Monday, June 5, 2017

The Top 100: Misora Hibari and Like No You ni

Good morning, good on ya, and welcome to today's StudyOke! Today we're talking about best girl Misora Hibari, who is the best. We'll also be focusing in on the use of "you ni" with one of the most beloved Japanese songs ever, Kawa no Nagare no You ni.

Original Lyrics / Romaji / Translation / Lyrics Sheet

About the Artist

If you don't like Misora Hibari, you're wrong. She is a treasure and adorable and quite simply, the best.

A movie star at hit singer by the age of 12, Misora continued performing and recording all the way up to her death at 52. She was so legendary at that time that radio stations and television channels still play her classic Kawa no Nagare no You ni on her birthday. In 1997, that same song was voted the single greatest Japanese song of all time.

It's not hard to see why Misora is and was so beloved. Certainly, her early films and music captured the zeitgeist of post-war Japan, Misora was no child-acting flash in the pan. She continued putting out beloved song after beloved song through the sixties, seventies, and eighties. For many people, her work is symbolic of the struggle of Japan up from the ashes of war to the economic boom of the eighties.

Misora passed away in 1989, a year before the stock market collapse of 1990 that Japan has still not truly recovered from. Her death marked for many people the transition from the building and growing Japan of the post-war to the stagnating and declining Japan of the post-bubble economy.

For understanding the mood and culture of that window of Japanese history, there's probably no better entry point than the work of Misora Hibari. But just she escaped the fate of so many child actors, I think her work also avoids the pitfalls of blind nostalgia. The universal themes of songs like Kawa no Nagare no You ni or even Kanashii Sake speak to her power as an artist and performer, and not just a beloved cultural icon.

Misora Hibari is best waifu, always.

[Today's Topic: Like NoYou ni is after the jump]

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Top 100: Southern All-Stars and No Topic

Good morning and good golly, today we're talking about one-of-if-not-the greatest J-Pop group of all time.

Original Lyrics / Romaji / Phrasal Translation / Poetic Translation

New! Lyrics Sheet

I'm trying out something new this time. Click here for a pdf with the lyrics, a vocabularly list, and some additional info about the song.

About the Artist

Since this series is based on the HMV Japan Top 100 artists, I've decided to start translating the original posts. Here's the post about Southern All-Stars.

Initially seen as little more than a novelty group due to their wild vocals and even wilder performances, Southern has racked up 40 top ten hits, 16 number one albums, and the all-time record for most simultaneous songs on a weekly Top 100 single chart (44 songs!). To give a sense of scale, the number two contender is Yumi Matsutoya with 16 songs, followed by L~Arc~en~Ciel with 15.

Lead vocalist and guitarist Keisuke Kuwata shows up again as number 12 on the Top 100 list. He is married to Yuko Hara, who plays keyboard for the group. They've managed to balance band life with married life since 1982, which is probably a rarity for bands beyond any number of chart-topping hits.

It's really impossible to give a sense of how insanely successful Southern All-Stars has been, so here's a video of middle-aged men dancing to Katte ni Sinbad:

[Today's Topic: No Topic is after the jump]

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Top 100: Yumi Matsutoya and Gumo

Good morning StudyOkers! StudyOke-ers? StudyOkeians? We'll work on that, as today we're working on reading switcharoos and looking at the estimable Yumi Matsutoya (née Yumi Arai).

Original Lyrics / Romaji / Phrasal Translation / Poetic Translation

About the Artist

Our subject today and number 3 on the Top 100 is Yumi Matsutoya (aka Yumin). Now there's no denying the impact Yumin has had on the JPop scene - in almost 50 years as an artist, she's racked up 39 studio albums (including an 18-year streak of #1 albums) and a Medal of Honor from the Japanese government for her cultural contributions.

She's collaborated with or written songs for pretty much ever big name in the business, including Yosui Inoue, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Keisuke Kuwata (if I listed every major star she's worked with, it would take up the rest of the article). Which is why it just breaks my heart that I don't like her very much!

Or at least, I didn't like her very much. To be honest, I dreaded writing this post because I only ever listen to one of her albums (Love Wars), and it was fairly bland. So I started digging through her older material, particularly, Hikouki Gumo. This was her first album, the title song of which was featured in Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises. It's a beautiful song, and the album overall blew me away. As Yumin's first album, it clearly marks her out as something special and is a must-listen for any J-Pop fan.

I didn't think much of Yumin at first, but it turned out I was just listening to the wrong albums. Many things aren't as the seem as first - which, coincidentally, is what we'll be talking about in today's lesson!

[Today's Topic: "What the Heck is a 'Gumo?'" is after the jump]

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Top 100: YMO and Onomatopoeia

Good morning, good to see you, good to get started! In today's StudyOke! we're going to look at the legendary technopop group Yellow Magic Orchestra and the tongue twisting linguistic concept of onomatopoeia!

Original Lyrics / Romaji / Phrasal Translation / Poetic Translation

About the Song

While the influence of YMO (Yellow Magic Orchestra) on technopop (and video game music, for that matter) can hardly be overstated, you might find it worth remembering that the band is in many ways a side project for three insanely talented artists - all of whom appear twice on the Top 100 list.

Haruomi Hosono was a member of the previously mentioned Happy End, and had a hand in that group's creation of true JPop. Ryuichi Sakamoto is an internationally famous solo composer (with an Academy Award, BAFTA, Grammy, and two Golden Globes). And Yukihiro Takahashi rounds out the group as the drummer of the Sadistic Mika Band, solo composer, and occasional actor. 

Any one of these three talents would be impressive, but the combination made for a group that absolutely dominated Japanese music in the early 1980s and left an international legacy in electronica. To be fair, YMO's domination is more about musical influence than number one singles. The "YMO children" who grew up with their music are still active in the JPop scene, and still carry the influence of YMO.

While the bulk of YMO's music is instrumental (and thus not karaoke-friendly) their discography is a valuable listen. Their first album (Yellow Magic Orchestra) was released in 1978, but you may be surprised at how fresh it sounds. Solid State Survivor is a true masterpiece of electronica that easily earned its No. 1 chart rank. Today's song, Kimi ni Mune Kyun comes from Naughty Boys, YMO's final No.1 album.

[Today's Topic: Onomatopoeia is after the jump]

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Top 100: Utada Hikaru and Tools for Your First Translation

Good morning, and welcome to one and all. Today we're talking about what is for some an exciting goal and will be for all a treasured memory: doing your first translation.

Original Lyrics / Romaji / Phrasal Translation / Poetic Translation

About the Artist

If Happy End was #1 for being the first true JPop band, Utada Hikaru is my #1 for a different, more personal reason. Going through the entirety of Utada's career would require more time and space than this humble section allows, but simply considering the length of her career should give pause.

Born in Manhattan, Utada Hikaru grew up surrounded by music from an early age - her father was a producer and her mother was an enka singer. Her first album experience came on a CD released by the three as a sort of family album. Her first solo album was actually released in the US under the name "Cubic U," though it failed to gain much traction.

Having floundered in the American market, Utada released her first Japanese album First Love under her own name - and it was an instant success. While Utada has occasionally dipped her toe back into the American market with (Exodus and This is the One), her true success has been in Japan. After 24 years in the recording industry, she has racked up 12 #1 Oricon hits and has only had one album fail to reach #1 (This is the One).

And while Utada never achieved mainstream success in the US, she does have her diehard fans. Hikari was the first Japanese song I sang at karaoke, and will always have a special place in my heart (even if I'm terrible at singing it!)

[Today's Topic: Tools for Your First Translation is after the jump]

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Translation Quote

"By very dint of downright literalness—though not, by-the-bye, always downright accuracy—any true notion of the Author's meaning is quite obscured. The letter kills the spirit."
-From Translator's note on The Eleven Comedies of Aristophanes

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Top 100: Happy End and The Origin of J-Pop

Good morning, and good morning. Today we're looking at the Origin of JPop, with the first single of the first Japanese rock band to break away from imitating the American sound. It's a perfect place to start our series on the Top 100 JPop Acts!

Original Lyrics / Romaji / Phrasal Translation / Poetic Translation

Top 100 JPop Acts?

Starting with this post, we're going to do a lesson on at least one song from each of HMV Japan's list of the top 100 JPop acts of all time.

Now this list was compiled in 2003, so more recent acts won't be on it. Then again, if you want to dig in to the roots of JPop, a slightly dated list is probably preferable. I'm sure you all know that AKB48 is a thing?

So while the HMV list might be dated or biased as a true Top 100 list, it works perfectly as a menu. And that's how we're going to treat it - sample a bit here, try a taste there. Our series will lean towards bands' biggest hits, but we'll swerve from that for songs of particular interest.

On to today's band!

About the Band

Happy End only ranked #4 on the HMV list, but in another sense, they're automatically #1.

If you're looking for the first true JPop act, it's hard to do better than Happy End. It's often said that they were the first Japanese rock group to sing in Japanese, which is completely untrue. GS (Group Sounds - think proto-JPop) bands had been singing rock in Japanese for a long while before Happy End hit the scene.

What Happy End did differently was making rock songs suited to the rhythms of the Japanese language. Whereas previous bands took the English-language rock sound and stapled Japanese words to it, Happy End crafted songs that matched the natural rhythms of spoken Japanese. In other words, truly Japanese popular music. In other other words, JPop.

If you want a fuller history of the band's activities and philosophy, check out chapter 5 of Michael K. Bourdaghs' Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon. It's a great overall look at the early history of JPop in general, but the breakdown of Happy End in particular is must-read material.

For today's song, we're going to look at 12月の雨の日 (Juuni Gatsu no Ame no Hi), the first of the only four singles ever released by this revolutionary band.

[Today's Topic: "Your Best Guess" is after the jump]