Friday, October 17, 2008

Jero the Enka Guy, on CNN

It’s good to see this young man get some recognition over there. After all, he’s one of the few college graduates, much less computer scientists, to make the jump from amateur karaoke to the pros in the enka genre, reminding us of all those music majors and teachers in the United States in the 30s and 40s who brought the blues and folk music into the mainstream.

But speaking of the 40s, “a traditional form of lounge music that flourished in 1940’s Japan”? C’mon, enka produced the first Japanese million-seller single in 1961 and continued to produce big hits and megastars for many more years. It is only in the last couple of decades that the genre has seen a serious decline, but it’s still more popular with the general public than, say, American folk music is in the United States. Or the blues. And “lounge music?” If so, then jazz is “lounge music”, as any self-respecting gaijin should be able to tell you.

There may be a story here to be told about how outsiders from the “riverbed people” to Korean residents have been integrated into the broader Japanese society through the entertainment industry.

Meanwhile, in Boston in game 5, Matsuzaka is froof that if you’re no good, that’s when it’s really good to be lucky.


Janne Morén said...

We went to Aomori a few weeks ago, and saw the self-playing monument to "津軽海峡冬景色" in the harbor. While we were there, there was a steady stream of people coming up and listening to the song (singing along in a couple of cases). When I asked around a bit at work, every single Japanese - graduate students in their 20's included - happily admitted that they not only knew the song, they could sing along to it.

Enka looks pretty healthy to me.

Anonymous said...

Enka is not in decline. It is on TV all the time, you hear it at karaoke bars, snack bars, even the Workman chain of shops play enka to its clientele. When will US media ever get an entire news report right about anything Japanese?

Jun Okumura said...

Janne, Anonymous: There’s decline, then there’s decline. It’s hard to imagine enka dying out altogether, in the same way that I can’t see country music disappearing, for similar reasons actually. However, enka is steeply down in popularity from its heydays in the 50s, 60s and 70s, when many, at times a majority, of the megastars—they pulled their audience into movie and live theaters as well—and hit songs were enka, and non-enka stars would often crossover. The 1962 wedding of Hibari Misora and Akira Kobayashi, one of the biggest male leads at the time as well as a hitmaking enka singer, was a near-national event. Those days are behind us, likely forever. But you’re right, it’s here, there, everywhere. And will be for a long, long time.