The Return of He Said – She Said ! ! ! Enka ! ! !

Mr P ! ! ! Enka can make even the toughest Yakuza boss cry ! ! ! Do you have your handkerchief ready ? ? ?

We Say:


We are Back at last and we are talking about the strange mix of Japanese folk and pop that is called Enka ! ! !

Enka is a type of popular Japanese music that is based loosely on traditional Japanese music.  It usually uses a scale called Yonanuki Tan-Onkai which is a type of minor scale used in Japanese folk music.  The themes in Enka songs are usually about a romantic view of rural Japan, lost lovers, and drinking sake alone in a bar while it is raining outside. Women usually perform wearing Kimonos and the guys usually wear formal western or Japanese clothes to add to the traditional flavour.   So I hope no one is allergic to cheese and you and have your handkerchiefs ready ! ! !


I will admit to being out of my comfort zone here. I am aware of Enka, of course, “Japanese Blues” I call it but it’s such a “words based” genre that it’s hard to really get into it. It’s worth it though. Actually “Blues” is not quite the right word. The more I find out about Japanese culture and attitudes ( and the same applies, I think, to China to a degree) the more I am convinced that there is a strong “romantic” feeling underlying a lot of art, music and literature. “Romantic” in the 18th C sense, a kind of deliberate embracing of slight melancholy and longing. Anyway here are some tracks that, we hope, illustrate why Enka is, proverbially, “Big in Japan”.

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Pairubu – Dèng Lìjūn  (Teresa Teng)  – Michizure (Life Partner) 

He Says:

This one is a substitute, brought in to replace one that couldn’t play but that’s no reflection on the song. It was difficult to choose only three anyway. There’s such a beautiful melody here and Ms Teng’s voice is lovely. For her life to be cut short, as it was, was tragic.

She Says:

Teresa Teng was  a Taiwanese singer that was popular all over Asia and had a huge following in Japan.  She recorded in Japanese and Mandarin as well as Indonesian, Korean and Malaysian.  She sang mostly Taiwanese folk based ballads and Japanese Enka.  I have always really liked her as she has such an honest delivery and she can sing the sometimes rather too dramatic and sentimental Enka tracks with a sincerity that is really very touching.  Sadly she died when she was only 42 from asthma which she had suffered from since childhood.   I totally love this simple romantic song of a girl telling a guy he is her soul mate and life partner.

Sakura –  Aiko Moaruyama  – Oboro Zukiyo No Joshuji   (Hazy Moon On The State Road)

She Says:

Oh dear, we have everything in this track – sake of course, a lonely girl deserted by the guy she loves and moonlight reflecting on the wet surface of the road leading to her home village . . . ( I suppose it will soon start raining again ! ! ! )  Aiko Maoriyama is a young Enka singer who started singing professionally in 2004 and released her first album in 2005.  She frequently uses a very traditional vocal technique called kobushi.  This is like a type of vibrato where the voice fluctuates over one syllable of word being sung and you can here it in this track quite often.  She is very popular with the older gentlemen fans of Enka as she is very traditional in style but young and super cute ! ! !

He Says:

Very “traditional”  sounding , I think. I do like this kind of stuff, it couldn’t really be from anywhere else other than Japan. Almost Arabic sounding in parts, that wobbly vocal can be heard from Turkey through to Taiwan. Very nice. Like a movie made of sound.

Pairubu – Fuji Keiko  – Shinjuku no Onna (Shinjuku Woman)

He Says:

Romantic night club style I would call this. More “Western” in style but still totally Japanese. I really like this one too. It’s very “urban” and very “70s”. I can imagine it being recorded in a slightly sleazy, smokey , club with hard faced Yakuza nodding sadly as they cradle their pints of sake.

She Says:

Keiko Fuji became an Enka singer in 1970 but retired in 1979 when she got married.  This is an interesting track and has a blues feel to it in places.  The scale used in Enka is similar to the pentatonic blues scale and so this is a mixture that works well and creates the atmosphere  of late night in an entertainment district.  Shinjuku is a business and entertainment district of Tokyo and is the home to Kabukichou which is Tokyo’s notorious red light district, and Kagurazaka (also known as Little Paris) which is the former Geisha district of Tokyo.   The song is about a “good time girl” discovering that love and true happiness is not to be found in the bright lights of Shinjuku.  I really like this one.  It really captures the style of the 1970 decade Enka and it is shame she ended her career so soon.

Sakura  –  Joji Yamamoto – Michinoku hitori tabi (Travelling Alone)

She Says:

What is it with guys ? ? ?   Their stupid pride gets in the way of everyone’s happiness ! ! !  In Enka songs guys can be defeated but they are never losers as they always have their stupid pride ! ! !   They will never just pick up the phone or get on the bus and go and see the girl ! ! !  In this song the guy is going of on a journey, we do not know why or where and he is leaving the girl he loves but even though he wants to stay and be with her he will go anyway as that is what a man must do ! ! ! This is a classic Enka song and theme and many people have made versions of it, but I really like this one.  It is the original version from 1980 and I think still the best ! ! !

He says:

While I, obviously, don’t agree with Sakura’s interpretation ( what is it with girls, always wanting to cling on to you when you have important stuff to do *)  Very moody, another “smokey nightclub” number, I think. I can sense outbreaks of lachrymosity over this one.

* Yes, going to the football or seeing another girl are “important” and anyway nothing happened and we’re only friends….honest….

Pairubu –  Shiro Miya and the Pinkara Trio  – Onna no Michi  (The Way of a Woman)

He Says:

Now this is truly lovely. As Sakura says it’s one of the best known Enka tracks and you can, I hope you will hear why. I don’t care if the singer was a comedian or that he likes to dress as an insect ( we all have our little quirks) he nails this beautiful song perfectly.

She Says:

WOW Mr P ! ! !  You have picked a true classic of the genre and actually this is the best selling Enka single of all time.  It was number one for 16 consecutive weeks in 1972  and was in the charts for a total of 84 weeks.  It is a simple but sad story of a man who encounters a woman crying and he tells her story of how she devoted herself to her guy and sacrificed everything for him but of course he left her.  Actually Shiro Miya started his career leading a comic band called the Super Boys and then formed the Pinkara Trio with his brother as a comic act and they became Enka super stars by mistake actually. Sadly his brother and the other members of the band have all passed away but Shiro Miya  is still a very funny guy famous for his moustache and appearing in TV  commercials dressed as an insect.  It is lovely song from a lovely guy ! ! !

Sakura  – Kazuko Matsumura – Kaette Koiyo (Come Back Love)

She Says:

Kazuko Matsumura is from Sapporo in Hokaido and trained as a traditional shiminsen player (a three string traditional instrument something like a western banjo) but at 16 years old in 1979 she decided to become an Enka singer and has been a popular and successful singer ever since.  Normally this song is sung by a guy, but I like this version very much.  It is the story of a girl who leaves her childhood sweet heart in the countryside and goes to Tokyo.  Of course she promises to return but . . . . So the poor guy waits by the mountain where they parted for her to come home but she never does.  This version of the song changes it so the girl is imagining the guy waiting and so she is feeling bad about it . . . . . .but hey  ! ! !   She is never going back to that one horse town so get it over it ! ! !

He Says:

Ah ! The old “poor bumpkin left pining for lover who has legged it to the big city and is having a whale of a time” song. A classic scenario. Love the plunky banjo thing on this , very Japanese, which it would be, of course. Almost “Spaghetti Western” in feel at times ( “Ramen Eastern ?” ).  Nice.

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We hope you have enjoyed the post and that we managed to give you an insight into the sentimental and romantic side to the Japanese character.  Enka is more than anything meant to be fun and enjoyed and the simple stories and melodies make it a firm favourite in every Karaoke bar from Sapporo to Hiroshima.  It is uniquely Japanese popular music genre and one that is actually having a return to popularity these days with younger singers coming to the genre with a fresh apporach.  We hoped you liked it ! ! !


So, there you go ! Hope you’re not sobbing too much. Lucky for us we don’t understand the words ! I get the feeling that there’s almost a liking for being “sad” in these songs. That delicious aching that comes from knowing you can’t have something that you want*
Sayonaree for now.

* In my case this is usually the last doughnut or chocolate bar.

Ms S, two lonely people in an empty bar . . It is like an Enka song  . . .
Mr P ! ! ! We are not lonely – we have each other ! ! !

27 thoughts on “The Return of He Said – She Said ! ! ! Enka ! ! !

  1. ooh, I think I may be a little too out of my comfort zone with these, but it’s always interesting to learn about a new style. Thank you for the post.

  2. It’s actually not all that far out of my comfort zone, i love classical Asian music. Probably lucky i don’t understand the lyrics – the vocal deliveries themselves are a bit on the emo side for my taste. Rather than sobbing i’d more probably toss off an, oh get over it already 🙂 So, nothing i’d actively seek out again, but did enjoy it, thanks!

    • I admit I sometimes have the same feeling ! ! ! But Enka is all about losing yourself in the emotion . . . .

      But thank you so much for listening and taking te time to comment ! ! !

    • If I may defend my Englishness here….the emotions evident in Enka are of the personal kind and though the songs are “out there” they are in fact singing as if from an “internal” viewpoint.
      It’s not that we Brits don’t have emotions it that we don’t show them to the world ( or family members…or anyone really).

      I see in Enka a very “British” expression of inner turmoil .As I understand it some of the more recent Enka artists, particularly the girls, are singing more “Yeah he’s gone but so what, lady, get on with your life” kind of songs.

      The English are quite sentimental really, you know, just don’t expect us to admit it.

      • No one has entered into the the Girls vs Boys argument yet ? ?
        There isa video fo Mr P and I discussing a very similar scenario as the one in Joji Yamamoto – Michinoku hitori tab . ..

        Here it is . . .

        Ms S andMr P – “You are not going out before eating your dinner . . . .”

      • I’m not really the right person to get into a girl vs. boys thing, i’m not really a normal girl i don’t think.

  3. Thanks to you both for this post. I enjoyed it, although as you say, in some cases it veers towards the camembert. (But beautifully researched, written and presented, by the way.) For some reason, I prefer the female singers, and the Kazuko Matsumura was the standout for me, with Teresa Teng a close second. It’s nice to have your description of what the song is about, sakura, as my 10 words of Japanese don’t help much!

    I think I was expecting more from the earlier period, by singers like Misora Hibari. A long time ago, Sakura introduced us to enka with a string of noms on a topic I can’t recall. Some of them were from an earlier period of enka I think – one youtube was a stunning song with an older woman in a kimono sat in a wicker chair in a stage set of flowering trees which I can’t now find again – indeed many great vintage enka songs on YouTube seem to be now withdrawn from viewing, at least in the West, due to stupid copyright claims. No doubt if I was able to search YT in Japanese I would have more luck!

    But enka is certainly a genre with many gems, although I can appreciate that it has limited appeal outside Japan – as does Morris dancing outside the UK!

    The genre has some affinity with the plaintive songs of loss in Portuguese fado, which is also undergoing a resurgence of popularity, and reinvention, at the hands of younger newcomers like Mariza.

    Once again, thanks to you both.

    • HI GF ! ! !

      It was during the “songs about wine” topic that I unleashed my ENKA collection on the world ! ! !

      You are really so good to remember it ! ! !

      But you are right most of the vids are now gone, i think it it is really sad – especially for a genre like Enka where the more people that view it the better it is – sorry but we are not talking about lady Ga Ga for goodness sake ! ! !

      Really GF – thank you so much for reading and commenting. we have a great secret weapon for next week ! ! ! I think you will not need so many handkerchiefs . . . .

      Thank you again GF ! ! !

    • Vanishing vids seems to be a problem with Japanese stuff. Even really old TV clips get pulled all the time. It’s very frustrating and I can’t really understand why they do it.
      As Sakura says it’s not like it’s Lady GaGa or something.

  4. Thank you both, really interesting post although I have to confess I am not a fan of the music. Stiff upper lip & all that. Ahem.

  5. Dèng Lìjūn (Teresa Teng) – Michizure (Life Partner) – So pretty and the accordian bits are a lovely touch. Exquisite.

    Aiko Moaruyama – Oboro Zukiyo No Joshuji (Hazy Moon On The State Road) – I AM a fan of the wibbly wobbly voice when it’s done in context, not in the Whitney Houston school of overindulgent singing. Very nice.

    Fuji Keiko – Shinjuku no Onna (Shinjuku Woman)
    Hey. Substitute your yakuza for vaqueros and, this could be somewhere down in Jalisco, except that they might not understand the exact words. This is Mexican folk. To a T.

    Joji Yamamoto – Michinoku hitori tabi (Travelling Alone)
    Very nice again. Love the mandolin.

    Shiro Miya and the Pinkara Trio – Onna no Michi (The Way of a Woman)
    I get it’s appeal, but it’s definitely not a favourite,

    Kazuko Matsumura – Kaette Koiyo (Come Back Love)
    Ooh, I love that twangy thing. What is it? Is that the shiminsen? You hear it a lot in Chinese restaurants for some reason. The song is full of angst, isn’t it?

    Thanks for sharing this. As is evident folk music travels well. I could hear bits of other cultures in there but couldn’t identify the others except the one I mentioned, but of course 95 percent of it is peculiar to the region.

    Great job you two, Thanks for your hard work.

    • Glad you liked them. They are rather lovely aren’t they.
      It was a learning experience for me too.
      There’s some interesting “modern” songs out there too.
      Like this little rocker

    • Hi SR ! ! !

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. We knew Enka would be genre that many people would not relate to but we wanted to expose people to something new.

      I am really pleased you liked some the tracks ! ! ! It is interesting about the similarity to Mexican music in Fuji Keiko track. Maybe it is the trumpet, I always associate trumpets with Mexican cantina music . . .

      Thanks you SR ! ! !

  6. As usual a really informative and enjoyable post. Thanks. I listened to all the music with an open mind but alas it doesn’t seem to be for me, which is strange as I’m a very emotional person when I’m being emotional. Perhaps I should listen to it all again later. Not being English I can’t comment on the stiff upper lip thingy. Doesn’t it make for terrible kissing ?

    • Hi ! ! ! Thank you for reading the post – I am not sure who you are and I can not guess form the comment. But thank you so much for reading the post and taking the time to listen to the tracks.

      I do not know about the riff up lip as I have never kissed and English guy ! ! !

      • Hi LitteRiver ! ! !

        I thought it was you ! ! !

        I have only kissed one white guy and that was when I was studying in the USA but it was not very romantic actually as he was so much taller than me he missed and kissed my nose . . . It was quite embarrassing actually ! ! ! (I should have worn heels but he was a jeans, sneakers and t-shirt guy so it would not have looked right to wear heels with him.)

        I will have to go to France for a holiday to make a comparison ! ! !

    • The stiff upper lip ( or riff up rip as Sakura seems to want to call it !) makes kissing, on the rare occasions that it takes place, a rather dribbly affair.
      That’s why the English wear ties.

  7. Wot no Jero ???!! – only joking!

    Probably won’t get to it for a few days, but am looking forward to listening to this.

    I always think Enka is definitely more ‘blues’ than ‘folk’…..I love the forlornness (is that a word?) and sense of dramatic tragedy that hangs over it…

  8. Enjoyed this a lot, thanks.

    I knew the Fuji Keiko track already (and I’ve sung her praises on here before), and really liked the Aiko Maruyama and Shiro Miya (which perhaps I should have known).

    I read recently that Enka is stealthily coming back into the charts as older people are the only ones still buying CDs as everyone else is downloading.

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