Introductory Guides to Historical Recordings

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People Who Established Popular Music in Japan

Yoshihiro Kurata

Researcher of history of performing arts

 Japanese society in the modern era was not a very welcoming place for music. Let me provide a specific example.

 When the foreign advisor, Charles Lerour (1851-1926) composed the military march, "Battou tai" ("A Squad of Drawn Swords") (1885, Lyrics: Masakazu Toyama), even Emperor Meiji became enamored of it. Later, however, the Department of War imposed learning military marches on soldiers throughout Japan. It would take half a year before the command was finally withdrawn. Use of provincial dialect instead of refined standard Japanese might have been the cause of it. (1)

 In contrast, musical training in elementary school began gradually in the Meiji 20s. Singing class did not appear useful for intellectual training and moral education, however, so children were left to romp around the classroom. Though "Singing" was an elective class, with its poor reputation, many schools nevertheless removed it from their curriculum.

 Arguably, the singing voice that best epitomized the Meiji era was that of Sumako Matsui in her early Taisho era records. Such a former state of affairs would change completely early in Showa. Technological advances in the record disc and the establishment of record companies one after another ushered in a succession of singers, songwriters, and composers. Adoration for singers brought about improvement in the singing of the public at large. With that said, I have selected eight multifaceted individuals active in the early Showa era and I present a brief history of them and their work in the order of their birth. (2)

English version released on March 26, 2019.

1. Shinpei Nakayama

 Shinpei Nakayama (1887-1952). Composer. Respected as the "Father of the Japanese popular song" Born in Nagano Prefecture. Graduated the Tokyo Music School. His first composition, "Kachuusha no uta" ("Katyusha's Song") was the featured melody for the Geijutsu-za's production of "Fukkatsu" ("Resurrection") (Singer: Sumako Matsui, Lyrics: Hogetsu Shimamura, Gyofu Soma; 1914, Kyoto, Orient Record). His Taisho era melody, "Gondora no uta" ("The Gondola Song") (popular in Venice, mid-century, debuted in 1916) was revived in Akira Kurosawa's movie "Ikiru" ("To Live") (1952). Other notable works to hit the stage were "Ikeru shikabane" ("Living Stiff") and "Carmen" among others released by Nipponophone Company (forerunner of Nippon Columbia Co., Ltd.). In the Showa era, his Nikkatsu Corporation advertising song "Tokyo koshinkyoku" ("Tokyo March") of (Singer: Chiyako Sato, Lyrics: Yaso Saijo, 1929, Victor) attempted to take a look at society. In addition, other well-known works include the children's song, "Shojoji no tanukibayashi" ("The Drumming Raccoons of Shojoji") (Singer: Hideko Hirai, 1929, Victor), and the New Folk Song "Misasa kouta" (Singer: Fumikichi Kayamachi, 1929, Victor). (3)

→Listen to "Tokyo koshinkyoku"

2. Yaso Saijo

Yaso Saijo Yaso Saijo
Gendai nihon shijinn zenshu (Anthology of Modern Japanese Poets). Vol. 5, Sogensha, 1954, p.217

 Yaso Saijo (1892―1970). Poet. Songwriter. Born in Tokyo Prefecture. Professor, Waseda University. The featured song for the Nikkatsu Corporation movie "Tokyo koshinkyoku" ("Tokyo March") (Singer: Chiyako Sato, Composer: Shinpei Nakayama, 1929 Victor) caused a controversy with musical critic Takashi Iba. To summarize, Iba pointed out the vulgarity of the song, and the fact that since Saijo was a songwriter who could write such splendid poems, he would commission a high-class song like those in Europe and America. To this Saijo countered that it was exactly because he wrote the status-quo, that his songs evoked public sympathy. (4) His theme song "Tabi no yokaze" (Traveling Night Wind)" for the Shochiku Co., Ltd. film, "Aizenkatsura" was a major hit (Singer: Noboru Kirishima, Melody: Tadashi Manjome, 1938 Columbia). After World War II, he wrote numerous works such as "Tonko Bushi" (Singers: Yukie Kubo, Shigeo Kusunoki, Melody:1949, Columbia). Member of the Japan Art Academy. (5)

→Listen to "Tonko Bushi"

3. Taro Shoji

 Taro Shoji (1898-1972) Singer. Born in Akita Prefecture. Graduated Waseda University. He retired from the Manchurian Railways into the world of songs. "Akagi no Komoriuta" ("Akagi Lullaby") (Lyrics: Sonosuke Sato, Melody: Nobuyuki Takeoka, 1934 Polydor) and "Nozaki kouta" (Lyrics: Fukei Imanaka , Melody: Nosho Omura, 1935 Polydor) are well known pieces that exude an air of Japanese emotion and a favorable impression when sung standing at attention. The radio National Song "Yashi no mi" ("Coconut") (Lyrics:Toson Shimazaki Melody:Toraji Onaka 1936. Polydor) is beloved by generation by generation. (6)

4. Masao Koga

Masao Koga Koga Masao
'Watakushi no kao - sakkyokuka' Katei Yomiuri. ('My Face -The Composer'. Family Yomiuri.) 1954, No. 378, p.20-21.

 Masao Koga (1904-78). Composer. Born in Fukuoka Prefecture. Graduated Meiji University. Consisting of two seven-and-five-syllable meter phrases with guitar accompaniment, the pathos imbued melody "Sake wa namida ka tameiki ka" ("Is Sake a Tear or a Sigh?") (Singer: Ichiro Fujiyama, Lyrics: Kikutaro Takahashi, 1931 Columbia) was called the "Koga Melody" and captured the hearts of Japanese. His songs "Dareka kokyo wo omowazaru" ("Everyone longs for home") (Singer: Noboru Kirishima, Lyrics: Yaso Saijo, 1940 Columbia) and "Kanashii sake" ("Melancholy Sake") (Singer: Hibari Misora, Lyrics: Miyuki Ishimoto, 1966 Columbia) were major hits. People's Honor Award. (7)

→Listen to "Sake wa namida ka tameiki ka"

5. Tadashi Manjome

Tadashi Manjome Tadashi Manjome
'Watakushi no kao - sakkyokuka' Katei Yomiuri. ('My Face -The Composer'. Family Yomiuri.) 1954, No. 378, p.20-21.

Tadashi Manjome (1905-68). Composer. Born in Hokkaido. Graduated Musashino Music School. "Tabi no yokaze" ("Traveling Night Wind") for the Shochiku Co., Ltd. film, "Aizenkatsura" ("Love-soaked Hairpiece") (Singer: Noboru Kirishima, Miss Columbia, Lyrics: Yaso Saijo, 1938 Columbia) was widely sung by every echelon of society all the way up until the latter 1940s. "Ringo no uta" ("Apple Song") (Singer: Michiko Namiki, Lyrics: Hachiro Sato, 1946 Columbia) which appeared in the Shochiku Co., Ltd. film, "Soyokaze" ("Gentle Breeze") became the first popular song after the war. This song is used without fail when social conditions at that time are depicted. He has many other hits.

→Listen to "Tabi no yokaze"

→Listen to "Ringo no uta"

6. Ryoichi Hattori

 Ryoichi Hattori (1907-93). Composer. Born in Osaka Prefecture. "Wakare no buruusu" ("Breakup Blues") (Singer: Noriko Awaya, Lyrics: Ko Fujiura, 1937 Columbia) is representative of his jazz style. "Kohan no yado" ("Lakeside Inn") (Singer: Mieko Takamine, Lyrics: Sonosuke Sato, 1940 Columbia) was decadent, and though it was not appropriate during the war and its sale was banned, it made a comeback after the war. "Tokyo Boogie-Woogie" (Singer: Shizuko Kasagi, Lyrics: Masaru Suzuki, 1948 Columbia) combined with Kasagi's stage, it revitalized Japanese after the war. People's Honor Award. (8)

→Listen to "Kohan no yado"

→Listen to "Tokyo Boogie-Woogie"

Ryoichi Hattori Ryoichi Hattori
'Watakushi no kao - sakkyokuka' Katei Yomiuri. ('My Face -The Composer'. Family Yomiuri.) 1954, No. 378, p.20-21.

Shizuko Kasagi and The Three Big Names Shizuko Kasagi
'Shizuko to sandaimeibutsu' Staa. ('Shizuko Kasagi and The Three Big Names'. Star.) 1946, vol.1, no.5.

7. Yuji Koseki

 Yuji Koseki (1909-89). Composer. Born in Fukushima Prefecture. His work "Roei no Uta" ("Battlefield Encampment Song") (Singers: Tadaharu Nakano, Akira Matsudaira, Hisao Ito, Noboru Kirishima, and Akira Sasaki; Lyrics: Kiichiro Yabuchi, 1937 Columbia) won a Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shinbun ("Tokyo Daily News"; present-day "Mainichi Shimbun") prize. Along with "Akatsuki ni inoru" ("Pray at Daybreak") (Singer: Hisao Ito, Lyrics: Toshio Nomura, 1940 Columbia), it had a melody with a lyrical air about it and was a widely beloved song. Popular with the ladies, the theme song for the radio drama "Kimi no na wa" ("What is your name?") (Singer: Shigeko Orii, Lyrics: Kazuo Kikuta, 1953 Columbia) that was made into a movie became a huge hit. (9)

→Listen to "Akatsuki ni inoru"

→Listen to "Kimi no na wa"

8. Ichiro Fujiyama

Ichiro Fujiyama Ichiro Fujiyama
Yuriko Hamada 'Fujiyama Ichirosan to ohanashi suru'. Kindai Eiga ('Yuriko Hamada has a Chat with Ichiro Fujiyama'. Modern Cinema). 1947, vol. 3, no.7.

 Ichiro Fujiyama (1911-93). Singer. Born in Tokyo Prefecture. Graduated the Tokyo Music School. "Sake wa namida ka tameiki ka" (Is Sake a Tear or a Sigh?) (Lyrics: Kikutaro Takahashi, Melody: Masao Koga, 1931 Columbia) was a big hit and was made into a movie. With his crisp voice, he breezily belted out songs like "Tokyo Rapsody" (Lyrics: Yutaka Kadota, Melody: Masao Koga, 1936 Teichiku), and the theme song for the Toho Co., Ltd. film, "Aoi sanmyaku" ("Blue Mountain Range"), among others. People's Honor Award. (10)

→Listen to "Aoi sanmyaku"

 What I've described here is but a small sampling. Japanese people taste the delight of song and learn the joy of singing through their adoration of stars like these. Now, let us turn to the Japan's flourishing post-war days (singing contests, karaoke).


  1. Yoshihiro Kurata. Nihon kindai shisou taikei geinou (A Survey of Modern Japanese Thought: The Performing Arts) Iwanami Shoten, 1988.
  2. Yoshihiro Kurata. 'Shogaku shokashuu kaisetsu' Shin nihon kotenbungaku taikei meijihen kyoukasho keimoubunshuu ('An Anthology of "Elementary School Songs" An Explanation', A New Survey of Japan Classical Literature: Meiji Anthology - Textbook and Englightened Literature Collection), Iwanami Shoten, 2006.
  3. Uro Nakayama. Nakayama Shinpei sakkyoku mokuroku nenpu (A Catalog and Chronology of Works by Shinpei Nakayama). Mamenoki,1980.
  4. Yoshihiro Kurata. Nihonn rekoodo bunkashi (A History of Japanese Record Culture). Iwanami Gendai Bunko, 2006.
  5. Yaso Saijo. Uta no jijoden (An Autobiography in Song). Seikatsu hyakka kankoukai, 1956.
  6. Yoshiki Iwama. Isshou min raku (Entertain the People with One Song). Taro Shoji kayou geijutsu hozonkai, 1984.
  7. Masao Koga. Jiden wagakokoro no uta (Songs of my Spirit: An Autobography). Tenbosha, 2001.
  8. Watakushi no rirekisho bunkajin 14 (My Curriculum Vitae: Cultural Figures 14). Nihon keizai shinbun, 1984.
  9. Yuji Koseki. Kane yo narihibike (Let the Bells Toll). Nihontosho sentaa, 1997.
  10. Masaru Ikei. Fujiyama Ichiro to sono jidai (Ichiro Fujiyama and His Era). Shinchosha, 1997.

(Yoshihiro Kurata, Historian of the Performing Arts)

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