Song about Grandchildren an Unlikely Hit
March 17, 2000
Enka is a traditional form of Japanese popular music which, while appealing to those with highly polished singing skills, seldom produces any hit songs these days and accounts for a mere 3% of music sales. Recently though, to the relief of those in the world of enka who have been wondering sadly if the end might not be nigh for their music in Japan, a long-awaited hit song has emerged. Its title is "Mago" (grandchild).
Savior of Enka?
"Why are you so adorable?/My grandchild you are my treasure." The performer who sings in this unabashed way about the unbearable cuteness of grandchildren is Itsuro Oizumi of Yamagata Prefecture. Oizumi is a national-champion folk singer who runs his own music school. He composed "Mago" as a tribute to the adorable nature of his own first grandchild, who was born in 1994. The song was included in an independently produced CD that went on sale in 1998. "Mago" was released nationally in April 1999 by a major record company after the president of a talent agency saw the audience's reaction to it at an amateur concert in which Oizumi performed.
The big break for "Mago" came in May 1999 when an amateur participant performed it on the NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) television show "Nodo Jiman" (NHK Amateur Singing Contest). After the broadcast, NHK and local record shops began receiving a flood of inquiries about the song. Thereafter it rose rapidly up the charts and became a certified hit. As of January 24, 2000, the song was at number four in the charts. While enka songs with sales of 100,000 are considered a big hit, "Mago" has boasted remarkable sales of 600,000 copies in nine months and is still selling well.
Although "Mago" was not written with big sales in mind, it nonetheless contains a sales-luring device. Japan's older generation is the main supporter of enka. As the country's population continues to age rapidly, this agegroup, the nation's wealthiest, is experiencing explosive growth in numbers. Few grandmothers or grandfathers can resist a song like "Mago" that sings about the "cuteness of grandchildren." The song opens with a child's voice calling "Jiichan! Baachan!" (Grandpa!, Grandma!), which serves as another way of catching the listener's attention.
Striking a Reflective Chord
Oizumi is taking the opportunity his newfound fame gives him to speak about bone-marrow banks and transplants during promotions and concerts. In 1995 his son was diagnosed with leukemia but was able to recover thanks to a marrow transplant from Oizumi. As a result of this experience, the singer is spreading word of the existence of marrow banks and asking as many people as possible to register as donors. These efforts also seem to be contributing to the popularity of "Mago."
Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.