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Home > Books & Journals > Book Review Last Updated: 16:49 05/26/2008
Book Review #89: May 23, 2008

"My Song Story in My Life - The Youth of Showa Era (Waga Jinsei No Utagatari - Showa No Seishun)" by Hiroyuki Itsuki

Reviewed by Mikihiro Maeda (Administrative Chief, Japanese Institute of Global Communications, International University of Japan)

Title: My Song Story in My Life - The Youth of Showa Era ("Waga Jinsei No Utagatari - Showa No Seishun" in Japanese)
Authors: Hiroyuki Itsuki
Language: Japanese
Publisher: Kadokawa Shoten
Date/Time: 2008/3/31
Pages: 206 pages
ISBN: 978-4-04-883994-5


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 Book Review #87). The second one is about the "youth" in the Showa era and covers the initial period of rapid economic growth of the Japanese following the period of chaos and poverty after the war. 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 a consumer society. The Tokaido Shinkansen (Bullet Train) was opened, the Tokyo Summer Olympics was 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, captured the people's hearts and minds in this bright era. The lyrics of fifty popular songs are selected and commented by the author, each with his special memory full of pathos, in this volume.

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 dropped out of the university unwillingly due to the failure to pay the tuition, he became a copy writer, 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 words (p81).

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 to express their emotions for the era. Among those lyrics, he wrote one poem by 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 and was awarded a special prize the following year (p170). His feelings in those days were reflected in the loneliness and sadness of the lyrics written by his real name.

He makes an interesting analysis on page 160 in this book, saying that Japanese popular songs in the 60s might be categorized into three groups. One is "Enka", native Japanese folk songs. Another is western-style popular songs. 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. He 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 once was his university classmate and was working as a psychiatrist at that time. On that occasion, he sorted out his jobs and traveled to the Soviet Union and Scandinavia, leaving the city of Yokohama for Nakhodka by the 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 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 is 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 travel, 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 busy life of mass media, but to continue quiet life in Kanazawa away from Tokyo (p205). 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 (p81)" 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 see how his life and environment changed and how popular songs of his choice reflected his feelings accordingly in the next, 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. The listener should 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.

Hiroyuki ITSUKI, My Song Story in My Life - The Youth of Showa Era ("Waga Jinsei No Utagatari - Showa No Seishun" in Japanese), Kadokawa Shoten

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