History of Enka Part 1 of 2

“Enka” is a term referring to a particular genre of Japanese music. It is similar in spirit if not in style to US country music – in other words it sings about the traditional downhome values of Japan and beatifies the past to a certain extent. Here‘s an example of it on YouTube “The Red-bean Camelia is the Flower of Love”. Similar music is popular in most of Asia (including Vietnam, China, and North and South Korea).

What many people don’t know, however, is that enka was not always the music of the status quo (from Wikipedia):


Enka was originally a product of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement. The songs were used as a way to put political statements and messages criticizing clan politics into song. In other words, they are songs that satired politics, and the word “enka” (literally “speech song”) is said to have had its roots the late 19th century when public speeches were harshly repressed, causing speeches to be replaced by singing songs. Even prior to that, there were songs that satired politics, but afterward the name “enka” stuck. However, as time passed the meaning of the word evolved and “enka” is no longer used to refer to songs including political content. From the latter part of the Meiji Era, enka singers came to sing socially satirical songs with emotional themes. In the Taisho era, some enka singers began to incorporate elements of Western music. This was the time of Shunyo Tottori‘s debut (listen to a cover/karaoke of Tottori “Caged Bird” here). His “Caged Bird” captivated a generation of Japanese. In the Showa era, foreign record labels opened operations in Japan, and a new era came to Japan in the form of the recording system. At that time Western-style performers came into fashion and enka gave up its top position in pop culture.

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