Japan’s Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs

Japan’s Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs

Image for postUchiyamada Hiroshi and the Cool Five

This article was first published on my website How to Japanese. Check out the posts here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

I?m in the Japan Times this week with one of my favorite Bilingual articles in a long time: ?Enka gives lessons in Japan?s unattainable love.?

I don?t remember the first time I learned the word ?? (enka), but it was likely the summer of 2002 when I was on a Rotary internship in Okayama. Several members of the Rotary Club were responsible for organizing our activities, and they would take us out at night to all manner of snack bars across the city. We sang American songs, drank beer, ate ??? (kaki pii, peanuts and crackers), and listened to them sing Japanese songs. I have very distinct memories of two of them performing ????? (Tabi sugata sannin otoko, Three Men in Traveling Clothes).

Gradually, over the course of two months, a few of the songs made their way into our heads, and at our farewell dinner I performed ?????????? (Nagasaki wa ky? mo ame datta, Nagasaki Was Rainy Again Today).

I went home with an Ishihara Yujiro CD and an Uchiyamada Hiroshi and the Cool Five CD, and I listened to them over and over, especially once I got my first iPod in 2006 when I was on the JET Program. I also picked up a few other songs here and there, listening to friends and town employees sing while on the JET Program, and recently I?ve been doing ??????? (karaoke benky? kai, karaoke ?study meetings?) with coworkers in Chicago. My repertoire is only decent, but I like what I can do.

In an effort to learn more about enka for the JT article, I took a look at the Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs. This is a list that floats around the internet on several different sites and is supposedly based on Oricon data. Some of the sites have disclaimers at the bottom that it may not be accurate, but it?s interesting and helpful at the very least. I watched all 50 and wrote up my thoughts. Each write-up will include my toasty hot take, a difficulty rating, and a link to a ?permasearch? on YouTube. Many of the music videos for these songs will likely be taken down for copyright violations, but you can use the permasearch to hopefully reveal new versions or at least covers by amateurs.

Without further ado, here are the songs:

50. ???? (Ame no boj?, Yearning in the rain), ???? (Yashiro Aki) ? 1980PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: The narrator of the song pleads with the rain to bring her the man (well, not technically a man, but an ???[ii hito, nice person]) she misses. This is a nice song for language learners. There are lots of simple adjectives (??, ???, ??) used in repetition and the great example of of imperative in the chorus ??????????? (ame ame hure hure motto fure, Rain rain, fall fall, fall more and more). Overall the language is relatively simple. As with many Japanese songs, Yashiro has very specific dance moves that go along with the chorus.

Difficulty: 4. Pretty straightforward. If I was a woman or had a higher voice, I might be singing this song regularly.

49. ???? (Tomarigi, Barstool/perch), ???? (Kobayashi Sachiko) ? 1980PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: You know this song is going to be great from the title alone, which means barstool/perch. As you can tell from the video, it?s about a woman sitting at her barstool, wanting to follow after a person who won?t face her. It?s got some great lines like ??????? / ??????? (Osake de gomakasu / kono sabishisa o, I?ll conceal it with liquor, this sadness) that help show an inverted direct object. Great song.

Difficulty: 7. Some definite ?? (kobushi, undulating melodic ornamentation or embellishment) present, but it?s not over the top.

48. ???? (Namida-goi, Tearful Love), ???? (Yashiro Aki), 1973PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: I?m not sure you can get a simpler yet more powerful enka title unless you dig deep into the archives (???????, for example?): tearful love. The song is set in the back alleys of Shinjuku?in the rain?with the blossoms of flowers (presumably cherries?) falling. This is Japanese soul music. According to enka, the best (but saddest) love is illicit love which requires you to ????(shinobiau, meet surreptitiously), especially if it involves rain or (in the case of Ishihara Yujiro) ?? (yogiri, night fog). Yashiro is notable as the first female enka singer to have seven top 10 singles on the Oricon charts. Japanese Wikipedia notes that she was uncomfortable with her ?husky? voice at first but gained confidence after hearing American singer Julie London.

Difficulty: 8.5. Yashiro breaks out more of the kobushi in the song than she did in ????.

47. ??? (Hagures?, Caught Lovesickness), ?????(K?zai Kaori), 1991PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is another powerful song of loneliness: A woman, presumably in the countryside, is left on her own (perhaps her partner goes out often?). Because he?s the only person she knows in the town, she?s lonely and crying. It?s the second instance we see of a line similar to ??????? (kokoro wa kakusenai, I can?t hide my soul). It also features the nice contrast between ??????? (anata ga hoshii, I want you) and ???????? (anata o yurusenai, I can?t forgive you), showing how divided her feelings are as well as the frequent karaoke encounter of anata. Some other great enka lines include: ?????????/ ?????????? (kanashimi ga koboremasu / hitori ja kurasenai, My sadness spills over / I can?t live alone), and the ever useful ?????? (osake kudasai, alcohol please).

This version on YouTube also has an amazing introduction and features a great set and an Akita pup biting at K?zai?s fingers.

Difficulty: 6. Some minor kobushi, but nothing over the top. Very accessible lyrics.

46. ????????? (Yokohama tasogare, Yokohama Twilight), ????? (Itsuki Hiroshi), 1971PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Leave it to the first man on the list to sing the laziest song so far: this is basically a list of different evocative karaoke words (kiss, lingering scent, cigarette smoke, Blues, whistling, etc) followed by the chorus ?????????????? (ano hito wa itte itte shimatta, That person has gone, gone away). Apparently this shouldn?t be a surprise: Itsuki went through three failed stage names before breaking it big with this hit. His Japanese Wikipedia page is curiously extensive. [Stroking chin emoji] It?s worth tracking down a version of Itsuki singing this in his prime to understand the effect he must have had on audiences.

Difficulty: 3. Some minor kobushi, but this is a pretty great (if somewhat lame) song for beginners.

45. ????? (Nagaragawa enka, Nagara River Enka), ????? (Itsuki Hiroshi), 1984PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Here we are with Itsuki again. This song is much stronger than the previous. Sounds like the narrator is staying at a lodging alongside a river with someone he?d like to be with, a traveller, who?s gone in the morning. Lots of good ???ing in this song, which then goes on to get qualified by some nice phrases like ???????? (sugatte mitai hito, someone I?d like to follow) and ?????? (watashi wo nakasu hito, someone who makes me cry). There are also some poetic lines like ?????????? (Mado ni yoake no kaze ga naku, The dawn wind cries at the window).

One interesting point: note the use of ?? instead of ?? in the title. There?s no Yahoo Chiebukuro post for this unfortunately, but there is an Oshiete Goo post, which notes that ?? was used to describe the romantic content of songs whereas ?? came from earlier political protest songs. Christine Yano talks about this in her book but doesn?t use kanji, so I have to assume that this is the other character she?s talking about.

Difficulty: 9. This is one of those songs that will sound off if you don?t place the stress and kobushi on each word appropriately.

44. ???????? (Hakone hachiri no Hanjir?, Eight-ri Hanjir? of Hakone), ????? (Hikawa Kiyoshi), 2000PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is an epic song that launched Hikawa Kiyoshi?s career and rejuvenated enka as a genre. The alliteration in the title and the callback to classic images of the Japanese countryside are powerful. I have trouble deciphering some of the lyrics, to be honest, but all analysis of the song mentions ??? (matatabimono, wandering life of a gambler), an enka category that hadn?t been sung in a while, and it?s clear that the title character is a shabby, unreliable guy. The dense vocabulary of the song contrasts with the simplicity of the ?? (sabi, hook) ? ?????????? (yada nettara, yada ne, literally ?If I say I don?t like it, I don?t like it? although maybe closer to ?If I say I don?t wanna, I won?t??). An interesting Japanese blog post calls the lightness of this song a response to the ????? (darashinasa, slovenliness) of the Heisei era.

You can also see/hear in the video that there are plenty of Kiyoshi fans who love his style as well.

Difficulty: 11. This one goes to 11. Hikawa has mad kobushi skills and a soaring voice. I?ve heard this one imitated poorly too many times, and I may have perpetrated one or two imitations myself. You?ve been warned.

43. ?????? (Murasaki ame nasake [?], Purple Rain Sadness), ? ??? (Fuji Ayako), 1993PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is a lovely song of unrequited love colored by the purple rain from the title. The narrator won?t follow her love but still has feelings for and memories of him. It?s full of karaoke words like ??? (nijimu, blur) and ???? (shimitsuku, stained in). And we can?t forget the absolute classic ?? (miren, lingering affection/attachment/regrets): ???????? / ?????? / ???????????? (Murasaki ame ame ni / t?ku kasumu machi / tazuneta onna no miren desh? ka, In the purple rain, rain / a misty town in the distance / is this the longing of a woman visiting?).

Difficulty: 4. Pretty straightforward with just some minor kobushi. A very clean and clear karaoke song. What?s not to like.

42. ?????? (Ai no mama de?, Just as love?), ???? (Akimoto Junko), 2008PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is the most recent hit on the top 50, and perhaps not surprisingly, this song launched Akimoto into the K?haku Uta Gassen for the first time in 2008, the oldest debut at 61 years old. To my ear it sounds like a pretty standard love song, a nice one, but nothing too special to recommend it other than some typical karaoke imagery: ????? (kyandoru, candle), ?? (g?zen, coincidence), ?? (kiseki, miracle). It is notable for the first appearance of ??? (itoshii, dear), in this inverted phrase: ???????????????????? (dare ka to kuraberu shiawase nante iranai, I don?t need the pleasure of being compared with someone) / ????????????? (anata no shisen ga itoshiku areba, If I have your dear gaze).

Difficulty: 3. A couple of potentially difficult stresses, but the language is pretty accessible and the voicing not so challenging. This one feels like it could be a fun one for many.

41. ???? (Futari zake, Sake for Two), ???? (Kawanaka Miyuki), 1980PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Now that?s some fucking enka! I had a feeling I would like this one from the title alone, and the very first line sealed it for me and also does a good job of summarizing the song: ????????????????????? (ikite yuku no ga tsurai hi wa omae to sake ga areba ii, When days are rough, I?m fine if I have you and alcohol). Kawanaka apparently made a name for herself with this song after failing with a few other singles. I really like the video that I?ve linked ? it definitely shows how enka has been used to define Japanese identity. (If the video happens to be down, it showed a couple working at a sushi restaurant, some shots at a fish market, and a visit to a shrine.)

Difficulty: 7. This song is sneaky difficult. There?s more kobushi in there than appears to be in the studio version.

40. ?????? (Kaette koi yo, Come home), ???? (Matsumura Kazuko), 1980PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is a take on a hometown song. Someone is being called back to their hometown, having forgotten the ???? (chikatta koi, love that she promised) before leaving for life in Tokyo. This is also a super short song, clocking in at under two minutes in some versions. Matsumura debuted with this song and drew attention for her long hair and playing the shamisen.

Difficulty: 10. Soaring vocals and kobushi make this song tough for all but the best singers. Plus you need to rock the shamisen for maximum authenticity.

39. ???? (Ko-uta tsuzuri, Orthography [?] of a Love Song), ???? (Horiuchi Takao), 1990PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is a nice little song about love songs and all the feels associated with them. Strong use of ??? (anta, you) here by Horiuchi, and again a reminder that ? > ? when it comes to karaoke. I believe this is also our first encounter with ?? (shigure, drizzle), which feels like a classic karaoke/poetry word. And as always, there?s never enough booze to drown your sorrows: ????????????? (nomeba nomu hodo sabishii kuse ni, I?m lonely no matter how much I drink).

Difficulty: 4. This one doesn?t seem so bad. There are a couple of rhythmically tricky spots, but otherwise

38. ????? (Inochi kurenai, Crimson Karma), ???? (Segawa Eiko), 1986PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is a pretty intense old school, star-crossed lovers enka song. The pace is slow, and the intensity of the feelings are intense enough to warrant the English translation of this song rendered by Wikipedia: ?My flaming Emotions.? This doesn?t appear to be the official translation, as best I can tell. I think the title puns on ? (kurenai, crimson/red) and the other meaning for kurenai (won?t you give me? [?]). There?s lots of ?I only need you to live? type lyrics and claims that the narrator and partner are ?????? (musubarete ita, linked). Not my favorite song, but I can respect it for what it is ? a call back to some of the original enka music. (It?s also worth watching this old school video?I embedded the video above because it has subtitles.)

Difficulty: 10. There?s nothing to hide behind with this one. You?ve got to hold and kobushi every note, basically.

37. ??????? (Awazu ni ai shite, Love without meeting), ???????????? (Uchiyamada Hiroshi and the Cool Five), 1969PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: I?m so glad these guys are on the list. The first time I went to Japan, some of the Rotary Club members taught me a few of their songs and I came home with a Cool Five CD, which I subsequently listened to enough times that I can sing most of it. But not this song! I recognize the song, but I?ve never sung it. The lyrics are pretty generic love song stuff, this time with a focus on the title and the idea that absence/distance makes the heart grow fonder. You see the word ??? (kareru, wither) early on, which is in a lot of enka songs: ??????????? (namida karete mo yume yo kareru na, Even if my tears dry up, my dreams will never fade). You can hear some of the 50s doo-wop roots in these songs (notably in the backup singers) and see it in their outfits on album covers. Some other recommendations: ?????????? (Nagasaki wa ky? mo ame datta, Nagasaki Was Rainy Again Today), ???? (Tokyo sabaku, Tokyo Desert), ?????? (Saikai bur?su, Saikai Blues).

It?s interesting to note that Wikipedia labels the band a ?????? (kay? gr?pu, popular song group). They debuted in 1969, right around the point when enka became a term for a genre and incorporated kay?ka songs.

Difficulty: 5. The lead vocalist Maekawa Kiyoshi has a pretty deep voice, which makes this more accessible to most of us, but he also has pretty pinpoint tone and kobushi, making it a little more difficult. Still, not all that hard.

36. ?????? (Naniwa koi shigure, Naniwa Love Shower), ???????? (Miyako Harumi, Oka Chiaki), 1983PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Our first duet! And of course it?s not very politically correct. Based on what I gather from the lyrics (and please correct me if I?m wrong), the male character is a rakugo artist who drinks too much and makes his wife cry, and the wife supports him and tries not to cry. Here?s the telling line from a little rap that she does after a singing verse: ????????????????? (Uchi wa donna kur? ni mo taete misemasu, I?ll show you that I can handle any adversity). Obviously it?s meant to be a sweet love song, and even he confesses his love throughout, but it?s not a surprise that this song is from the 80s. Apparently the story is based on the life of rakugo performer Katsura Harudanshi and his wife. It?s absolutely worth your time to track down this contemporaneous performance (which I didn?t use above because it doesn?t have subtitles).

Difficulty: 10. Not only do you need to find a partner for this song, you both have to be pretty damn skilled in the arts of kobushi to pull this one off, and you need to be able to spit some wicked Kansai-ben.

35. ??????? (Yoseba ii no ni, But It Would Be Nice If You Came Near), ????????????? (Toshi It? and Happy and Blue), 1979PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: There?s a lot of self-blame going on in this enka song, as you can tell from the ?? (sabi, hook) in this song: ??????????????? (Itsu made tattemo dame na watashi, I?m terrible no matter how much time passes). To my ear, these guys seem like Cool Five knock offs who have swapped their slick doo-wop suits for letterman jackets, but there?s a possibility that I?m biased. I?m also confused whether this song is sung from the male or female perspective, maybe both. At any rate, it amounts to the same thing. Can?t find the love they want, and feels bad for it.

Difficulty: 8. High pitched and speedy, tough to perform, I?d imagine.

34. ??????? (Tsugaru kaiky? fuyu keshiki, A winter scene on Tsugaru Strait), ????? (Ishikawa Sayuri), 1977PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is a nice song with a stronger narrative than many we?ve seen so far: the narrator is leaving Tokyo to return to Hokkaido. She takes the train from Ueno to Aomori and then hops on a boat where she is overwhelmed by the winter scene of the Tsugaru Strait. There are some classic karaoke tropes: ???? (yakk? ressha, night trains), crying ? (kamome, gulls), ??? (kasumi, mist) covering the water. And much like a good poem, all of these things stand in for the singer?s feelings before we understand that she?s leaving ??? to go home. There?s a surprisingly extensive English Wikipedia page for the song, which notes that it launched Ishikawa to fame and into the Kohaku Uta Gassen for the first time.

Difficulty: 8. Tough to say with this one. Seems like it might not be too bad, but Ishikawa has some pretty flexible vocals. Could be tricky.

33. ?????????? (Nagasaki wa ky? mo ame datta, Nagasaki was rainy today, too), ???????????? (Uchiyamada Hiroshi and the Cool Five), 1969PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is the first enka song I ever learned, and it?s a classic. As mentioned above, I can blame the Rotary Club guys (shout out to Ohiwa-san) for my taste in bad (read: great) karaoke songs. The simple nature of the title makes it a great dad joke if you ever need a cheap laugh and it happens to be rainy in Nagasaki that day. The song itself takes you around Nagasaki city and points out some of its features like ?? (ishidatami, flagstones), which also made an appearance above in ???????. ?????????? (tsumetai kaze ga mi ni shimiru, the cold wind cuts into my body) feels like a pretty classic line, parts of which appear in other songs. ?? (itoshi) is another enka word, one that I wrote about in Final Fantasy VI. The karaoke videos for this song (at least in Japan) never fail to have excellent shots taken throughout Nagasaki, which you should definitely visit if you haven?t. Beautiful place.

Difficulty: 3. If I can sing this one, you can too. Maybe a couple of rhythm sections that are tricky, but not too bad.

32. ?????? (Onna no bur?su, Woman Blues), ??? (Fuji Keiko), 1970PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: I love this song. It?s especially helpful for learning the grammar pattern ???? (desu mono, because) and for the usage of ? (ni) to mark the subject of verbs. The first part of the song is the ways in which being a woman affects how she acts. ????? (onna desu mono, because I?m a woman), she loves, she gets drunk on dreams, she?s alone, nevertheless she persists and survives. The song then (brilliantly!) switches to ??? (anata, you), spelling out what she wants of the guy: ????????? (Anata ni sugaritai, I want to be pursued by you) and other things, such as being spoiled and raised up. And in the second half of the song, it switches to describe Tokyo and then life in general: ??????? (doko de ikite mo, wherever you live). The implication being that life is tough, yo.

Interestingly enough, Fuji is the mother of Utada Hikaru!

Difficulty: 4. This seems pretty accessible, possibly because Fuji has a relatively deep voice compared to some female singers.

31. ????? (Kokoro k?rasete, Freeze Your Heart), ??? (Takayama Gen), 1992PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This seems like a nice ?90s take on a lost-love enka song, even if it doesn?t blow me away. ?I thought it was different with us. You must be living with someone else.? So the narrator of the song asks the person to ?freeze your heart? (if I?m reading the grammar in the title correctly), so that ????????????? (Namida no owari ni naranai y? ni, this isn?t the end of tears)?which brings up the kind of questionable emotional calculation in a lot of these enka songs. Wouldn?t the end of tears be a good thing? I guess maybe not.

We also see the frequently encountered ???? (dakareru, be held by) and ?? (nagasu, wash away) in the passive form in the phrase ?????? (ai ni nagasarete, washed away by love).

Difficulty: 8. Gen has such a delicate voice. I think this one would be difficult to do well.

30. ????????? (Keiko no yume wa yoru hiraku, Keiko?s Dreams Blossom at Night), ? ?? (Fuji Keiko), 1970PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is another nice song from Fuji Keiko with a lot of narrative qualities to it. She starts by talking about how her life was dark when she was younger but that despite this she?s had her dreams which blossom at night. Love is fleeting (especially the idiots she dated when she was younger), dreams last. ?? (miren, regrets/unfulfilled love) makes another appearance here, but she claims to not have had it when she was younger and sillier. The next line then suggests that those who don?t forget will keep their dreams?an interesting take. This feels like a much more confident woman in this song, which doesn?t play into stereotypes, so it?s sad to note Fuji committed suicide in 2013, according to the English Wikipedia page. Life is hard, especially for women in Japan.

Difficulty: 7. This feels more difficult than ??????.

29. ???? (Kagai no haha, Red-light District Mother), ????? (Kanada Tatsue), 1973PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This one is a little tricky for me to understand, but from what I make of it, a mother is supporting her daughter by performing as a geisha. She hopes to see the daughter married because ??????????? (baka ni sarete mo yume ga aru, I have dreams even if you make fun of them/me). There?s an appearance of ?? (shiawase, happiness) in its full kanji form ??, which you see a lot in enka songs. I?m not really feeling this song. It?s slow and feels like maybe it?s a throwback to older enka. There?s interesting info on Japanese Wikipedia: apparently Kanada worked hard to put out the song on her own somehow, but it didn?t become a big hit until six years later when it got her into the Kohaku Uta Gassen.

Difficulty: 9. The ups and downs on this one feel pretty unique. It would be difficult to master.

28. ??? (Kitasakaba, Northern Tavern), ????? (Hosokawa Takashi), 1982PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: I?m pumped to see this one on the list because it?s in my repertoire. I?m not sure where I first heard it, but I have memories of one of my roommates in Tokyo singing it. It?s a great example of constructed nostalgia in enka. The theme of the song is ?????? (kita no sakabad?ri, street of bars in the north). The lyrics go on to discuss the type of people that do well there and how you can charm people. There?s the classic enka line ?????????? (onna o yowaseru koi ga aru, There?s love that will intoxicate women). Nope, nothing sketchy sounding about that! To be fair, the men don?t have it easy either: ?????????? (otoko o nakaseru uta ga aru, There are songs that make men cry). Fun song.

Difficulty: 5. Hosokawa?s voice is higher than it appears which can make this song difficult, but it?s not dripping with kobushi. Give it a shot.

27. ?? (Hisame, Hail/Frozen Rain), ???? (Kayama Akio), 1982PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Here we have another weather phenomenon standing in poetically for the emotions of the people in the song. And those feelings are immediately apparent from the first line of the song: ???????? (nomasete kudasai, let me drink). This is a fantastic song for beginner/intermediate students because most of the lyrics are very normal grammatical constructions. There are lots of imperatives and a great ???????? (nai wake janai, it isn?t that I don?t X) phrase. The song itself is simple: the narrator is drinking to try and forget the person he loved who broke up with him.

Difficulty: 8. Kayama?s voice is pretty high, and there seem to be some tricky notes/rhythm sections. But this could be worth it for the grammatical study and because it?s a fun/sad drinking song.

26. ?? (Musume yo, My Daughter), ????? (Ashiya Gan?nosuke), 1984PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Ashiya sets the theme immediately: ?????????????? (yome ni yuku hi ga konakerya ii to, [I think] it would be nice if the day you marry never comes). While the dad in the song is bitter at first, he eventually wishes his daughter well, tells her to take care, as she goes to live with her husband. The rest of the song consists of memories of the daughter and a spoken section that could double as a wedding speech. I can imagine the tens of thousands of Japanese fathers who have bawled this song at karaoke. To catch the lyrics on this one and get a sense of how this song plays during karaoke time, check out this video.

Difficulty: 7. Nothing to hide behind in this sparse song. You?d have to have your kobushi game on point.

25. ???? (Kokoro nokori, Regrets), ????? (Hosokawa Takashi), 1975PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: A traveler?s song. The narrator has been gossiped about and ????? (taete kita, put up with it), but has decided to set out from the most nostalgic and idyllic of Japanese locations ? ?? (minato machi, port town) ? early the next morning. The word for gossiped/talked about is pretty interesting: ??? (ushiro yubi, back finger?). This one doesn?t feel quite as fun and festive as ???, but I guess that?s probably because it?s a lonelier song. This is probably higher in the rankings because it was Hosokawa?s debut song. Check out Hosokawa here back in the day.

Difficulty: 8. Hosokawa gets some pretty soaring vocals in here. That and the rhythm would probably make this one more difficult.

24. ???? (Kokoro-zake, Soul Liquor), ???? (Fuji Ayako), 1992PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This one feels formulaic as all hell. I guess all of these songs are pretty damn formulaic, but this is just another take on ?even though times are rough, I can get by with you around, and let?s drink some sake and forget everything.? The ?? (sabi, hook) here is ?? (nomu, to drink) + ?? (hosu, drink up) = ????????? (nomihoshimash?ka, shall we drink it all up).

Difficulty: 7. Seems kind of standard difficulty level. Slight kobushi, a couple of rhythm tricks, notably on the hook.

23. ??? (Meoto kagami, Couple Mirror), ??????? (Tonosama Kings), 1974PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: There?s something about the last few songs (or maybe enka in general?) and raising the stakes so intensely with the first line, and this song may take the cake: ?????????? / ???????? (Tatoe shinde mo ii wa / anata no tame nara, I?d be fine dying / if it was for you). The narrator spends the rest of the song outlining the ways in which he will not be a burden to his love, connected to the theme of the mirror?I think in the couple?s place.

Difficulty: 9. Lots of kobushi here, although I was unable to find an original studio version or a live version from the ?70s, only the singer doing a version later on. It would be cool to see a contemporaneous version.

22. ????? (Onna no negai, A Woman?s Wish), ??????????? (Miya Shiro and the Pinkara Trio), 1972PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Dang. Totally unable to find an original version of this song, only covers by YouTubers. Miya is a name to remember, and this song is a sequel of sorts to one that we?ll see later on the list. Try the permasearch link to see if any have appeared. I don?t think the cover versions have nearly as much kobushi power as Miya does?he?s kind of in a league of his own. The song itself goes on to describe women who deserve love (women who are grown in the shade, who work at bars, whose tears have dried up, etc.) and a kind of love. This line describes it best: ????????????? (Hisoka ni ai o sasagete mitai, I want to devote my love secretly). The strange thing is that this is contrasted with ?love at first sight.? This song is basically a big fat mansplain.

Difficulty: Going to give this a 10 out of respect for Miya.

21. ???????? (Michinoku hitori tabi, Solo Journey to Michinoku), ???? (Yamamoto J?ji), 1980PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Again with the dying: This song starts with a line about how it would be nice to die with you here together. Over the course of the song it becomes clear (I think?) that the person being addressed, an ?? (omae, you) who is the ?last woman? for him, has already died, so they must ????????? (yume demo aeru dar?, we?ll be able to meet in our dreams). This makes me think that the ?solo journey? from the title is a code word for death? One word that gets used a bunch here is ??? (tsunoru, to become stronger), in this case in reference to ?? (miren, lingering affection/attachment) and ???? (itoshisa, loveliness).

Difficulty: 7. Yamamoto has a really controlled voice and kobushi that seems like it might be replicable, but not too easily.

20. ????? (Oyaji no umi, My Old Man, the Sea), ???? (Muraki Kenkichi), 1979PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: I was skeptical about the title when I first saw it (?Old Man?s Sea??), but it makes sense once you realize that the song is an ode to the sea and a fisherman?s life (which is linked to Japanese culture through food incredibly strongly). There?s a great example of ???, except in the lyrics I found, it?s given as ???????????? (Sonna oyaji ga it?shii, That old man is dear to me). Life on the sea is hard, so it?s not surprising that the song ends on ????? (taete yuku, I will endure it). Not my favorite on this list, but I can see exactly why a song like this would become a hit in the same way that ?Wichita Lineman? became a hit in the U.S. This another song that was self-produced and later became a hit after it was played on a Hokkaido radio station.

Difficulty: 10. Lots of kobushi and delicately shifting notes. This one would be a tough one to learn.

19. ??????? (Omae to futari, Together With You), ????? (Itsuki Hiroshi), 1979PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This song sounds very similar to Itsuki?s ?Yokohama Twilight? which also features a repeated chorus and came in at 46. This song underwhelms me, but the one thing I think it does have going for it is the kind of ironic way that the chorus ?????? (shiawase o shiawase o, happiness, happiness) is sung so damn sadly. Other than that it?s all pretty formulaic: forget the past, you?re fine as you are, I won?t leave you again, yada yada. I will give Itsuki some credit though, he has a really precise, delicate voice and hits every note as it?s meant to be sung. Check out this video to see Itsuki?s full effect when he was in his prime.

Difficulty: 9. This one would probably be tough because of delicate shifts in notes and rhythm and the need to have some impressive kobushi.

18. ?????????? (Mukashi no namae de dete imasu, I?m Working With My Old Name), ??? (Kobayashi Akira), 1975PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Now here?s an interesting song, precisely because it has a more interesting story behind it, which is explained well at this Yahoo Chiebukuro post. The narrator of the song is actually a woman, despite the fact that the singer is Kobayashi. The narrator has been working at different ?? (sakaba, bars) in different cities under different names, but has returned to Yokohama and is using an old name so that hopefully ??? (anata, you) will find her. If you find the right karaoke video, you may see them meet in the end. This song also details ?????? (botoru k?pu, ?bottle keep,? i.e. bottle service), in which customers purchase a bottle and put their name on it to keep at the bar.

Difficulty: 6. This one doesn?t seem too bad, although I?d have to give it a shot to know for sure. Kobayashi doesn?t seem to be packing too much kobushi power.

17. ???? (Ganpeki no haha, Wharf Mothers), ????? (Futaba Yuriko), 1972PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is a super old school song that Futaba covered in 1971 (on the excellently titled album ?Futaba Yuriko?s Ballad Theater of Tears? ??????????????). The song tells the story of mothers who went to the wharf to see if their sons would be among those returned on ships from the Soviet Union where they were being held at the end of the war. The title became the term for those mothers, whose plights must have struck songwriters. This song is so old school that it isn?t even labeled enka on the YouTube clips. You see ???? (kay? r?kyoku, ballad shamisen song). There aren?t too many enka words in this song because it was written before the formulas were all set, but you do see ??? (sadame, destiny), which is frequently encountered.

Difficulty: 11. This one also goes to 11. Futaba has intense kobushi, this song is slow, and there?s nowhere to hide.

16. ???? (Michizure, Traveling Companion), ????? (Makimura Mieko), 1978PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: As if to prove a point about enka vocabulary, this song starts off with ??? (sadame, destiny/fate) almost immediately: the same destiny links these two people as they decide ? ??? (kimeta, I?ve decided) is the repeated chorus here ? to travel with each other. The song seems to be making a poetic comparison between ??? (ukigusa, greater duckweed) and the narrator of the song, kind of floating along. This is a nice little song.

Difficulty: 7. If you have the voice range for this, I don?t think it would be too bad. Not too much decorative kobushi.

15. ??????? (Sh?wa kare susuki, Withered Sh?wa Pampas Grass), ?????? (Sakura and Ichir?), 1974PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: More death here, due to being persecuted by ?the city? (?, machi) and ?society? (??, sekken). The solution: ??????????? (isso kirei ni shin?ka, I guess I?ll go ahead and die). The song describes all the ways the narrator(s) have lived life to the fullest and have no ?? (miren, regrets). They?ve become the titular pampas grass. The studio version of this song is better than some of the live versions I?ve seen, but none of them really strike me that much. Pretty generic enka stuff. Apparently this song blew up after being used in a movie nine months after being released.

Difficulty: 10. Lots of kobushi and kind of strange off-notes, plus you need a partner.

14. ????? (Yagiri no watashi, Yagiri Crossing), ????? (Hosokawa Takashi), 1983PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is yet another enka song that took on a second life after its initial release. It was first put out by Chiaki Naomi as a B-side in 1976 and then as an A-side in 1982 after being used in a TV drama. It seems like a bunch of folks covered this song that year (including Misora Hibari and Fuji Keiko, whose versions are worth seeking out). Hosokawa?s version is, I think, the best selling of them. This song seems to benefit from singers with a wide vocal range, so female singers who can hit low notes like Misora or male singers who can hit the high notes like Hosokawa. The song itself concerns a couple in love, running away together. There are dueling quoted lines at the start of each verse that could make for a nice duet. And again we get the idea of destiny, left up to nature in this case: ??????????? (fune ni makasero sadame desu, Leave our fate up to the boat). I generally don?t like slow enka, but this one has enough of a story and is pretty nice.

Difficulty: 9. Hosokawa shows off the full range of his vocals in this delicate song. Impressive. And probably damn hard to match. Also some tricky rhythmic sections.

13. ?????? (Minato machi bur?su, Port Town Blues), ??? (Mori Shin?ichi), 1969PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is Mori Shin?ichi?s bestselling single. Mori is old school, and you can hear the influence of rock and roll in this song. It feels like this is right before enka got codified in a way that resulted in the sound you hear above with Hosokawa. The song is good, though, and it highlights the importance of ? (minato, ports) in Japanese culture/mindset. The song has a few port images, but the main part, and I think the appeal, is the way it lists out a number of small port towns, such as Hakodate, Miyako, Kamaishi, and even Kessennuma.

Difficulty: 9. Mori?s vocals are tough to cover. He?s got a voice.

12. ? (Mago, Grandchild), ???? (Oizumi Itsutar?), 1999PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is a pretty straightforward enka song that?s a simple praise of the titular grandchildren. No classic enka vocab words here. There are some nice sentences and words in there for students of the language, though. One word that was interesting to me was ???? (ebisu-gao, lit. ?Ebisu face? i.e. smiling face). I?m a little surprised this song is so high in the ranking.

Difficulty: 7?8? Anything this slow with kobushi is pretty tough.

11. ????? (Osaka shigure, Osaka Rain Shower), ???? (Miyako Harumi), 1980PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Here?s one word I haven?t mentioned yet: ??? (neon, neon). This word generally refers to the lights of red light districts, in this case in Osaka. Here it?s combined with ??? (shimiru, blur), which is what happens to the lights when the narrator of the song cries. Pretty generic enka type stuff (?If I?m enough, you can have me,? ?Happiness, yada yada?) with some call outs for Osaka landmarks. Became a million seller. For an older version with better sound quality, look here.

Difficulty: 10. Lots of kobushi here.

10. ?????? (Sazanka no yado, Camelia Lodge), ???? (Okawa Eisaku), 1982PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Ah yes, the elusive ??? (hito no tsuma, other person?s wife), given in some lyrics as ????. The hito no tsuma is one of the most attractive tropes in Japanese culture (the world?). This song seems to imply that the narrator is sleeping with someone else?s wife, but only for the night, in the titular ? (yado, lodge), which is presumably covered by camelias. I don?t have much to say about Okawa, unfortunately, other than that the kobushi power seems to get stronger as we head toward the top ranked songs.

Difficulty: 8. Lots of kobushi, but maybe not impossible to pull off.

9. ???? (Kitaguni no haru; Northern Country Spring), ??? (Sen Masao), 1977PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: A ?? (kisetsu) song that highlights the countryside and how the seasons there are superior than in Japanese cities. So obviously the solution is to ?? (kaeru, go back) to the ?? (furusato, home town). Each verse here has a similar structure: list three seasonal weather phenomena/locations, tell some very short story about the countryside (e.g. ?Haven?t seen a girl I broke up with five years ago, we were never able to tell each other we loved each other?), then the ?? (sabi, hook) of ?maybe I should go home.? Here?s a younger Sen singing this song.

Difficulty: 5. Sen has a deep enough voice that this one seems accessible.

8. ????? (Omoide zake; Liquor of Nostalgic Remembrances), ???? (Kobayashi Sachiko), 1979PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This is definitely disco-era enka. And I can dig it. It?s a drinking song, a breakup song. So of course there?s another appearance of ?? (miren, lingering affection, regrets, attachment), which naturally only get worse the more you drink. And there?s the killer line in each verse: ???????????(Omoide-zake ni y? bakari, The liquor of nostalgic remembrances only gets ya drunk). I may have been loose with my translation. Clearly the implication here is that you shouldn?t think too much about the past, that *memories* get you *drunk*.

Difficulty: 9. Massive kobushi attack. This isn?t so apparent from the studio version, but live versions are full of wavering notes. It seems like the song overall is in a lower pitch, but I?m sure this one would be challenging.

7. ????? (Kita no yado kara; From a Northern Inn), ???? (Miyako Harumi), 1975PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: The highest female enka singer in the rankings, Miyako has three in the top 50 (both songs about ???, strangely, at 36 and 11). From the beginning of the song, we know who it?s addressing: ????????????? (Anata wa kawari wa nai desu ka, How are things with you?). This is a great example of why karaoke is such good study practice. This was her third million-seller and clearly she hit the jackpot. The song varies from calm and collected death threats (?????????????, Anata shinde mo ii desu ka?, Could you go ahead and die?) to soaring take on ?? (miren), which in this song define a woman?s heart.

Difficulty: 8. Maybe not quite as difficult to reproduce as Kobayashi?s voice above, but challenging nonetheless.

6. ????? (Okuhida b?j?; Okuhida Yearning), ??? (Ry? Tetsuya), 1980PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: I get it, but I don?t like it: This is a four-and-a-half-minute snoozefest, but it hits all the enka tropes: an isolated area of Japan that receives heavy precipitation and is known for hot springs; the perfect place to lay up for a while and meet a side lad/lady or just yearn over stuff in general. Perfect setting for an enka song with the chorus line ???????? (Okuhida ni ame ga furu, It rains in Okuhida). And, damn, check out that title. It?s a kanji nerd?s dream. Ry? grew up in Gifu, and the Hida area of that prefecture is the setting of the song. This is another debut song, making it one of three debuts in the top six, I believe.

Difficulty: 9. So slow and so much kobushi throughout makes this one a tough one to get through.

5. ?? (Uso, Lies), ????? (Nakaj? Kiyoshi), 1974PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Nakaj? was featured on the Gaki no tsukai batsu game in 2014. He performed a semi-duet with comedian Tomochika. Nakaj??s appearance alone was enough to make the Gaki no tsukai team laugh. Nakaj? has an interesting background. After two failed ?debuts,? he ran a snack bar in Tokyo and eventually appeared on a show that seems a lot like American Idol and won. One of the judges from that show gave him a new stage name and wrote him this song. The song itself is pretty typical: the narrator smokes a cigarette and finally understands the lies that his lover told him. This seems like it would be a fun (but difficult) one to sing, especially the rotating ?? (sabi, hook) which describes various lies, beginning with ????????? (kanashii uso no tsukeru hito, people who tell sad lies). I think I would really enjoy exaggerating the final ? for comedic effect (????????????????!).

Difficulty: 9. There are a couple of tough kobushi parts with faster lines that are borderline spoken word. I?d love to be able to sing this one, but alas.

4. ?????? (Hoshikage no warutsu; Starlight Waltz), ??? (Sen Masao), 1966PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Two in the Top Ten for Sen Masao. This song proves once and for all that enka is country music and vice versa. Not really, of course, but this is a sad song and captures a lot of the tropes: the Starlight Waltz is the song the narrator sings while breaking up with someone. And this is despite admitting that he still likes the person: ?????? / ????? (Ima de mo suki da / shinu hodo ni, I still love her now / so much that I would die). This basically defines the enka theme of unfulfillable, impossible love.

Difficulty: 8. Slow songs are harder than fast songs, and this one is particularly slow.

3. ???? (Yume-oi zake; Dream-chasing Alcohol), ???? (Atsumi Jir?), 1978PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: This song takes advantage of the most frequently used karaoke word: ? (yume, dream). Basically it?s a simple song of heartbreak, shown by the very fun ?? (sabi, hook) : ?????????????? (Anata naze naze watashi o suteta, Why oh why did you break up with me). Easy language for beginner students to understand, and the music is super catchy.

Difficulty: 8. This is probably one of those songs that?s hard to sing well, but maybe within reach for some of us?

2. ????? (Namida no misao; Loyalty of Tears), ??????? (Tonosama Kings), 1973PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Just another song about a heartbroken woman who just wants to be beside her man and is willing to die if she can?t. I wasn?t sure if the song was sung from a man?s point at the beginning, but I think the ???? (onna da kara, because I?m a woman) is a pretty clear hint that the narrator is a woman, despite the fact that the singer is male. The other clues are the ? (wa) particles floating about. Christine Yano confirms this in her book and writes about how the gender roles are often ?crossed?: ?In effect, what these crossed performances demonstrate is that the cultural imagination places women at men?s (sexual) service, but men at society?s service.? So, yeah?I?m going to go ahead and say this song is a good bit misogynistic. Harumph.

Difficulty: 9. It would be tough to match the nasally voice of the lead singer.

1. ???? (Onna no michi; Path of a Woman), ??????????? (Miya Shiro and the Pinkara Trio), 1972PERMASEARCH

Quick Take: Miya Shiro?s unrivaled kobushi power ? and probably his looks: a pencil mustache and slicked back hair ? propelled this song to the top of the charts for 16 consecutive weeks in 1972. I?m willing to bet his unique kobushi is what drew listeners to this song. This is another song that appears to be a female narrator sung by a male singer. It isn?t quite as intense as the pledges to die in the song above, but it does include other pledges: ??????? / ???? (Ni do to shinai wa / koi nanka, I won?t do it twice / fall in love).

Difficulty: 10. Do not try this one at home unless you have massive kobushi skills.


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