We’re big fans of Japanese music as you may have noticed. At Nakama, we’ve promoted Japanese Ongaku Yoru in London and always swap tracks with each other on new finds from contemporary and past artists. One genre of Japanese music that has always spoken to me is Enka.
Enka is music from Japan that was created between the ’50s and ’70s. It is usually related to love or perhaps even to drinking and follows a sad theme typically. It’s not a very popular genre of music among the younger generation in Japan, but some aspects of it make it accessible in foreign countries due to its representation in popular movies like Kill Bill or in Anime series’. People also find it somewhat relaxing, and it is often compared with Soul Music. Below you will find 5 Enka songs that I really like, they are in no particular order because they are all great in their own way.
Jero – Umi Yuki
Starting with Jero, an African American with a Japanese grandmother. He merged Rap style dancing with Enka and became very popular in Japan amongst the older women. He has since made his mark singing with some of the best Enka singers and produced many worthy songs. His debut song was Umi Yuki:
Meiko Kaji – Shura No Hana
For those of you who are familiar with Kill Bill Vol.1, the fight scene at the end with O-Ren Ishii v The Bride (Cotton Mouth v Black Mamba) is followed by this track. Believe it or not, this is an Enka song.
What many people don’t know is that this song was originally from a movie called Lady Snowblood with Meiko Kaji as Shura Yuki Hime; the film that inspired Tarantino to create Kill Bill.
Kyu Sakamoto – Ue o Muite Arukou
This song is a favourite and is a frequent number during karaoke, and it is not quite Enka or J-pop, but rather a little bit of a mix of both. It was relatively popular and featured in From up on Poppy Hill which was a popular Studio Ghibli movie.
One of the first songs that topped the charts in America during WW2, of course, they changed the name of the song to Sukiyaki which was a famous Japanese dish at the time meaning grilled meat to help them remember it.
Kitajima Saburo – Yosaku
This Enka song was sung by Kitajima Saburo who is considered one of the best Enka singers around. It is a ‘work song’ of which Japan has many. It’s another excellent karaoke song and reminds the listener of the familiarity of going to work, and how the day ends, how it begins again with work calling you back, or in this song the mountains. A very relaxing song.
Kiyoshi Maekawa – Tokubetsu no hito
One of the first Enka songs I heard almost 15 years ago, and you could say it began my love of Enka music. It is one of the lesser-known songs of Kiyoshi Maekawa. A song about the singer thinking of their special someone. The song details the principal person driving and thinking about this special someone and how he misses them etc. I played it often when driving home at night and so it has a special place in my heart. You can listen to the song here: