Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

The Music of Hayakawa Yoshio (2): “Salvia Flowers”

Posted in J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the September 17th, 2013

(In anticipation of the October 18, 2013 concert by Hayakawa Yoshio and Sakuma Masahide at the University of Chicago, over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of entries here introducing Hayakawa’s music. More information about the concert, which is free and open to the public, is available here.)

hayakawa yoshio kakko ii koto

The Jacks broke up after releasing two studio albums, and in 1969 Hayakawa recorded his first solo album. Things That Are Cool Are Somehow So Uncool (Kakko ii koto wa nante kakko warui darō). Released on the underground URC label, the LP received widespread acclaim, with critics in particular singling out the track “Salvia Flowers” (サルビアの花), with music by Hayakawa and lyrics by Aizawa Yasuko, for praise. Whereas The Jacks’ music had been primarily guitar-based, for his solo debut Hayakawa switched to piano as his main instrument.

With its achingly beautiful melody and elegiac lyrics, “Salvia Flowers” became Hayakawa’s most widely covered composition. It has subsequently been performed by numerous performers from across the popular music spectrum, ranging from Kuwata Keisuke (Southern All Stars) to Inoue Yōsui, Yuki Saori, Agata Morio, and Yamamoto Linda. It also remains a fixture of Hayakawa’s concert repertoire.

The original 1969 recording of “Salvia Flowers”:

Hayakawa performing the song with violinist Honzi on Japanese television circa 2005:

“Salvia Flowers” (Sarubia no hana)
(Music by Hayakawa Yoshio, lyrics by Aizawa Yasuko)
English translation by Michael Bourdaghs

Always, always wanted to do it: take salvia flowers
and drop them into your room
To cover your bed in red salvia flowers
And hold you till we die

And yet, and yet: you’ve gone to another
Even though my love is deeper

Weeping, I chased you through a storm of cherry blossoms
The church bell rang untrue

The doors opened and you appeared, the false flower-bride
Threw a glance at my stunned face
Weeping, I chased you through a storm of cherry blossoms
Falling and stumbling, falling and stumbling, I ran on and on


Itsumo itsumo omotteta sarubia no hana o
Anata no heya no naka ni nageiretakute
Soshite kimi no beddo ni sarubia no akai hana shikitsumete
Boku wa kimi o shinu made dakishimete iyō to

Nanoni nanoni dōshite hoka no hito no tokoro ni
Boku no ai no hō ga suteki nanoni

Nakinagara kimi no ato o oikakete hanafubuki mau michi o
Kyōkai no kane no ne wa nante usoppachi nanosa

Tobira ga aite dete kita kimi wa itsuwari no hanayome
Hoho o kowabarase boku o chiratto mita
Nakinagara kimi no ato o oikakete hanafubuki mau michi o
Korogenagara korogenagara hashiritsuzuketa no sa

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The Music of Hayakawa Yoshio (1): “Love Generation”

Posted in J-Rock,Japanese literature,Music by bourdaghs on the September 11th, 2013

(In anticipation of the October 18, 2013 concert by Hayakawa Yoshio and Sakuma Masahide at the University of Chicago, over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of entries here introducing Hayakawa’s music. More information about the concert, which is free and open to the public, is available here.)


“Love Generation” (「ラブ・ゼネレーション」) with lyrics and music by Hayakawa, was a stand-out track on Vacant World [Jakkusu no sekai, 1968], the celebrated debut album by The Jacks, Hayakawa’s 1960s folk-rock group. With Hayakawa’s searing vocals, Mizuhashi Haruo’s psychedelic guitar, Tanino Hitoshi’s fluid bass, and Kida Takasuke’s jazz-influenced drumming, the original recording is an excellent example of the dark, moody style of The Jacks that captivated audiences on the underground music scene of late 1960s Japan.

Okabayashi Nobuyasu, the “God of Japanese Folk Music,” recorded a cover version of “Love Generation” on his classic 1970 album, Leap Before You Look (Miru mae ni tobe). Hayakawa himself has also revisited this composition repeatedly during his solo career. In addition, the song provided the title for Hayakawa’s first book, a lively collection of essays first published in 1972 and still in print today.

The original Jacks’ recording of “Love Generation”:

Hayakawa’s cover of the song from his 1995 solo album Sunflower [Himawari no hana]:

“Love Generation”
(Lyrics and music by Hayakawa Yoshio)
English translation by Michael Bourdaghs

When we want to start something
We don’t want to fake being alive
So sometimes we fake being dead
That’s right: we fake being dead.

If you want to, you can fly through the sky
The swelling of joy when you feel that way
We cry as we exchange cups of a saké you can’t drink
That’s right: we exchange cups of a sake you can’t drink

It’s those things everyone says are true because they want to believe
It’s all those lofty things: those are the things you should question

Adults are supposed to be better than this
You’ll find the real adults among the children

It’s because I want to be alone
That I talk with so many people, like a fool
But deep in our words, the love—
But deep in our words, the love—


Bokura wa nani ka o shihajimeyō to
Ikiteru furi o shitakunai tame ni
Toki ni wa shinda furi o shite miseru
Toki ni wa shinda furi o shite miseru no da.

Shiyō to omoeba sora datte toberu
Sō omoeru toki ureshisa no amari
Nakinagara nomenai sake o kawasu
Nakinagara nomenai sake o kawasu no da.

Shinjitai tame ni tadashii to omowarete iru mono koso
Subete arayuru ōkina mono o utagau no da

Otonnatte iu no wa motto suteki nan da
Kodomo no naka ni otona wa ikiten da

Jitsu wa hitori ni naritai yue ni
Baka mitai ni takusan no hito to hanasu no da
Bokura no kotoba no oku ni wa ai ga
Bokura no kotoba no oku ni wa ai ga
Ippai aru.

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Bang! Bang! Bang!: The Evolution of a J-Rock Classic

Posted in J-Pop,J-Rock,Japanese film,Music by bourdaghs on the November 30th, 2012

(Recycling something originally posted here in 2009)

In 1967, Group Sounds superstars The Spiders recorded a song composed by their rhythm guitarist, Kamayatsu Hiroshi. Not much was expected of “Ban Ban Ban,” a crude three-chord rocker with throwaway lyrics and a riff supposedly lifted from a song by The Mindbenders. The tune was originally used as the B-side for a single and later included on the band’s fourth album. Here’s the original Spiders’ version, taken from one of their movies:

There was something about “Ban Ban Ban,” though, that made it stick in people’s minds: the rhythm, the catchy chorus, the sheer joy of it all. It’s become a J-rock classic now, one that every J-Rock band has to know, something akin to the status of “Wild Thing” or “Smoke on the Water” in the West.

Here are 1990s rockers Flying Kids performing the song on a drive through Tokyo. They get bonus points for digging up replicas of The Spiders’ old red doorman costumes:

And here are today’s fave-rave indie rockers Go!Go!7188 performing the song live.

Probably the most memorable cover of the song comes from “Monsieur” Kamayatsu himself. In early 1990, he was recording a new album in London. Word came down that all hell was breaking lose in Berlin, and so Kamayatsu headed over to Germany to see what was happening. The Wall had been breached, but not torn down yet, and there were still military patrols on both sides. Kamayatsu writes in his autobiography that he figured out that patrols walked by at two-minute intervals. Timing it carefully, he waited for one patrol to pass, then scrambled up to the top of the wall with acoustic guitar in hand. He dashed off an impromptu rendition of “Ban Ban Ban” for the assembled crowd, and luckily the moment was captured on video.

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Pop Envy

Posted in Current Events,J-Pop,J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the November 27th, 2012

I think I’m the last human being on earth who actually cares about this. NHK yesterday announced the line-up for this year’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen,” its annual New Years Eve pop music spectacle. At first glance, the only thing that caught my eye was the fact that recently reunited J-Rock veterans Princess Princess were going to be making their debut appearance on the show. Beyond that, it was just a ho-hum list of the usual suspects. You can check out the whole roster here (Japanese-language).

But then press reports (e.g., here and here) started pointing out a conspicuous absence. In recent years, the bill has always included top K-Pop idols, but this year nary a single performer from across the Sea of Japan (or, depending on one’s geopolitical allegiances, the East Sea). NHK cites “public opinion” as the reason for this, referring obliquely to the flare-up earlier this year over the disputed Dokdo/Takeshima islands (see this report from the NY Times on the increasingly bitter row).

This carries on a news thread from earlier this year: the odd fact that Japan was the one place on earth where PSY’s Internet sensation “Gangnam Style,” now the single most watched video in YouTube history, failed to become a hit. According to news reports, South Korea was “irked” about this indifference. Ian Martin, writing in the Japan Times last month, speculates that this may be entirely to Japan’s credit:

But it’s Psy who is the first Korean artist that the West gathers to its collective heart, while Japan stands by nonplussed, and I have to wonder if a lot of the reason for “Gangnam Style” ‘s Western popularity still boils down to, “Hey, look at the funny little Asian man dancing!” (This was essentially the gist of a sketch on comedy show Saturday Night Live that parodied “Gangnam Style” on Sept. 15. Psy also made an appearance in that sketch.)

It’s an awkward area to go into; no one likes to think of themselves as prejudiced. However, even if you’re not, mass media still wields influence on what society collectively considers cool. So think for a moment: How many genuinely “cool” Asian celebrities are there in the West? I don’t mean subcultural or art-house cool, so scrub Cornelius and Tony Leung off your list. I’m talking about Asian stars in the Western mainstream whose image is something people aspire toward and seek to imitate.

What’s struck me most about the “Gangnam Style” phenomenon is its close resemblance to 1963 and Sakamoto Kyu’s accidental worldwide hit, “Sukiyaki.” As I argue in my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon, that incident has to be understood within its specific historical context, including the massive 1960 protests in Tokyo against renewal of AMPO–the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty–and the Cold War strain of Orientalism that transformed Japan into an object of fetishistic desire. Not to mention the escalating Vietnam War, for which Japan and Okinawa would serve as major staging areas.

The current tensions recall to mind something that Karatani Kojin wrote about a couple of decades ago. We have to always keep in mind that historians someday will write that we were living in the pre-war era.

This and That

Posted in Books,J-Pop,J-Rock,Japanese literature,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the November 10th, 2012

Apologies for the lack of updates these last two months. Not only have I returned to teaching from my sabbatical, I’ve also become department chair. Life is busy, in other words–but it keeps me off the streets.

This has come up rather suddenly, but I’ll be giving a talk at UCLA next week (Friday, November 16) on “Tokyo Boogie Woogie in California: The 1950 Sacramento Recordings in Japanese and Japanese-American Cultural History” (details available here). In the presentation, I’ll introduce the collection of 1950 concert recordings of Japanese musicians (Misora Hibari, Kawada Haruhisa, Yamaguchi Yoshiko, Watanabe Hamako, Kasagi Shizuko, among others) that I helped authenticate and that were in the news in Japan this past summer (see, for example, here and here). The man who discovered the recordings has now donated the entire collection to the UCLA library. While in Los Angeles, I’ll also be filming an interview for a television special about the recordings that will air later this year. I’ll post details about broadcast times when they become available.

I was also recently a guest on the NPR radio program “To the Best of our Knowledge,” talking about my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop. You can listen to or download my segment here. And don’t forget about the online companion for the book that I’ve put together: I’ve heard from a few people who are teaching the book this all that the webpage was very useful.

The Japanese translation of the book continues to do very well, with nice reviews coming out in many magazines and newspapers (for example, here and here).

In the meanwhile, I am moving on to other scholarly projects: co-editing a two-volume series of new scholarly essays and translations related to early postwar Japanese literary criticism, finishing up a translation of Karatani Kojin’s magnum opus The Structure of World History (Sekaishi no kozo), and returning to a longstanding project that involves rethinking Natsume Soseki in relation to the problems of modern property regimes and world literature.

I’ll try to blog here a little more regularly in the coming months, too. It keeps me off the streets–the wild, wild streets.

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Skitterish New J-Rock

Posted in J-Pop,J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the August 28th, 2012

I learned this morning from the Tokyo Hive website about a just-released new video from Sakanaction (サカナクション). They’ve been one of the more intriguing mainstream J-Rock bands the past five or six years. The song “Yoru no odoriko” (Dancing girl at night) is their seventh single and is set for release on August 29. The promotional video is directed by Tanaka Yusuke, who has worked with the band in the past.

Some instant analysis: musically, it’s very much in the band’s usual style. But both the video and song flirt with exotic Japanese elements–fer crissakes, they’re playing at the foot of Mount Fuji. But the seeming Japanese-ness is all underwritten by a strongly ironic bent: sudden shifts in camera distance function like jump cuts to remind us repeatedly that what we are seeing is mediated by technology. These hints become more explicit as the video progresses and images of goggles and binoculars become central. The lyrics (available here) reinforce this: the back-up singers’ first line is “Mite ita furi shite” (Only pretending to look), and later the singer talks about mirages and about images.

My initial response: intriguing. What do you think?

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Scenes from a Month in the Life

It’s been exactly a month since I posted here. I spent that month mostly on the road — two weeks in Japan and a week in Minnesota, sandwiched around a brief stay at home in Chicago. What did I do during that month? A few randomly chosen scenes:

Rediscovery of Zazen Boys. After enjoying their first two CDs very much and watching them play a live set in Sendai back in 2006, I’d drifted away from this post-punk/funk combo. But an entry of Patrick St. Michel’s excellent blog alerted me to “Potato Salad,” a wonderful new track from a forthcoming release, and while in Japan I picked up a copy of Zazen Boys 4, their 2008 CD. Terrific stuff, and back on heavy rotation in my life.

Celebrating what would have been my father’s 75th birthday. The whole family gathered in St. Paul for the event on August 15. We took in a Twins’ game on a lovely afternoon at Target Field (alack, a 5-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers, with Ben Revere hitting a triple for the only Minnesota highlight of the day), then supped on pizza, wine, and cake in the evening as we passed around photos of Dad and swapped stories. The next day, I dragged the kids to a free concert in Mears Park in downtown St. Paul by the Flamin’ Ohs, a local Minnesota band I adored during their late 1970s, early 1980s, heyday. The kids hated the show; I loved it. You can decide for yourself:

Enjoying my fifteen minutes of fame. I did about a dozen media interviews in Japan and here about my book and the discovery of wire recordings of 1950 concerts in Sacramento by a number of prominent Japanese musicians, including Misora Hibari and Yamaguchi Yoshiko. This resulted in a large number of stories and reviews in newspapers and magazines, as well as a fair amount of television coverage. The Japanese translation of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon seems to be selling well, and the press comments so far have been quite positive. Here in the States, I’ll be on the August 26 edition of the public radio program, “To The Best of Our Knowledge.” It will be available as a podcast after the broadcast.

Participating in the July 29 “Encircle the National Diet Building” Anti-Nuclear Protest in Tokyo. It was a disorienting but exhilarating event: tens of thousands of marchers trying to follow bizarre police directions that made me feel increasingly like a laboratory rat trapped in a maze. We were repeatedly directed to walk away from the Diet Building, but eventually we did find the cheese: a swirling carnival that occupied a blocked-off street in front of the main entrance to the building. In the meanwhile, the weekly Friday afternoon protests in front of the Prime Minister’s residence continue.

Dashing off an Angry E-Mail to NBC. How could they possible cut Ray Davies’ performance of “Waterloo Sunset” from the American broadcast of the London Olympics closing ceremony? It was the emotional centerpiece of the whole show. Sigh. I wasn’t the only one who was mad about it, either.

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Wish I’d Had These Books in Hand Back Then

Posted in Books,J-Pop,J-Rock,Jazz,Music by bourdaghs on the July 19th, 2012

I finished writing my book Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop in late 2010. Chapter Five, on 1970s New Music, was the last one I worked on; the other chapters were mostly finished (and published separately as articles and chapters) years before that. I was able to make a few last-minute revisions in the summer of 2011, but for the most part my work on the book was finished in 2010. Since then, several important new books have appeared in Japan. I wish I’d had these available to me when I was doing the research for the project. They would have not only made my job easier, they would have made the book better.

Sakoguchi Sanae’s (砂古口早苗) Bugi no joo: Kasagi Shizuko (『ブギの女王・笠置シヅ子』) (Gendai Shokan, 2010) is the first biography of Kasagi Shizuko, Japan’s early postwar “Queen of Boogie Woogie” (excluding a quickie autobiography that Kasagi published in 1948, which I do cite in the book). It includes many photographs and a useful chronology of Kasagi’s life. Sakoguchi’s book fills a definite need: I wonder why it took so long for someone to write up the remarkable story of Kasagi’s life?

Ue o muite aruko (『上を向いて歩こう』)(Iwanami Shoten, 2011) by Sato Go (佐藤剛) is another long-overdue study, this one on Sakamoto Kyu’s 1963 worldwide hit, “Sukiyaki,” which I take up in my chapter three. There are several other books out about Sakamoto’s life, which I cited, but this is the first book-length study to focus on the cultural repercussions of Sakamoto’s global smash, both inside and outside of Japan. Like me, Sato is interested in Sakamoto’s relation to contemporary Western popular music, including Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

Yuasa Manabu (湯浅学)is a prominent music critic in Japan–and one of the participants, along with Hagiwara Kenta, in the taidan dialogue that was included in the Japanese translation of my book. Ongaku ga orite kuru (『音楽が降りてくる』 (Kawada Shobo Shinsha, 2011) is a collection of his articles and liner notes. It opens with a series of essays on 1970s New Music (Happy End, Hosono Haruomi, Endo Kenji, etc.), including the “rock in Japanese” debate that I write about. The other chapters range widely across genres and styles: Misora Hibari, Nakajima Miyuki, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, etc.

Wajima Yusuke’s (輪島裕介) Tsukurareta ‘Nihon no kokoro’ shinwa (『創られた「日本の心」神話』)(Kobunsha Shinsho, 2010) is a critical history of postwar Japanese popular music centered on the genre of enka. The winner of the Suntory Gakugeisho book prize, it starts off with a question I explore in my own book: was Misora Hibari really an enka singer?

All of the above are highly recommended to anyone interested in the subject. When I started studying the history of Japanese popular music back in the late 1990s, I was shocked by the paucity of reliable scholarship on the topic available in Japan. As the above titles suggest, the situation has improved considerably since then, and I think it will continue to get better as writers and scholars in Japan continue to reassess the crucial legacy of music in Japan’s modernity.

If you know of any other useful recent studies of Japanese popular music, please drop a line in the “Comments” section.

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On YMO and Aging Gracefully

Posted in J-Pop,J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the July 13th, 2012

We were watching the live upstream feed of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s closing set at the No Nuke music festival outside of Tokyo last Sunday when my wife noted how well the members of the band have aged. It’s true. All three not only look terrific, they’ve also consistently been making excellent music the past few years. Would we could all be so vital when we reach our sixties.

Thanks to his work in film music and acting (cf. The Last Emperor), Sakomoto Ryuichi is the best-known member outside Japan. With his strong commitment to environmental and anti-nuclear activism, he remains one of the great moral authorities in the world of Japanese popular culture (I’ve been thinking about “moral authority” in pop music a good deal these days). He also continues to write and record challenging yet beautiful music, moving effortlessly between the worlds of pop, classical, and even Brazilian music. Here he is performing his composition “Thousand Knives” live in Europe from his world tour in support of his 2010 CD, Playing the Piano. On the tour, which we were caught here in Chicago, he played two pianos: one with his hands, the other by way computer programming and sampler.

Like Sakamoto, Hosono Haruomi continues to float between genres. The hero of chapter four in my recent book, he last year released HoSoNoVa, a delightful CD–and his first album with Hosono singing all the tracks in 38 years! It includes about half original numbers and half covers–including Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” Jimmie Rodgers’ “Desert Blues,” Hoagy Carmichael’s “Lazy Bones” and Leiber/Stroller’s “Love Me.” As that list suggests, Hosono continues to explore the possibilities of hybrid crossings of musical styles. Backing musicians include some of Hosono’s old cronies (Suzuki Shigeru from Happy End, Hayashi Tatsuo from Tin Pan Alley, Van Dyke Parks) and some new faces as well (Yoko Ono, Cocco, Nakamura Mari). Very nice.

When I first encountered YMO back in the 1980s, I thought the band consisted of Sakamoto Ryuichi and two other guys. Then, as I discovered Happy End and Hosono’s solo work, I revised that view: YMO, I decided, consisted of Sakamoto, Hosono, and some other guy whose name I could never remember. Then, about seven years ago, I finally discovered Takahashi Yukihiro. The turning point was the Sadistic Mika Band reunion: I hadn’t connected the dots until then and realized that Takahashi came out of that legendary band. When I saw them in concert in 2006, I was struck by the intelligence and beauty (not an easy combination to pull off) of Takahashi’s compositions. Since then, I’ve been a fan of his terrific new outfit, pupa. I also very much like Last Train to Exit Town, the new CD he put out last year with Suzuki Keiichi (late of the Moonriders) under the name “Beatniks.” As I’ve written here before, what really strikes me about Takahashi’s recent music is his ability to combine electronically generated sounds and acoustic instruments into a lush, organic sound. Maybe YMO was really Takahashi and two other guys all along?

I hope these three guys keep on making music for decades to come. I mean, look how good they looked and sounded last weekend. Hosono sure plays a mean bottle:

The Sounds of Summer 2012 in Japan

Posted in Current Events,J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the July 1st, 2012

The media, both inside and outside of Japan, are finally starting to report on the massive demonstrations ongoing in Tokyo and elsewhere in protest against Prime Minister Noda’s decision to restart the Ohi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. Last Friday, tens of thousands gathered outside the Prime Minister’s residence in what has become a regular weekly event. Another large protest is planned for Shinjuku today, and on July 29 yet another protest will perform a symbolic circling of the Diet Building, the home of Japan’s national parliament.

Musician Sakamoto Ryuichi, who has been active in anti-nuclear and other environmentalist causes for decades, has just released a mesmerizing new recording, mixing sound samples from the protests outside the Ohi plant gates (“Saikado hantai!”: We oppose restarting the reactors!) with ambient-style music. You can listen to the piece here. He announced the release on his Twitter feed last night:

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