing. Her songwriting skills shone through from the very beginning and after marrying musician and arranger, Tatsuro Yamashita (famous for the classic Christmas song, “Christmas Eve”) in 1982, she chose to become a full-fledged songwriter away from the spotlight and met great success by penning hits for idols such as Naoko Kawai with the song “Kenka Wo Yamete” (translated as “Please Stop Fighting”) in 1982, and “Genki Wo Dashite” (translated as “Cheer Up”) for matinee idol and singer, Hiroko Yakushimaru in 1984. She also wrote 5 tracks for 80s diva Akina Nakamori’s 1986 album entitled “CRIMSON”: those 5 tracks were “Eki” (translated as “Station”) which Mariya self-covered in 1987, “Yakusoku” (translated as “Promise”), “OH NO, OH YES” also self-covered in 1987, “Aka No Enamel” (translated as “The Red Enamel”), and “Mick Jagger Ni Hohoemi Wo” (translated as “Give My Smiles to Mick Jagger”). Mariya took these songs and re-recorded them for her 7th studio album, “REQUEST” which reached the top of the album charts in 1987.
After the release of “REQUEST”, Mariya met success after success with the albums “Quiet Life” in 1992, and “IMPRESSIONS” in 1994 which both sold in the millions in Japan. Her re-recording of Akina Nakamori’s “Eki” became a major hit on cable radio in 1987, and her original single “Single Again” conquered the singles charts in 1989. Finally in 2000, after 18 years away from performing live, Mariya returned to the stage once again – the performance was captured in a live recording released later that year entitled “Souvenir – Mariya Takeuchi Live”. Since then, Mariya has continued to write songs and perform live. She appeared in the first-ever episode of “NHK SONGS” and her albums have continuously reached the top of the charts. Her last two albums “Denim” in 1987, and “Expressions” in 2008, both reached No. 1 on Oricon. After writing songs for numerous idol singers in the past, finally the ultimate collaboration of the “sweetpea” and the “peach pie” has come true.
To commemorate her 30th anniversary, Seiko approached Mariya to write a special song. In July 2010, during Seiko’s 30th year in show business, Mariya was invited to see Seiko’s 30th anniversary live concert at Nippon Budokan. The two met for the first time backstage and the plan was set in motion. Now, finally, the song is seeing the day of light.
“Tokubetsu Na Koibito” will be released on November 23, 2011. A very special collaboration between the eternal idol and the producer of love songs. The song is about falling in love later in life and finding that someone special. Melodic and heartwarming, “Tokubetsu Na Koibito” will bring a smile to anyone who still believes in romance. Personally, I love Mariya’s love songs – there are too many to name. There is a warmth and a kindness that is so hard to find in Japanese pop songs of late. There is no one like her. And Seiko’s voice – a gift in itself. She is also a living legend.
Both having the image personas of being “the girl next door”, it’s surprising that this type of collaboration never happened before. With Mariya’s beautiful songs and Seiko’s candied voice, the song is sure to be a classic.
“Tokubetsu Na Koibito” Special Site (Japanese only)
In closing, why is this entry called “Sweetpeas” and “Peach Pies”? Watch the clips below and you’ll figure it out.