Enka Music - History, curiosities and Rankings

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When we talk about Japanese music one of the most cited without a doubt is the traditional Japanese music called Enka [演歌]. Do you know how it came about? In this article we will see some curiosities and the Enka more popular.

When talking about Enka, some people have the impression of being an old song and heard only by older people. In fact it is not quite like that, you will see that Enka had great importance in the history of Japan and even in other countries.

How does the enka song work?

Enka is a unique and modern style that uses as its main scale yonanuki tan-onkai, a minor scale without four and seven (aft and sol). The music is based on the pentatonic scale, and has similarities to the blues.

The lyrics of the enka modern usually talks about love, loss, loneliness, enduring difficulties, perseverance, difficulties in life, suicide and even death.

The singers enka employ a style of melisma, where a single syllable of the text is sung as it moves between several different notes in succession called Kobushi In japanese.

Enka music - history, curiosities and rankings

Enka suggests a traditional, idealized or romanticized aspect of Japanese culture and attitudes. Enka singers, predominantly women, usually perform in kimono or evening dress.

Male enka artists tend to wear formal attire or, in some performances, traditional Japanese attire. Nods to traditional Japanese music are common in enka.

The enka melodies are western and use electronic instruments like synthesizers and guitar with distortion, but their musical instruments also include guitar, shakuhachi it's the shamisen.

History and origin of enka

Created in the Meiji Era and Taisho Era, enka it is a kind of traditional music with foreign melodies, it was initially used more as a protest, speech in the form of music, for political activism.

Its roots come from Ryūkōka, a type of traditional Japanese folk music that emerged around the First World War and preceded what we today call J-Pop.

Enka music - history, curiosities and rankings

Before the enka In the Meiji Period, street singers used the term Enka, which in the early 20th century was political music and included violin sounds.

Between 1920 and 1940 it was shaped by Japanese popular music Ryukoka. Shortly after the Second World War, Enka was influenced by Jazz, until it reached its peak of popularity in the 60s.

Enka was a commercial success from the 1960s to the 1980s, where it lost its definition and ended up declining in the 1990s. Even today enka is very successful among fans, including in the West.

Enka vs Trot

For those who don't know, Enka came together with a very similar style of music from Korea called Trot. Both had influences from traditional Japanese music called Ryūkōka and came up with the same goal of showing freedom of expression.

O trot [트로트] appeared around 1920 and was the most popular style of music in Korea until the 1980s. It cannot be said that trot is branching from enka or vice versa. Still, both share almost identical influences and similarities.

The only and biggest difference is that enka is sung by native Japanese, while trot is sung by native Koreans. Usually a woman in traditional clothing accompanied by almost identical melodies, rhythms and arrangements.

In fact, some still question and claim that the Enka arose thanks to the influence of Trot which became popular even earlier. However, the enka modern is very different from the music of the beginning of the century.

Some claim that in the 1920s the Japanese composer Masao Koga he mixed traditional Korean music with western gospel music, which later became Enka and Trot, but is not considered a major influence.

Kōhaku Uta Gassen

On January 3, 1951 the Japanese public TV NHK created a program called Kōhaku Uta Gassen, which on New Year's Eve offers musical performances, enka and J-pop.

There are usually competitions between artists. Undoubtedly, this is one of the programs that keeps the flame of enka being one of the most popular in Japan.

Many famous and popular singers who contributed to this style becoming more and more popular appear in the Program. Among some we have the famous Hibari Misora:

Enka facts

In 2008/2009 an African-American singer named Jero (Jerome Charles White Jr) and grandson of a Japanese woman became very popular in Japan and under the influence of his grandmother started to sing the enka musical style.

He is considered the first black man to sing enka, below you can see a presentation of him:

Enka has become popular in other Asian countries mainly among Japanese descendants living abroad. Those who occasionally attended Japanese events like Obon they ended up getting to know the enka style and falling in love with modern songs that actually seem traditional.

Did you know that Keiko Fuji known as Junko Abe, a notable enka singer, mother of the famous Hikaru Utada, committed suicide in 2013? Another example of that fame does not bring happiness.

enka is divided into two large sub-groups: Yonanuki major and Yonanuki minor. The greater Yonanuki are the songs destined for the men, with songs generally calidaz and tranquilizers. The smaller Yonanuki in the other hand tends to be more emotional, recurrently addressing despair, and is used more in songs for women.

If you like more “modern” music such as current Japanese pop and rock, you may not like this musical style very much, but who knows, starting to listen to you may not like it? I myself like heavier, elaborate or classic rock and I ended up liking that musical style.

Top 10 enka artists

An online survey reveals a list of the 20 most popular Enka. The list may end up being unfair to some, as others sing various styles of music that can influence their popularity in the ranking.

  1. Hibari Misora;
  2. Sayuri Ishikawa;
  3. Hiroshi Itsuki;
  4. Miyuiki Nakajima;
  5. Aki Yashiro;
  6. Rimi Natsukawa;
  7. Takashi Hosokawa;
  8. Fuyumi Sakamoto;
  9. Jero;
  10. Saburo Kitajima;
  11. Chiemi Eri;
  12. Shinichi Mori;
  13. Michiya Mihashi;
  14. Naomi Chiaki;
  15. Yuko Nakazawa;
  16. Hideo Murata;
  17. Keiko Fuji;
  18. Chiyoko Shimakura;
  19. Ringo Sheena;
  20. Shingo Murakami;

Enka Artist List

To end the article, we will leave a complete list with the main artists and singers Enka who left their mark in Japan:

  • Aiko Moriyama
  • Akemi Misawa
  • Akemi Mizusawa
  • Aki Yashiro
  • Akina Nakamori
  • Akira Kobayashi
  • Akira Mita
  • Asami Mori
  • Asami Hayashi
  • Atsumi Hirohata
  • Aya Shimazu
  • Ayako Fuji
  • Ayako Yashio
  • Cai Gui
  • Chang Hsiu-ching
  • Cheuni
  • Chen Ying-Git
  • Chikai Oka
  • Chiyuki Asami
  • Chiyoko Shimakura
  • Cho Yong-pil
  • Chris Hung
  • Eduardo Toshiaki Yoshikawa
  • Eigo Kawashima
  • Eiko Segawa
  • Eisaku Ōkawa
  • Etsuko Shimazu
  • Frank Nagai
  • Fumiko Utagama
  • Fuyumi Sakamoto
  • Genta Chiba
  • Gorō Kagami
  • Hachirō Izawa
  • Hachirō Kasuga
  • Haruka Yabuki
  • Haruo Minami
  • Harumi Miyako
  • Hibari Misora
  • Hideo Murata
  • Hideyo Morimoto
  • Hiroko Hattori
  • Hiroko Matsumae
  • Hiroshi Itsuki
  • Hiroshi Kadokawa
  • Hiroshi Kitaoka
  • Hiroshi Kanō
  • Hiroshi Mizuhara
  • Hiroshi Moriya
  • Hiroshi Takeshima
  • Hiroshi Uchiyamada and Cool Five
  • Hiroyuki Nishikata
  • Hitomi Ayase
  • Hitomi Matsunaga
  • Hitomi Shimatani
  • Ichirō Toba
  • Ikue Asazaki
  • Ikuzō Yoshi
  • Itsurō Ōizumi
  • Iwasa Misaki
  • Jero
  • Jirō Atsumi
  • Jirō Kanmuri
  • Jody Chiang
  • Jōji / George Yamamoto
  • Junko Ishihara
  • Junko Misaki
  • Kanjani Eight
  • Kaori Kōzai
  • Kaori Mizumori
  • Kaori Uesugi
  • Katsuki Nana
  • Kazuha Yasuda
  • Kazuko Mifune
  • Kazuo Chiba
  • Kazuo Funaki
  • Kazusa Wakayama
  • Keiko Fuji
  • Keiko Matsuyama
  • Keisuke Hama
  • Keisuke Yamauchi
  • Kenichi Mikawa
  • Kenji Niinuma;
  • Killer Bee
  • Kim Yeon-ja
  • Kiyoko Suizenji
  • Kiyoshi Hikawa
  • Kiyoshi Maekawa
  • Kōji Tsuruta
  • Komadori Shimai
  • Kōtarō Satomi
  • Kotomi Maki
  • Kunio Naitō
  • Kumi Iwamoto
  • Kye Eun-sook
  • Risa Yoshiki
  • Machiko Kitano
  • Madoka Ōishi
  • Maeda Yuki
  • Maiko Takigawa
  • Masako Mori
  • Masao Sen
  • Masuiyama Daishirō II)
  • Matsumura Kazuko
  • Maya Sakura
  • Meiko Kaji
  • Michiya Mihashi
  • Midori Kayama
  • Midori Sasa
  • Mieko Makimura
  • Mika Shinno
  • Mika Tachiki
  • Mikasa Yuko
  • Aoe Mine
  • Misaki Iwasa
  • Mitsuko Nakamura
  • Miyako Ōtsuki
  • Miyuki Kawanaka
  • Miyuki Nagai
  • Murakami Sachiko
  • Nana Mizuki
  • Naomi Chiaki
  • Natsuko Godai
  • Nobue Matsubara
  • Ogata Daisaku
  • Ono Enka
  • Osamu Miyaji
  • Reiko Izuhara
  • Rikuo Kadowaki
  • Rimi Natsukawa
  • Ryotarō Sugi
  • Saburō Kitajima
  • Sachiko Kobayashi
  • Sanae Jōnouchi
  • Sarbjit Singh Chadha
  • Satomi Kojō
  • Sayuri Ishikawa
  • Shin Kōda
  • Shinichi Mori
  • Shinji Tanimura
  • Shinobu Otowa
  • Shirakawa Chiemi
  • Shirō Miya
  • Shohei Naruse
  • Snaree
  • Takao Horiuchi
  • Takashi Hosokawa
  • Takeo Fujishima
  • Takuya Jo
  • Takeshi Kitayama
  • Teresa Teng
  • Teruhiko Saigō
  • Teruhisa Kawakami
  • Tetsuya Gen
  • Toshie Fujino
  • Toshimi Tagawa
  • Tsukasa Mogamigawa
  • Tsuzuko Sugawara
  • Vanesa Oshiro
  • Velvet.kodhy
  • Watanabe Mika
  • Yasuo Tanabe
  • Yeh Hsien-hsiu
  • Yolanda Tasico
  • Yoshimi Tendō
  • Yoshio Tabata
  • Yōko Nagayama
  • Youko Masaki
  • Yujiro Ishihara
  • Yuki Maeda
  • Yukio Hashi
  • Yuri Harada
  • Yutaka Yamakawa
  • Yuki Nagaho
  • Yuuki Nishio
  • Yūko Maki
  • Yuko Nakazawa
  • Yūko Oka
  • Yutaka Ooe
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