ただいま JAPANEE SOUL
Parting is never easy in any language and I found myself doing so in English, bad English, modest Japanese, barely-dignified bastardizations of both, noogies, hugs, groans, beers and smiles. Japan is a hard knot to untangle once you've clawed your way into the weave. The things I missed in NY don't shine as bright as they used. Many things need redefining. I'm a bit uncomfortable.
Japan made me a fan of enka. Partly because I gravitate towards what has gone before but also because there is no faster way to bond with the fellows you work with than to respect the pop of their generation. My principals and vice-principals, the PTA members, even a few of the teachers would be amazed enough to learn that I even knew names like Misora Hibari, Yosui Inoue and Ishikawa Sayuri. It is a different matter altogether to pick up the mic and let go like it's 1955. With them I was always in the right crowd. Going to karaoke with ALTs and singing "Dani California" for the billionth time is truly a boorish obligation. They could have at least sucked my kiss.
I've culled my own bevy of standards, the most complicated of which was the original version of 車屋さん KURUMAYA SAN. Once covered by my beloved pomme, it is truly amazing to hear the late Misora singing a classic example of what Shiina Ringo has made into philosophy. Old with new. Swanky foreign jazz blended with traditional undulations. The lyrics are biting, coquettish and conversational, written to evoke images of rural Japan, as idealistic as Dixie. Idyllic characters like the festival booth owner, the drunk old farmer and the meddling rickshawman (kurumaya san) assigned to deliver a love note in absolute secrecy.
naisho de watashite naisho de henji ga
naisho de kuru you ni
dekya senkai na
(in secrecy deliver it, in secrecy turn over the reply only to me)
It's a complicated old ditty and the apple loves nothing more than complication. The Rickshawman is something of a simpleton and upon failing to do as instructed, he is scolded by the singer with the words:
"He who opens something not addressed to him is foolish but the one who addressed it is even moreso."
One listen and you will understand why my colleagues laughed their asses off whenever I attempted to sing it. That part is a bitch to sing.
My last hurrah was on the eve of my wakarekai (farewell party). All my other schools just happened to be gathered at the same bar. The vice principal of Futada Elementary, knowing my penchant for humiliation, thrust a mic in my hand and announced that he would select an appropriate song for me. I was appropriately drunk so I said hi.
The song was AMAGIGOE 天城越え by Ishikawa Sayuri。If a standard for karaoke exists, folks, this is it. This is their "Somewhere Over the Rainbow.", "Miss American Pie", "Nessun Dorma" rolled into one. If you claim to be Japanese and not know this yarn, the Emperor himself gives you detention. They've even made a reggaeton version. It is not an easy song to sing or understand. The lyrics displayed at the bottom of the screen are so archaic they are no longer recognized by even adult Japanese. It's so poetic that even a sentiment as bitter as jealousy becomes somehow sweet.
"If another seeks to intrude, may I then destroy you?"
Catering to the national passion for competition, karaoke bars have installed some weird electronic ranking system for how well one follows lyrics and when you're trashed those numbers really fucking count! I sang knowing that good or bad, I'd receive the same appreciation. Kyoto sensei was so proud to have chosen wisely and dammit but I do love that song! I scored a 92, higher than anyone else.
Stay tuned, I'm far from done with this madness.