Japanese popular songs between 1970 and 1990

"Yume wa Yoru Hiraku" by Keiko Fuji

In red blooms poppy.
In white blooms lily.
I what way shall I bloom?
My dreams bloom at night.

When I was 15, 16 and 17,
my life was miserabl.
Despite the gloomy past,
My dreams bloom at night.
Yesterday was Maa-bou.
Today is Tommy.
Tomorrow will be George or Ken-bou.
My love is short-lived and frail.
My dreams bloom at night. ...

1970 should have been the climax of the protest movement against the continuation of Security Pact with the US and the Vietnam War. But it proved to be an anti-climax and the depoliticization of young people and whole society started. While the student movement lost its supporters, residual small radical groups lost their ties with the real life. 1970 was the year of the World Expo in Osaka, and despite the oil shock in 1973 and the following economic difficulties, Japanese people came to enjoy the unprecedented wealth.

Keiko Fuji (1951 -2013) symbolized the atmosphere shared by the young people who participated in the lost movement. She was an extremely beautiful girl and made her debut wearing a black pantaloon suits and holding a white guitar in her hands. Her million-seller hit song "Dreams bloom at night" sounded as if she through the song related her painful past. It was said that she changed "enka" from "songs for performance" into "songs of bitterness".

(*) Thirty years later, in 1998, her daughter Hikaru Utada made a sensational debut as a singer song-writer. During her active years, Hikaru issued numerous million sellers and became the most influential musician in Japan in the first decade of the 21st century. However, Hikaru announced to "go on hiatus" in 2011. On August 22, 2013, Keiko put an end to her life by jumping from her condominium in Shinjuku.

A year before Keiko Fuji's debut Carmen Maki sang a sorrowful song "Occasionally as a child without mother", whose text was written by Shuji Terayama, the founder of the underground theater movement.

However, in retrospective I cannot but say that their songs represented the last cry from the impoverished and downtrodden time. After the 1970s people in Japan started to enjoy the result of economic growth and the traditional minor pentatonic music was gradually losing its social background.

Dominant position of Idol songs

The most outstanding phenomenon in the 1970s popular song world was the boom of idol singers. Certainly "idol singers" existed since the 1960s. However, in the 1970s the TV era started and good-looking boys and girls became the mainstream among popular song singers. Idols were systematically produced by the music industry.

Among those idols Momoe Yamaguchi belongs to the legend. She was different from the idols before her as well as from her contemporaries. Idol girls usually sold pure and innocent image, and in particular in the 1970s their sweet existence radiated hope, dream and longing, though they were only fictive images. However, the appeal of Momoe Yamaguchi was the immature sexuality of a young girl, expressed in her inherent melancholy. This was a sensation. Momoe Yamaguchi changed her image soon after her failed debut from an innocent naïve girl to be protected to a mature woman who is able to insist herself and has cool looking and mysterious allure. Please check the example video here "Play back part2" from 1978. Momoe Yamaguchi stopped her activities in 1980 and retreated into private life. She married with a popular actor and never came back to the entertainment world.

The representative idol in the 1980s was Seiko Matsuda. She made her debut in 1980 as an innocent idol. "Kaze tachinu" from 1981 shows well the typical style of the 1970s idols. But people soon noticed that she was not a simple modest girl. Gradually she succeeded in selling her image as an independent woman, who wanted everything including fame, boyfriend and wealth. This ego-centric image appealed to contemporary listeners very strongly and she became an idol and a role model for women more than for men. Many girls imitated Seiko's hair style, dress and way of living.

"Dounimo tomaranai" by Linda Yamamoto
Linda Yamamoto

Don't believe the rumor.
I have an innocent soul.
I like to live in happy dreams.

Shall I put a red rose on my chest tonight and
dance with a handsome boy, or
give that tender guy my throbbing heart?

Ah, I become a butterfly or I become a flower.
It depends on you tonight as I burn in love.
Ah, only tonight, only tonight.
I cannot stop myself.....

"Toumei Ningen" by Pink Lady
Pink Lady

You would not believe it is possible.
But, to tell the truth.
I am an invisible man.

Shock... shock... shock...

All strange things which create sensations are caused by an invisible man.
An unbeatable champion is suddenly knocked down.
Spoons are curbed and twisted.
And psychokinesis boom!
They are all because of me.

An invisible man appears.
An invisible man appears.
Don't tell a lie!
An invisible man never appears.

Disappears, disappears, disappears, disappears
disappears, disappears....

"Kassai" by Naomi Chiaki
Naomi Chiaki

Curtain is lifted and I sing a love song as usual.
A post, just delivered to me, is black-bordered.

It was three years ago.
You were trying to stop me, but I left you in the station and jumped into a moving train.

Early afternoon in a remote town,
I stand in mourning in front of a church of a rustic town and
can not find a word for pray.

"Play back part2" by Momoe Yamaguchi
Momoe Yamaguchi

I am driving through the greenery in a red Porche,
I am travelling alone.
I turn the weel as I like.

At the crossroads a diver shouts next to me,
"Your sidemirror rubbed mine".
It makes me speak loud.

"Don't talk rubbish. It's your failure."
Play back, play back!
These words!?
Play back, play back!

"Don't talk rubbish. It's your failure."
These were the words I said last night.
He just loved me at his whim and believes
that women are always waiting for him.

Hey boy. What have you learned?
I get awfully tired...

"Kaze tachi-nu" by Seiko Matsuda
Seiko Matsuda

Wind started to blow. It is autumn now.
From today my soul starts to wander.

I don't want you to see my tear-stained face.
Surrounded by violets, sunflowers and freesias,
I write a letter on the terrace of a highland
with ink made of wind.
Sayonara, sayonara, sayonara...

When I look back the field is already colored.
I feel I can live alone.
I put on the red bandana around my neck.
You gave it to me and said I should stop crying.
Sayonara, sayonara, sayonara...

Back in the 1970s, we should not forget the beginning of a new singing style, namely singing with sensual and energetic body movements. Linda Yamamoto started the new trend with her "Dounimo Tomaranai" in 1972. She sang with provocative costume and sexial body movement and caused a scandal at the time. She could not keep her popularity continuously. But she could make many come-backs and she still sings in this 21st century with frantic energy as she used to sing more than 30 years ago.

In the late 1970s Pink Lady, a group of two girls, created a sensation. I associate them to Linda Yamamoto because of their excessive gestures, but the style of Pink Lady was healthier and they became idols of small children. This couple of two girls was perfectly produced by the music industry, starting from contents for their songs, body movements to costume, and the target of the sales strategy was children. "Toumei ningen" (An invisible man) from 1978 is related to an earlier film with the title "An invisible man appears”.

Yuu Aku
The very important member of the Pink Lady's hit making team was the lyricist Yuu Aku, a monstrous hit maker in the 1970s. His lyrics always contain very special ideas and wordings. For example. He wrote the song "Toumei Ningen", because he as a child doubted the title of the film, because an invisible man should never appear! No other people came to such a way of thinking. He wrote lyrics for all kinds of songs ranging from enka to folk song. The words he chose and the stories he created are really unprecedented.

I want to add Naomi Chiaki to this corner (add. Jan. 2015), because she is missed by so many fans and professional musicians even long after the end of her music activities.

Naomi began her career in her early teens and established her popularity with "Yottsu-no-Onegai (Four wishes))" and "X+Y=LOVE" as a sexy idol singer in 1970. However, her outstanding singing talent did not allow her to remain just as an ordinary idol singer. Her representative hit song "Kassai (Applause)" in 1972 describes the life of a female star singer, who start singing on stage in spot light, though she has just got a post informing her the funeral of her boyfriend she left in her hometown. Her talent unfolded; she sang various types of songs such as enka, new music, Western songs including Portuguese fado, and expanded her activities as TV personality and film actress.

However, when her beloved husband died in 1992, she disappeared from show business without any notice in the midst of her popularity. Many fans are still waiting for her comeback.

From folk song to New-music

Another important genre was folk song. Starting from college folks in the 1960s, around 1970 politically motivated underground folks became enthusiastically supported by students. After the end of political fever, folk songs turned to be more lyrical and such harmless songs became commercialized.

We can find in such a song as "Kasa ga nai" (I cannot find my umbrella) from 1972 by Yosui Inoue the reflection of the sense of frustration among the young people at the time. The song was a commercial success, and uncovered the tendency of the time to leave political issues and indulge in private life. Yosui continues to write lyrics reflecting the minds of people in the real society. Though their lyrics are often very critical, their melodies are so romantic and deceive the contents wrapped by them. Yosui Inoue writes also many songs for other singers and keeps his popularity till now.

A folk song group Kaguya-hime led by Kousetsu Minami describes in his "Kanda-gawa" made in 1973

Masashi Sada
intimate episodes of a young couple in typically Japanese living conditions, such as going to public bath and sharing a small four-and- a-half-tatami-mat room. Another folk song singer-songwriter Masashi Sada wrote his first hit song "Shoro Nagashi" in 1974.

Songs describing private environment in lyrical and realistic manner became the mainstream in the mid-1970s. But more and more people became dissatisfied with such poor and pitiable contents. At the time, a new city quarter with numerous skyscrapers emerged in Shinjuku and more than 80% of the Japanese people thought that they belonged to the middle class. Against such a background people wanted a new style. "New-music" was developed from lyrical folk song and mirrored sophisticated and rich urban atmosphere. It discarded a simple folk song style to sing with an acoustic guitar in hands and started to use more gorgeous sounds using rock band musicians for accompaniment.

In the New-music female singer-songwriters were very active. Yumi Arai, after marriage Yumi Matsutoya, was a best seller musician for many years. She also wrote many songs for other singers. "Chuo Freeway" is from 1975 and one of her earlier works. It describes a new lifestyle, a drive on a newly made expressway.

"Chuo Freeway" by Yumi Matsutoya
Yumi Matsutoya

Passing by the Chofu Base and driving toward mountains.
Twilight spreads out and colors the front glass.
Chuou Freeway
Having the handle with a hand and putting another hand on the shoulder
I say "I love you" but strong wind deaden it.
Town lights start to twinkle
As if we two become meteors....

Miyuki Nakajima is another charisma musician. She made her debut in 1975 and since then continues to write hit songs for her and other singers until present time. "Jidai" (Time) was her first great hit from her debut year. She started as a love story teller, in particular unfulfilled love or deserted woman. I think that this sentiment is similar to that of enka. However, she makes her songs in much more elegant way and with real sense of modern and independent woman. Later, as her age advances, she tends to sing more general human stories. She wrote "Chijou no hoshi" (Stars on the ground) in 2002 as a theme song for the NHK documentary series "Project X" to encourage people working hard to overcome difficult situations and acclaimed nationwide fame. I wrote about Miyuki Nakajima also in my previous essay.

Around 1980 a group of female folk singers sang negative aspects of life such as their sorrowful experiences and unfulfilled desire. Miyuki Nakajima was the only one among them who could become commercially successful in the pop-music scene. But I cannot forget other singers such as Hako Yamasaki and Doji Morita who gave expression to our feelings which could not be taken care of by ordinary commercial songs. I dedicate a special page on this site to Doji Morita.

"Kasa ga nai" by Yosui Inoue
(This video was taken later in 1991)
Yosui Inoue

In cities the number of young people committing suicide is increasing.
So reported a small article in the news paper delivered this morning.
But, my problem is the today's rain. I cannot find an umbrella.
I have to go. I have to go to meet you.
I have to go to your town. I get wet.
Cold rain pierces into my heart today.
I cannot think nothing other than you.
It is good, isn't it?....

"Kandagawa" by Kaguya-hime
Kousetsu Minami

Did you already forget it?
Using a red towel as muffler,
We used to go to a public bath in a side alley.
We promised to go out at the same time,
But, you always let me wait.
Shampooed hair got chilled and
A small piece of soap clattered.
You hugged me and said, "You are cold".
We were young at the time and were not afraid of anything Except for your tenderness....
    (*) In Japan a public bath is separated into male and female sections. So, in order to go home together, a couple must meet at the entrance. It is usual to bring necessary toilet items. Therefore, a piece of soup can clatter in the case when the person holding it trembles.

"Jidai" by Miyuki Nakajima
Miyuki Nakajima

I am so sad today.
Tears dry up and I feel I can never smile again. However...

The day will come when I can say I had such a time.
I surely can laugh and say I had such a time.
Therefore, I should not worry today.
Let me stand today in the blowing wind.
Time goes around and around.
Pleasure and sorrow come repeatedly.
The lovers who are seperated today
will be born again and meet each other.....

From New music to J-pop

Exchanges between different music styles developed in the meantime.

Ryudo Uzaki
For example, Japanese rock bands such as Down Town Boogy Oogy Band led by Ryudo Uzaki(*) and Southern All Stars led by Keisuke Kuwata made their way to the kayou-kyoku world, namely the popular commercial music world, at the end of the 1970s.

(*) Ryudo Uzaki produced most of the hit songs of Momoe Yamaguchi together with his wife, lyricist Yoko Aki.

Southern All Stars is still very active and issues new hits continuously. The majority of their music is rhythmic and with some comical flavor, but I would like to introduce here as an example "Itoshi no Ellie" (Ellie my love) from 1978, as this is a favorite ballad of my buddy Tora in Karaoke and Ray Charles once sang it in English.

Rock musicians occasionally wrote music and lyrics for enka singers and new-music singer-songwriters wrote music for kayou-kyoku singers. New-music singers employed with preference rock bands for their accompaniment. With the rock bands, their eight-beat rhythm came to be absorbed more and more into new music. New-music was gradually gaining its popularity and influencing the kayou-kyoku music. Within new-music rock elements expanded their influence and traditionally Japanese elements gradually went lost. This was the situation of Japanese popular music on the eve of the birth of "J-pop”.

"Itoshi no Ellie" by Southern All Stars
Keisuke Kuwata

There were times I left your heart in pain.
Time again I've turned and walked away.
I'd get to where I'm going just to find.
Won't be happy in this world if you're not by my side.
Ellie, my love so sweet....
(*) This is the first part text of the English version, which is largely different from the Japanese. But, the Japanese text is not much logical to translate!?

Enka - its golden age and mannerism

While different styles of kayou-kyoku became more and more integrated into New-music and later J-pop, enka alone went a different way. Enka established its style during the 1960s and

Hiroshi Itsuki
gained popularity in the 1970s and early 1980s. It was the golden age of enka.

In addition to the veteran singers from the earlier period, many new singers entered the enka world. Hiroshi Itsuki made his debut with "Yokohama Tasogare" (Yokohama in twilight) in 1971, Sayuri Ishikawa sang her first hit song "Tsugaru kaikyou fuyu geshiki" (Tsugaru Channel in winter landscape) in 1977 and Aki Yashiro sang one of the best enka songs "Funauta" (Boatman's song) in 1979.

The video on the right side of this page shows Sayuri Ishikawa on her debut to the "Kohaku Utagassen" in 1977. Now, she wears kimono in most occasions, while Aki Yashiro is mostly seen in Western style cloths.

(*) "Funauta"is my most favorite enka and I used that in my first enka essay. The text, also written by Yuu Aku whom I mentioned above, impressively describes the mind of a man drinking sake and reflecting on his life.

"Danchone bushi", which is inserted in the middle of the song, is a citation from a folk song of the Kanagawa Prefecture. "Danchone bushi" prevailed with modified lyrics and unofficially sung by navy pilots during WWII. Those lyrics describe the highly risky life of pilots and ends with the phrase "danchone", which is an old expression and means "painful as if intestines are cut". Yuu Aku makes his own but well elaborated text to the traditional melody, and hints the relations of this song to the life of navy pilots.

Natsuko Godai
Enka, however, gradually fell into mannerism in the 1980s. Enka failed to discover new areas or new expressions and fell back into the old-fashioned relations between man and woman in entertainment world. This made enka more and more alien to many people in particular young listeners. At the beginning of the 1990s beautiful singers such as Ayako Fuji, Natsuko Godai and Kaori Kozai revived the popularity of enka once again. But they could stop the downward trend only tentatively. I personally cannot find appealing songs among the recent enka productions.

I now find it necessary to add here Teresa Teng (Jan. 2015). Though she is a Taiwanese singer and a great icon for all Chinese people both in Taiwan and the Continent, she also greatly contributed to the popular music scene of Japan in the 1970s and in particular in the 1980s.

It is not unusual that foreign singers come to Japan and sing Japanese popular songs in Japanese text. They were and are mostly from Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and some of them have even settled down in Japan such as Judy Ongg (from Taiwan) and Agnes Chan (from Hong Kong). However, no other singers is highly acknowledged in entire East-Asia and widely appreciated in Japan than Teresa Teng. Coming from Taiwan, Teresa sang in Japan mostly the songs made by Japanese composers and lyricists and some of them became greatest hits in the history of Japanese popular songs. Her hit songs in Japan such as "Airport" and "I only care about you" have some enka touch. But, her music activities, of course, extend to much wider scope.

I also remember clearly, though not in the context of Japanese pop songs, that she appeared without make-up in a concert in Hong Kong on 27 May 1989 to support democratization in China and sung "My Home Is on the Other Side of the Mountain" (see the picture left).

"Tsugaru Kaikyo fuyu-geshiki" by Sayuri Ishikawa
Sayuri Ishikawa

When I left the night train from Ueno,
I was in the snow-covered Aomori station.
The crowd returning back to the north was quiet and
listened to the roaring of the sea.
I went aboard a ferry
watched freezing seagulls
and cried.
Ah, Tsugaru Channel in winter landscape!

"Funauta" by Aki Yashiro
Aki Yashiro

Sake shall be tepid, grilled squid is enough for accompaniment.
Women shall be quiet, dim lamp is enough for light.
I am drinking full of pain, and a painful memory is going by.
A tear drops , and I start singing "boatman's song"......

"I onlly care about you" by Teresa Teng
Teresa Teng

If I hadn’t met you, what would I do now?
Would I then love somebody in an ordinary way and live an ordinary life?

Give myself to the flow of time, paint myself your color and give up my only one life; I do not care everything.
Therefore, I beg you, keep me beside you.
I can only care about you now. ......

 2009.1.24, rev.2014.8.17, 2015.1.18, 2020.12.8