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Top 10 Japanese Songs of Summer 1

In Japan, Japanese Music on August 1, 2013 at 2:03 am

Japanese Top 10 Songs of Summer (part 1)

Are you ready for summer Japanese-style?

Are you ready for summer Japanese-style?

This list is divided into 2 parts. The first part is a little more traditional, or at least songs that you’ll associate with summer because they only are heard in the summer or because they are about the summer. The second half is made of songs I think sounds awesome when chilling at the beach or a barbecue.

PART 1

#1
阿波よしこの Awa Yoshikono

This is the song the accompanies the most famous of the 盆踊り Bon Odori dances. The dance and this incarnation of the song originated in 徳島県 Tokushima-ken Tokushima Prefecture, the former 阿波国 Awa no Kuni Awa Province. Without a doubt, this song and its accompanying dance and costumes are the prevailing image of お盆祭り o-Bon Matsuri O-bon Festivals on 本州 Honshū, the main island of Japan. Summer in Japan is wicked hot and if you’re gonna spend all day outside sweating and eating and drinking, you might as well have this hypnotic music and dance and costumes to make the event more festive.

This video is of a stage performance of the dance. I chose this one because it was the clearest audio recording I could find with dancers who were pretty good. This performance is a little more stylized then what you would see at a festival, but you’ll get the idea.

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The second video of an actual performance in Tokushima where you can see how the dance is done at a festival. It’s basically a parade. Throughout the main island, at local matsuri that have adopted the dance, it’s not uncommon for the dancers to invite partiers to join in the parade. I don’t think they do that in Tokushima… but I’ve never been so…
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#2
エイサー踊り Eisā Odori

First one thing; Eisā is the name of dance and not the song. I don’t know the name of the song.
This is a style of music and dance associated with Bon Odori that is from 沖縄 Okinawa. It’s freaking bad ass. Dudes with big ass banners lead two opposing “armies” of synchronized male drummers followed by cute girls in Okinawan yukata who “battle” each other. I’m not an expert but I think the “battle” is determined by which team can keep their rhythm better than the other team. If I team is getting confused by the other team’s conductor and tempo, they’ll back off to “re-group” and then “attack” again. I may be totally off on this – I’ve never even been to Okinawa – but it seems like that’s what’s going on.

When I first lived in Tōkyō, I lived in a small corner of 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward called 鍋横町 Nabeyoko-chō. They have an awesome small but local matsuri that I attended every year that I lived there and even now, I head back for this great neighborhood festival. Naturally, they have Awa Odori, but for whatever reason, they always feature Okinawa Eisā Odori too. So this style of Bon Odori has a special place in my heart as a great sound of summer in Japan.

From Nabeyoko-chō Matsuri 1:




If you see me or Mrs. JapanThis in either of this video, I wouldn’t be surprised.

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#3
夏祭り  Natsu Matsuri

OK, this is a pop song from 2000 by a girl band called Whiteberry[i]. The band is pure J-Pop, but there are some punk[ii] undertones, and somehow the managed to release a summer anthem that shows no sign of disappearing. The lyrics capture a quintessential summer romance that any person who’s lived in Japan should be able to recognize. It’s a celebration of young love, fireworks and, yes… the yearly summer festivals that everyone looks forward to – and everyone never forgets.


 

 

#4
島人ぬ宝 Shimanchu nu Takara

This is a classic pop song by an Okinawan band called BEGIN. They mixed rock[iii] with traditional Okinawan elements… something that if I just read without listening would tell me, never listen to this. But I first heard this song in the winter at karaoke and suddenly found myself enchanted by the love of Okinawa that these guys had. The title is actually in the Okinawan Dialect[iv] and means “The Island People’s Treasure.” If you study Japanese, you may be interested to know that the ぬ nu in the title corresponds to the Standard Japanese の no. There, now you know as much Okinawan as I do.

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#5
あいぞめ Aizome

This is a song from a classic Japanese animation called 地獄少女 Jigoku Shōjo Hell Girl sung by the Japanese voice actress Nōtō Mamiko – who also voices the lead character. This is a weird one, but please, hear me out. O-bon is the season when the Japanese believe ancestral spirits return to their homelands to meet their families. Calling it a “Festival of the Dead” is a bit dramatic, but in the Edo Period, when family members could enjoy time off and be reunited in their ancestral homes with loved ones, they undertook the tasks of cleaning up the family graves and performing Buddhist ceremonies for the dead. As such, they were thinking about dead people a lot. The result was on hot nights, some clans would light 100 candles as the sun was setting and would supposedly tell 100 ghost stories. At the end of each story, a candle would be extinguished. By the time it was dark and you were just down to one last candle, you’d been talking about ghosts all night. When the last candle was put out, it was said a ghost would appear[v]. A lot of the imagery in Jigoku Shōjo centers around o-bon and similar creepy traditions, so I think this song fits in well with the O-Bon and Japanese summer tradition.

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Part two is coming tomorrow.
Honk if you ready!

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[i] Not to be confused with Whitesnake.

[ii] I use “punk” in the very loosest of meanings… ie; a J-Pop meaning.

[iii] I use “rock” in the very loosest of meanings… ie; a J-Pop meaning.

[iv] I use “dialect” in the very loosest of meanings… ie; Okinawan is a separate language from Japanese, even if most Japanese don’t admit it.

[v] Life before TV… am I right? am I right?
Anyways, this kind of ghost story telling party was called 百物語怪談会 hyaku monogatari kaidankai 100 ghost stories party.

Why is Nabeyokocho called Nabeyokocho?

In Japanese History on April 11, 2013 at 3:57 am

鍋横丁
Nabeyokochō (Nabe Alley)

nabeyoko1

Banner at the Nabeyokocho Festival

The other day, I wrote about Nakano, where I lived for 6 amazing years. I got to know the area very well over that time. One of the places I knew the best is this small alley. My supermarket was there, my convenience store was there, my train station was there, and my favorite summer festival was there, the 鍋横丁祭り Nabeyokochō Matsuri.

The actual name of this area is 鍋屋横丁 Nabeya-yokochō (Nabe Shop Alley), but most of the time it’s usually referred to by locals as just 鍋横丁 Nabeyokochō (Nabe Alley) without the kanji 屋 ten/ya (shop/restaurant). As a nickname, it’s often just called 鍋横 Nabeyoko.

Same banner again...

Same banner again…

Just a quick note about the word 横丁 (yokochō)

I’ve translated this as “alley,” but the meaning is a little different. 横 yoko, actually means “sideways” and so a 横丁 refers to a small diagonal street that veers off of a main thoroughfare. In this case, Nabeyokochō is a diagonal street that runs between two major streets, 青梅街道 Ōmekaidō and 中野通り Nakano Dōri.

Another quick note, Tōkyō streets generally don’t have names. Of course, the major avenues have names, but small streets are usually referred to by their neighborhood names or, more often than not, nicknames and local landmarks. Nabeyokochō falls into this latter category.

If you stand at Nabeyochō crossing with your back towards Shinjuku and your face towards Higashi-Kōenji, you’ll see a Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Bank. On this side of the street as you turn left on to Nabeyokochō there used to be a famous tea house called the 鍋屋 Nabeya (I can’t confirm whether or not they had “nabe” but all my sources say it was a 茶屋 cha-ya tea shop).

At the top is Omekaido. To the left is Higashi-Koenji, to the right is Shinjuku. That diagonal road going from top right to bottom left is Nabeyokocho.

At the top is Omekaido. To the left is Higashi-Koenji, to the right is Shinjuku. That diagonal road going from top right to bottom left is Nabeyokocho.

Anyways, the street has been referred to as Nabeyokochō since the Edo Period. In the 1970’s an effort was made to revitalize the area. They set up a monument commemorating the Nabeya and explaining the derivation of the name. Since that time there has also been a festival at the end of August called the Nabeyokochō Matsuri.

 

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