Funauta (First part)
Sake should be tepid. Grilled squid is sufficient for accompaniment.
Women should be quiet. A dim lamp is sufficient for lightening.
I drink quietly. Painful memories pass by quietly.
When a tear drops, I sing "boatman's song"........
Enka is a representative genre of Japanese popular songs. First, please click the button here above to listen to an example. "Funa-uta" is the title of this song by Aki YASHIRO, which was a big hit in 1980.

Enka is usually singing sad aspects of life, irrecoverable destiny, desertion by the lover. It is an expression of love, but love will never be successful and sorrow and tear follow happy memories. It can also be a song of a woman who is resentful to her destiny as her lover is gone to another woman. Anyhow Enka is song of resignation. Resignation must be sweet so that it is endurable.

According to the orthodox explanation, Enka began shaping itself by story-tellers on the street at the end of 19th century. They sang interesting stories with some melody. They "act" one-man theatre. The word "En" originally comes from "act".
It developed thereafter and Masao KOGA, a famous popular music composer, made it to the present style in 1930s. It uses European style harmony, but tonality is pentatonic and singers use lots of melismatic progression and delayed vibrato at the performance.

The last point is also a common characteristic to Japanese traditional folk songs. Japanese spontaneously use melisma in their songs, not only for folk songs but also for pops when they sing at Karaoke. Even players of European classical music tend to use delayed vibrato which is a usual technique of Japanese singing. We therefore tend to think this is very Japanese. But in reality these characteristics are common in whole Eurasian continent. Rather, Europe is an exceptional area. Outside of Europe, beginning at Iberia to the south and Balkan to the East, people use melismatic progression and delayed vibrato. Gypsy music has common feature with Japanese songs, Enka for example.

Now, I shall come back to "Enka". Though we thought Enka was created in Japan, it has relatives in Korea and China. Cho Yongpir or Teresa Teng sing songs similar to Enka. Some Japanese Enka becomes popular in those countries. I thought we had common music background and therefore they loved enka. But, to my shame, I recently discovered that the Koreans insist that Enka was imported to Japan from Korea. Maybe Chinese would say the same thing. I think what they say might be possible. There is also another possibility that Enka and its counterparts in Korea and China have developed through interaction.

In any case, Enka does not have long tradition and was created rather recently in North-Eastern Asia. People wanted to cry or weep over their tragedy and their expression took the form of "Enka". In 1950s and 60s there were many Enka singers in Japan and Enka was the mainstream of the Japanese popular music life. At the beginning of '70s Keiko FUJI represented the sentiment of young people involved in student movement and became a deva of the era.
But, soon thereafter people became tired of singing songs of cry and destiny, because the society as a whole became richer and happier and it became unnecessary to grieve over misfortune. Enka lost its reason d'etre and is about to extinct. Young people love to listen to music influenced by American pops. Not only melody and arrangement sound American but also the pronunciation of Japanese text is made as if it is American. In a sense new Japanese pops have their audience in whole Asia as middle class is growing everywhere and in any country the feeling of middle class young people is similar. People need a new music commensurate with the economic success in Asian region.

But, in any case the older generation above 40 still enthusiastically like Enka. They sing nearly only Enka at Karaoke bar. I am one of them and love drinking hot sake in a small bar singing Funauta 'sotto voce'.