My Song Story in My Life – The Youth of the Showa Era

My Song Story in My Life – The Youth of the Showa Era [わが人生の歌がたり 昭和の青春], by Hiroyuki Itsuki [五木寛之], Kadokawa Shoten, 2008, 206 pages, ISBN: 978-4-04-883994-5

Reviewed by Mikihiro Maeda

This is the second book of Hiroshi Itsuki’s “My song Story in My Life” series. The first one was about the “joys and sorrows” of the Showa era with the focus on the sorrowful side of his own life (see the review in Issue 14 – Volume 3 Number 2 pages 4/5). This one, the second one is about “youth” in the Showa era and covers the initial period of rapid postwar economic growth following the period of chaos and poverty in the immediate postwar period. The author, after dropping out of Waseda university, somehow managed to find a job, but his life did not go smoothly with little hope for his own future.

Japan went through the period of repatriation, demobilization and black markets, and then, due to the government’s income doubling program in Showa 35 (1960), it was moving toward becoming a consumer society. For example, the Tokaido Shinkansen (Bullet Train) was opened, and the Tokyo Summer Olympics wre held in Showa 39 (1964). The spirit of the Japanese went high and their eyes were beginning to shine. Many fascinating popular songs were born and, with alluring lyrics, which captured the people’s hearts and minds in this bright era. In this volume the lyrics of fifty popular songs are selected and commented on by the author, each with his special memory full of pathos.

In his school days, the author picked up many part-time jobs to make ends meet, for example, delivering newspapers, selling his blood, etc. After he unwillingly dropped out of university due to his failure/inability to pay tuition fees, he became a copywriter, worked for an ad agency, and helped produce radio or TV programs. Then, he began receiving requests to write essays and columns from his own clients. In spite of these developments, however, his own feelings were something like working “at the bottom of the mass media” to borrow his own words (page 81). After that, he started to write commercial songs and became a songwriter under contract with a record company. His pen names were “Nobu Takashi” and “Tachihara Misaki.” And his lyrics around that time were somewhat influenced by such American singers as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, who were at the forefront of the protest movement, expressing emotions which captured the era. Among those lyrics, he wrote one poem using his real name in the late 60s, depicting one boy who was abandoned in a war-torn village alone. It is entitled “A Village without a Dove” sung by Hiroko Fujino in 1969, it was awarded a special prize the following year (page 170). His feelings in those days were reflected in the loneliness and sadness of the lyrics written in his real name.

He makes an interesting analysis on page 160 of the book, saying that Japanese popular songs in the 60s might be categorized into three groups. The first is “Enka”, native Japanese folk songs. Another is western-style popular songs. The third group is “Utagoe” songs. There were many Utagoe tearooms in Tokyo around that time. The Olympic year 1964 was a turning point for the postwar history of Japan’s economy. At the same time, many people sang the same songs together in “Utagoe” rooms, sharing the same feelings or same messages toward their own lives as well as their communities. Itsuki wrote a novel entitled “Enka,” a story about an ambitious record producer in the era and it was made into a movie in 1968.

Then, he became intensely busy, although he found time to marry a lady (Ms Reiko) who was once his university classmate and was working as a psychiatrist at the time of their wedding. On this occasion, he sorted out his jobs and then travelled to the Soviet Union and Scandinavia, leaving the city of Yokohama for Nakhodka by way of the vessel Baikal, a passenger boat. It seemed that one of the reasons why he wanted to go to the Soviet Union was because the author majored in the Russian literature at the university.

Probably a more important reason for his travels might be that he could not feel at home but was alienated from realities of life in Tokyo at that time. So, he wanted to escape to the Soviet which was not very popular as a tourist destination in those days. For the same reason, after returning to Japan, he retreated to a remote town, Kanazawa, which was the hometown of his wife.

In the meantime, he wrote a novel “Say Goodbye to Hoodlums in Moscow” (Saraba Mosukuwa Gurentai), based on the experience of his travels, and was awarded the Shosetsu Gendai Shinjin Award in 1966. In the following year, he won the prestigious Naoki prize for “See the Pale Horse” (Aozameta Uma-o Miyo).

Surprisingly, even after he received these reputable prizes, his inner feelings still remained the same as before. He did not want to be disturbed by the frantic cries of the mass media, but to continue his quiet life in Kanazawa away from Tokyo (page 205). The economy appeared to be booming and many popular songs at the time reflected this phenomenon, but his feelings were quite apart from the general mood of the public. He describes himself as a “deracine” (page 81) who lost his home town, a rootless wanderer like duckweed. On the final page of this book, he concludes by saying that he would have to lead an extremely busy, “thunderous and stormy” life after receiving the Naoki Prize. The reader will have to wait to see how his life and environment will changed and how the popular songs he chooses in this volume will reflect his feelings accordingly in the next, and presumably final volume of this series.

This book comes with a CD featuring two songs, “Song for the Circus” and “Sweet Blues,” along with the author’s narration which can remind the listener of the author’s own program on the NHK midnight radio, broadcast once a month some years ago. Most listeners will probably be soothed by the “low-key” talk as well as the nice songs. The introductory part of the CD is exactly the same as that of the author’s radio program.

This review was produced in collaboration with the Global Communications Platform and a different and shorter version of this article has also been published on the Platform: http://www.glocom.org

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