|| First enkas | Minami & Murata | Sabu-chan | Mori | Future of enka? ||
1. First enkas after the war

Surprisingly the word "enka" became popular only in the 1960s. Though I don't know personally, the pre-war period pop songs were mostly sung by singers who had classical music education and there seems to have been a wide gap between those songs and the traditional songs, such as folk songs, naniwabushi and kouta which had still allure to attract the vast majority of the population. Already before the WWII these two streams started to merge and create a new genre of pup songs. The first enkas, which were composed in the 1930 as a mixture of the traditional and western elements, had, however, strongly indigenous and vulgar character and were disdained by intellectuals.

Kasuga Hachiro
In the first years after the Japanese surrender prevailed untraditional songs as a reaction to the nationalistic war time cultural scene. The first post-war hit song which had its theme in the traditional Japanese world was "Otomi-san" in 1954 sung by Kasuga Hachiro.

Kasuga Hachiro had more or less pretty western backgrounds. On the other hand, Mihashi Michiya, who became popular in the 1950s as a enka singer was originally a fork song singer.
|| First enkas | Minami & Murata | Sabu-chan | Mori | Future of enka? ||
2. Minami Haruo & Murata Hideo

The two singers, who have been competing each other since the 1950s and maintain their unique influence till now, were both naniwabushi or rokyoku tellers before they made their debuts as popular song singers.

Minami Haruo
Minami Haruo is more than an enka singer. He represents everything that is opposite to trendy and refined culture. He is popular in rural areas and among old people. He seems to try to find something good in our past and tell the message which is easy to understand for everybody and can be something people are able to rely on. His motto "Okyakusama wa Kamisama desu" (Guests are gods) is well known to every Japanese and indicates his style to serve and dedicate to the people who are eager to hear his songs and try to find consolation in his songs.

Minami Haruo was born in a poor family and after working as an apprentice of a fish monger became a professional rokyoku teller. He was then called into the army. After fierce battle with the Soviet army when it invaded into Manchuria, Minami was taken to Siberia as war prisoner and stayed there till 1949 for a forced labor. His debut as an enka singer wearing kimono was in 1957. His first songs "Chanchiki okesa" (okesa = okesa-dance) and "Funakata san" (Hi, boatman) both became enormous hits. In 1964 he sang the theme song of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The rival of Minami Haruo is Murata Hideo. He was born as a son of a professional naniwabushi performers' family and became an infant genius of rokyoku. He was discovered by the influential enka song composer, Koga Masao, and debuted in 1959 as an enka singer singing one of the representative Koga song "Jinsei Gekijo" (Life as a theater) . His representative song is "Ousho" (King (chess)) which was released in 1962.

We often say "otoko uta" (male songs) and "onna uta" (female songs) according to the gender of the main personality in the enka text. As I explain later, many male singers sing "onna uta". Murata Hideo, however, has been singing otoko uta without a single exception. The text at the beginning of Jinsei Gekijo well describes the essence of his songs.
"Yaruto omoeba, dokomade yarusa.
Sorega otokono tamashii ja naika.

(Once determined I do go the whole way. This is the spirit of men.)"

Murata Hideo
He sings the spirit of men, as the Japanese traditionally believe it should be, though they can rarely be successful in realizing their determination. Even the accomplishment of the resolution only results in the destruction of themselves and their most beloved partners.

Though Murata Hideo recently lost his right leg due to gangrene, he continues to sing songs more than 60 years now.
3. Sabu-chan and his contemporaries

The next singer I should mention here is Hashi Yukio. He made his debut in 1960 with "Itako gasa" (Straw hut of Itako) when he was still mere 17 years old. His repertory is not limited to enka. His best seller in his early days "Itsudemo Yume wo" (Have always dream), which he sang with Yoshinaga Sayuri, was an innocent pop song for youth.

Saburo Kitajima
In stark contrast to Hashi Yukio is Kitajima Saburo, who started his long and successful enka career in 1962. He has every characteristic of a typical male enka singer: looks of a physical worker, thick voice, dramatic and overemphasized expression.

Sabu-chan (Kitajima's nick name) was born as the eldest son of the six children of a fisher-cum-farmer family in a small village in Hokkaido. After the graduation of high school, he came to Tokyo and started to learn singing. He at the same time used to sing songs from a bar to another to earn small money. He was then discovered and made his lucky debut as enka singer in 1962.

Thereafter, he keeps his position as a leading enka singer for more than thirty years. He is also owner of a music production and sings sometimes overseas.

Maekawa Kiyoshi was at first the main singer of a group called "Uchiyamada Hiroshi and Cool Five". "Nagasaki wa kyo mo ame datta" (It also rained today in Nagasaki: hit in 1969) is one of the most popular enka numbers. I love also "Uwasa no onna" (woman known in the gossip: the text of this song was written by Yamaguchi Yoko, a prominent mama-san of an exquisite night club "Hime" in Ginza). He later became independent and is still very active in TV and other entertainment. He has very special and large vibrato and charming portament. He once married Fuji Keiko but soon divorced.

Sen Masao sang "Kitaguni no haru" (Spring in the north) and revived "Hoshikage no warutu" (Waltz in the star light) which are both very popular and continue to be widely sung by many people. Sen Masao comes from Aomori, the north most prefecture on the main island of Japan.
4. Mori Shin-ichi, the last enka singer

When I tell about male enka singers, I shall not miss Mori Shin-ichi. He belongs to the youngest generation of great enka singers. His life is what we wish to associate with enka, namely hardship, tear, family love and success.

He was born in the Yamanashi prefecture and moved to Numazu where his parents divorced. His mother took her children to Shimonoseki where she worked as a maid to prepare meals for workers at a small paint company. He himself worked as a milkman while he studied in junior high school. After graduation he went to Osaka and worked at a sushi restaurant. However, he soon gave up as his salary was only 5,500 yen per month (then $1=Y360 and his salary was only $15.) and could not send money to his mother. He then changed jobs after jobs ... more than 60 times and came to work as a band boy of the then famous singer Charley Ishiguro, who discovered his talent as a singer. Mori Shin-ichi made his debut in 1966 with "Onna no tameiki" (sigh of a woman). Charley Ishiguro told him to train to use husky voice and sing enka. Inomata Kosho (an enka composer who made numerous songs for Mori Shin-ichi.) thought that Mori should sing onna uta as he was young and sexy.

His debut was an instant success. He could invite his beloved mother to his house in Tokyo.

Mori Shin-ichi
Kita-no Hotaru
But, his life together with his mother did not last long. She died soon thereafter at the age of 47.

Mori Shin-ichi's voice is very specially husky and sounds fragile. This is his charming point. He has numbers of big hits such as "Minato machi buruhsu" (harbor town blues), "Ofukuro san" (mammy) and "Erimo misaki" (Erimo cape). I put here a sound clip of "Kita no hotaru" (firefly in the north) which is a typical onna uta and he sings the love of a woman.

Maybe I should allocate the same space to Itsuki Hiroshi who is a contemporary and competitor of Mori Shin-ishi. Itsuki is certainly able to sing technically better than Mori. However, I feel that Itsuki is too technician and lacks depth of soul. Therefore, I prefer Mori, though his songs have gradually been losing vitality as he has become rich and lost hungry spirit. Anyhow, Itsuki Hiroshi has also many good songs and fans. His debut song "Yokohama tasogare" (Twilight Yokohama) describes the feeling of a woman in an urban environment.
|| First enkas | Minami & Murata | Sabu-chan | Mori | Future of enka? ||
5. Future of enka?

I have to stop tracing the descent of male enka singers. The youngest among them are around 50 years old and no younger singers are seen. This is, I presume, because the listeners of enka are over 40 and young people are not interested in enka. Sometimes it is explained that once people become 40 or older they lose their affection to modern pop songs and choose enka as their favorite songs. I think this theory is false. The aging of people does not create substantial change of their preference, but the difference of generation. Young generations don't like enka. Why?

The word "enka" is traditionally written in Chinese characters as
... song of performance.
However, it can be also expressed as
... sexy song, or
... song of grudge.
I think enka is all of them at once with special emphasis on the third element, grudge.

Enka are songs for those who feel separated from their home, lover or other familiar environment. The feeling of hardship and poverty is the undertone. This was a very usual situation in Japan till the 1970s. The case of Mori Shin-ichi was typical.

In the 1950s and 1960s young graduates of junior or senior high schools had to leave their home, so long as they were not the eldest son of the family and could succeed parents rice fields, in order to get jobs in metropolis which were expanding during the miracle of the Japanese post war economy. So, many young people were transported en masse in trains especially arranged for them to large metropolis where they got jobs and lived as salaried workers. Young people were uprooted from their home, friends, moms and yet had no reliable future. They yearned for their home, mountains, moms, friends, first loves ... Metropolis was like desert, where they found no place to feel at home. Enka effectively responded to such sentiment of the people at the time.

Technically speaking, typical enka songs use pentatonic scale lacking the forth and the seventh tones, or the second and the sixth. But, scale is only a small part of the characteristics of enka. Husky or thick voice, for instance, seems to be an important element. Husky voice is preferred for naniwabushi and other Japanese music, as it expresses sexiness, I presume. All in all, enka must be a performance or story telling which appeals to the people who are mentally hurt. Sake (wine), tear, parting, harbor, night train, onna (woman) .... These words are commonplace of enka. Then, enka shall not be sung decently. The burst of sentiment must be expressed accordingly.

Some experts point out that these particularities can be also shared by some folk songs in other countries such as fado of Portugal, doina of Romania and so on. As for story telling, French chansons might have something common with enka. Anyhow, the need to console such a feeling ends up when the society becomes more or less stable and rich, I believe. Therefore, those who were brought up in the rich 1970s and thereafter do not regard enka as expressing their sentiment. They might also need songs expressing their sentiment or emotion. But, those songs must be stylistically different. I mean, for example the songs of Nakajima Miyuki are in a sense the successors of enka. However, their style is more Western, subtle, decent, trendy and transparent.

In short, Japanese have become rich and lost their sorrow emanated from poverty and hardship. When sorrow does not exist, happiness cannot exist as well. Those people do not have lovers to love with all their heart and mind and strength. Everything becomes very tepid and the life becomes very monotone. So, no new enka can be created. Never.

Enka is deemed to be extinct with my generation. Life has changed in Japan.