Japan’s two greatest and most lovable female singers, Nakamoto Suzuka and Utada Hikaru

 

 

 

*Note: Other than the ‘Inazuma’ story all of the translations are my own. (I was unable to find the Japanese source of the Inazuma story and so made use of a translation by an unknown Japanese person.)

 

      This selection of mine naming Nakamoto Suzuka, aka ‘Su-metal’ and Utada Hikaru as the two greatest Japanese woman singers is obviously an almost totally subjective determination. I mean, how could it not be? I am sure there are some more or less objective measures of the skill level of a person’s singing voice such as range of octave, decibel levels, lack of contour errors, pitch accuracy and on and on. That said since I personally have no knowledge or understanding of these units of measurement I, and most likely you as well, can only go on my own personal sense of what constitutes a great singer. It is funny that I originally thought of doing a short 6 or so page post about the 4 greatest Japanese singers which of course started out with Su-metal and Utada and then went on to include Imai Miki and Takeuchi Mariya. However, once I began researching what I wanted to say, first of all, about Su-chan I realized that I would have to trim it down to include only Su and Utada.

    There are an almost uncountable number of beautiful phenomena in the world that move one’s heart running from sunsets, flowers, good food and starry night skies. However, for me, the most enthralling ‘thing’ in the world is the sound as well as the performance and all that entails of Japanese women singers. 

     What is it exactly about Su-metal and Utada that so captivates and touches the hearts and minds of so many people? In the end I would have to say from my perspective, and even following upon a few weeks of considering this question after deciding to write about it, that their attractiveness is an elusive charm that goes beyond verbal or even mental understanding. While I will try to express the possible reasons for their loveliness herein, I will say that I will most likely not be able to do so to a satisfactory degree. Both women visually lie in that realm that lies between, and overlaps into, cuteness and beauty, and without any sense of projected sexiness. They both move with a gliding sense of grace and dignity that seems to be backed up by a hidden power source and yet neither comes off as an overly crafted dancer in spite of the fact that you simply can not take your eyes of them when they move on stage (or off, for that matter). Internally, both are ridiculously confident. In fact, when my students have asked me to sum up Utada with one word, it was always ‘Confident’ that I would respond with. And I mean a confidence that goes beyond just an assumption that they can pull off a good show, but rather a rock solid sense that they almost CAN NOT fail- a confidence that is seemingly divinely gifted. In spite of this, neither of these two women conveys even a hint of arrogance and in fact are extremely humble almost to the point of being self-deprecating. And then there is of course their vocals, their voices. Words can obviously not do them justice and their is no need to try to express the power, the clarity, the cuteness, the at times frailty with which they express lyrics with their voices when a simple listen is all that it takes. 

     So, to dive in to actually writing about these two giants it is best to get to know their backgrounds a bit even though we may not in fact need to know anything about a singer to be able to enjoy and appreciate their singing. I have often thought, though, what it would be like to listen to Karen Carpenter’s voice without knowing anything about the tragic nature of her life. In fact I am pretty sure that I remember feeling a deep sadness or melancholy in her voice when I listened to the Carpenters on the radio as a little boy, so there may be something inherently in it that evokes sadness. That said, I am certain that knowing about the life and background of a singer affects they way we perceive their vocals. 

Nakamoto Suzuka (中元すず香)

     Su-chan was born as the 3rd and youngest daughter in 1997, December 20 in Hiroshima. It is said that when she was still only two years old that she would become so absorbed in the background music playing at shops that she would sing and dance so intensely that she would often get separated from her family. It is reported that she was considered to be a prodigy by those who heard her sing when she was still an infant. 

     She began her childhood modeling career at the age of 5 and won the Grand prize of Bandai cosmetic’s Jewel Drop, ’Image girl’ contest. 

 

     This was followed by another Grand prize at the age of 8 Alpark Scholarship Audition which played a huge role in her being able to be granted admission to the Actor’s School of Hiroshima (ASH).

  I can not go much farther in chronicling her early history and achievements as it would go on for several pages and have been recorded both in English and, to a much more detailed extent in Japanese elsewhere. I will just say that she apparently went on to win basically every contest that she entered either solely or with her sister, Himeka, with the exception of one where they most likely basically bowed out because of a scheduling difficulty and yet still took runners up place.

    Here are some of her early vocals prior to and following that fateful occurrence of being one of the three members of the iconic, ‘Karen Girl’s’ group that led directly into the formation of Sakura Gakuin to ‘Juonbun’ or as what we now know as ‘BABYMETAL’. 

 

 

And my personal favorite…

     Two of Su-chan’s most recognizable characteristics are evidently revealed in a short interview with her and her Karen Girl’s co-members, Mutou Ayami and Shima Yuika before they embark on their stage at the Animelo Summer Live 2008 – CHALLENGE, (Saitama Super Arena). What are those characteristics? One is Su’s constant scanning, constant taking in of what is happening in her surroundings. This characteristic of one’s eyes actively scanning one’s surroundings and of not letting the eyes settle into a ‘dead stare’ is something we often see with not only Su-chan but also of such mysterious intellectuals and mystics such as Krishnamurti

and contained in the teachings of Takuan Osho,

a zen master who taught the mental side of sword fighting to Yagyu Munenori and I would include the way my favorite fictional character of ‘Sugishita Keibu from the incredibly popular and long running Japanese TV series, ‘Aibou’

uses his eyes in constantly scanning any situation for clues. While this is often looked upon at least in the West as a sign of deceptiveness or an unsettled state of mind, it is more correctly seen as a sign of intelligence and wakefulness, at least in certain individuals. Of course I would include Su-chan in this latter category. There is something truly wonderful and actually quite rare going on with her as she does this and is something that I believe the reader can verify for themselves right now. See how you feel when you do not let you eyesight rest on a single item in your line of sight for more than a fraction of second before you move on to the next, the next and then the next object as compared with letting your eyes kind of rest on a single point. I believe you will see the almost animalistic sense of aliveness that this flitting of the eyes conveys. 

 

  Now, not to go too off into wild ramblings, I want to focus on the what could be called ‘Vacant mind’ of Su-chan as compared with ‘Su-metal’. And not to draw the comparison with one of my favorites, the aforementioned, Krishnamurti, a person who is well known to have a side to himself that was best summed up as ‘Vacant’, to the point of over embellishment, I would like to draw attention to this, what could derogatorily be referred to as sign of below par intelligence that is often pointed out in reference to Su-chan, this aspect of her character that is, I would say, rather a sign of exceptional and in fact genius level intelligence. We know of Su from the countless anecdotal stories that exist (often from Su-chan herself) that:

[Please remember that most of these were either 1 time, or limited in frequency, occurrences that happened early in Su-chan’s life. They are glimpses into her unique make-up and not on-going (I would assume) characteristics. Anyway, here are some of them.]

‘Su can not tie her shoe laces by herself’

‘She is unable to make a sound with a whistle as she blows on it holding it upside-down’

‘Su-chan has been known to walk along with her shoes on the wrong feet not noticing until someone points it out to her’. 

‘Su has apparently, at least once, when singing ‘Megitsune’, mistakenly sung ‘Joyuu yo’ <actress> with ‘Kyonyuu’ <big breasts>’.

‘In order to collect <Bell Mark> stamps <stamps that schoolchildren collect from various products to exchange for school related goods>, Su-chan would cut the stamps out of her older sisters’ notebooks, for which she was of course scolded by her sisters.’

‘Su-chan would often leave her family in bewilderment as she ripped off <Bell Marks> from their Sesame oil bottles.’

‘There were numerous occasions where Su-chan would be left behind yelling, ‘Hey, wait for me!’, as the filming crew would move from location to location.’

‘Su-chan would occasionally (OK, so at least once) show up for lessons only to find that she still had her pajamas on under her long skirt.’

‘Su-chan was happy to have moved from the 12-member Sakura                       Gakuin format to the 3-member BABYMETAL one because it reduced the need to fight for staff boxed lunches by 9.’

‘As her self-selected research assignment during summer vacation when she was in the 1st grade of Jr. High, Su-chan chose to do a joint research project with her sister, Himeka, into <The secret behind how pudding solidifies>.’

‘Her big ears that are tilted rather forward are great for hearing sounds in the front of her, but she has a difficult time hearing what people are saying when they are speaking in hushed tones behind her.’

‘She enjoys joking around with e-mails to herself where she does both the <Boke> and the <Tsukokomi> roles. Note: You will have to look these up for yourself as it would take too long to explain. In other words, she does a kind of 2-person comedy skit, ‘Manzai’ with herself in her e-mails’.

 

‘A question from Himetan’s blog! Where does a snake’s tail begin. This was

the topic of discussion amongst our family.’

* Mama: Where does a snake’s tail begin?

* Himeka: A snake doesn’t have a tail.

* Suzuka: Snakes have hands, don’t they? Maa, if they do or don’t who cares?

* Anyway, Mama wants to know the borderline between a snake’s body and it’s tail. If you happen to know please let me know.’

    All of these examples that are mostly well known amongst the vast

BABYMETAL lore all show a side of a girl who walks to the beat of

a different drummer. Now don’t get me wrong, this side of Su-chan makes

her all the more charming and enchanting and is a property that I personally

absolutely adore along with probably all BABYMETAL fans. This property is

called, ‘Tennen’ in Japan and said for the most part as an enduring, if not

almost admirable characteristics usually found in girls and women. 

      So lets now shift gears and focus on the other side of the equation that is Nakamoto Suzuka, Su-chan, Su-metal, which is that side of this enigmatic person that is so incredibly talented, creative, skilled and captivating that it kind of exceeds the power of words to describe. 

    First of all is her high work standard and stoicism. She is one who has a high degree of professionalism and has determined to herself that she will never cry on stage, no matter what the circumstances. Virtually all of her singing on stage is done live and since these lives performances go on to be recorded products for sale as is, there is absolutely no room for errors to be made. 

Himeka wrote in her blog that she often goes to Karaoke with Su-chan where they will sing for 7-hours straight at times. Upon writing this she was so swamped by questions about what goes on in these Karaoke sessions with Su that she has vowed to steer away from writing about her sister in the future. 

    Nakamoto Suzuka is an interesting blend: she is not able to do some things that we mere mortals can do easily, but is able on the other hand to do things easily (or make them seem easy) that we can’t begin to dream of. There is no denying it; she is a very unique person. 

     Babymetal’s choreographer, Mikiko-sensei said this about Nakamoto-san’s work ethic and abilities as a professional singer, ’Su-chan memorizes the lyrics to new songs faster than anyone else in Sakura Gakuin or BABYMETAL.’ She also conveyed in an interview that while Su-chan is not as naturally gifted as a dancer as the other two members of the trio, Mizuno Yui and Kikuchi Moa, she will work on the choreography until she masters it and invariably surprises even Mikiko-sensei with how she has done so and even added a little something uniquely hers to the movements. Apparently she does not dance in accordance with a count as most dancer do, but rather subjectively adjusts herself to the song itself. It is even said that she sees the song/dance in a kind of color code that makes sense to her. Mikiko-sensei also has said that she is amazed at how she approaches regular rehearsals with the same all-out energy and concentration that most artists tend to save for ‘the show’ – to the extent that after rehearsals she is often scolded by the make-up artists because she has sweated so profusely that her make-up gets totally messed up. We even know that she broke a cardboard guitar that was made for the ‘Graduation Toss’ MV due to moving around so aggressively. 

Quote from Mikiko-sensei

Su-metal as seen by Mikiko-metal

     ‘She is so full of natural, in born performance related talent that it is as if the word genius was created just for this girl. She undergoes a transformation on the stage that you could not imagine based on who she is in daily life. It is not to say that she is particularly good at dancing a particular dance movement exactly as set up, but rather she makes the movements her own to the point that her expressive abilities overpower the song. And so if she is required to simply extend her arms out in front of her she will do it in a way that emotionally moves those watching it. I think it is the non-sense concerned passion that she has within her that makes this possible. Up until recently I felt that whatever she sang had a uniform, ‘Su-metal’ feel to it, but recently she has become able to lay on a wide variety of emotions in her performances and is able to control or regulate herself song by song. Her English pronunciation has also dramatically improved.’

Quote from Su-chan’s ‘homeroom teacher’, Mori Hayashi-sensei at her 

graduation ceremony from Sakura Gakuin

     ‘Last year, THOSE three graduated, and now…This girl, Nakamoto…she who is unable to deal properly with others is now the Student Council President?! I was filled with worry. But now she is able to make a speech and is able to touch the hearts of the listeners to an amazing degree. In the past it would have been a miracle for her to say ‘My name is Nakamoto Suzuka’. I have the feeling that she has kind of turned into a totally separate person. No, but really, this girl called Nakamoto is an extremely stoic person. I think that her ability to stand on this stage today like this is due to the efforts she has made outside of the view of all of us. Anyway, that is how she has carried out so many achievements since she was in Elementary school to the present day. But, regardless, since she is still in the 3rd grade of Jr. High school I am sure that in this entertainment world that she will  encounter times when she could not exhibit her best. And while Nakamoto’s stoic nature is a wonderful thing, I hope that she will be able to find a place within herself that forgives herself when things don’t go well. But, really, honestly speaking, when Nakamoto …makes a mistake or messes up on something…even then I think everyone here thinks of her as a lovable girl. I feel that that also is a part of her attractiveness.As her teacher I hope that she will put great value on this side of herself as she grows as well.

     As for her talent as a singer, there is nothing better than for the reader to listen to any song, perhaps especially the solo ones of ‘Akatsuki’, ‘Akumu no Rhondo’, ‘Amore’, and ‘No Rain, No Rainbow’. And we must never forget that she is truly singing a totally new genre, one that mixes Idol with Heavy Metal and thus there are demands on her voice that literally no one has ever experienced before and that alone commands our total respect. 

     This is an interesting audio track that has been manipulated to take the musical components out of a performance of ‘Akatsuki’ leaving only Su-metal’s voice. If this doesn’t blow you away, nothing will. 

 

And

‘Tamashii no Rufuran’

     Before I move into and then close out with the side of Su-metal/Su-chan that I find the most fascinating, I want to add one of the cutest stories I have ever come across about Su-chan as well as Yui and Moa. 

    This is one of my favorite stories about Babymetal ever. There is something very touching and yet profound about it.

    The picture here is called “The Coronation” by Hirokazu Sato.

    Many have seen it and there are many stories associated with it. This is one of my favorites. It’s about the grasshopper. If you zoom in close on the left, next to the toad, you’ll see the grasshopper. Here’s the grasshopper story….enjoy.

    It comes from the comments on Twitter posted by Mr. Kenta suzuki who is an announcer of MBS TV. Inazuma Rock 2013 was the first big stage for three girls at that time (around 20,000 attendance) and many Japnese BM fans were worried about how the show would go.

     “BABYMETAL-san, this was their second appearance at Inazuma Rock Festival with the Metal Idols performing using live-singing and a live band. They put on a magnificent performance on the main stage! However, in the backstage area before the show, Yui-chan and Moa-chan were chasing grasshoppers together in harmony, and Su-chan quietly watched over them with a smile like a female bodhisattva, I saw that and was very healed.”

     “A continuation of the previous tweet… A grasshopper was caught by Moa-chan but managed to escape (since Moa grabbed it too gently). Then, Moa-chan said to it “Bye-bye” waving her hands… I would say once more… she bade it good-bye waving her hands… (It’s so adorable that) I was nearly floored.”

 

     The most amazing thing to me about Nakamoto Suzuka though is the uncanny and virtually inexplicable transformation that takes place whenever she steps on the stage. It is well known in the BABYMETAL world that Yuimetal and Moametal also talk of this phenomena where they don’t remember what has happened on stage due to the ‘Kourin’ <divine descent or intertwining of a god or spirit> of the Fox god. Now this of course may be, and probably is a gimmick to make BABYMETAL more fun and interesting, but at least, or especially with Su-chan/Su-metal, I don’t think we can write it off so easily. There really does seem to be something bordering on the miraculous that takes place. Using the aforementioned Krishnamurti as an example, he reported throughout his life the presence at times of what he called ‘the other’. This ‘other’ was strong presence that would appear invisibly and yet tangibly and intertwine with him bringing his mind to state that he reported could be ‘untouched by thought’ for long stretches of time. Could it be that something like this happens with Su-chan as well? Well, it is best to let her state it in her own words (translated by yours truly, actually). 

 

Su-chan speaking on Su-metal:

    ‘Particularly in recent shows I have come to be aware of the moment when the Fox God descends into me. There are more and more instances where I feel as if someone inside of me is taking me by the hand and leading me making it so I can sing and express myself just exactly as I wish to do. So, more than saying I am making use of self control it is more like there is someone inside of me doing it for me (laughs).’

and 

    ‘I really feel this way. And that is that I feel like I am a totally different personality on the stage. When I exit the stage I immediately feel like something has gone away from me. And so I think that there is a separate personality that is assisting me. When I am in good condition for a live show, it feels like there is a someone or something taking me by the hand and leading me along so that all goes well. So, I feel a high sense of pride when on stage. It is as if I must carry out a mission to mysteriously be really cool on stage.

    It is like when I am singing and I think I will sing in a certain way and the voice that I thought would come out comes out exactly as I hoped. And when I am dancing I think this is how I want to dance in a cool manner and as I think that I am able to pull it off exactly as I had hoped. It is as if I am 1 or 2 seconds ahead in time watching

    At that time, I realized that there is a ‘me’ who is different from the normal, day to day, ‘me’. From that point on I started to look upon a Babymetal ‘me’ that is different from my everyday self. That feeling has not changed from that point to now, and now there is a ‘me’ that enjoys performing as that separate personality. At times I am able to view myself from a 3rd person perspective and my usual self is kind of able to design my other self you could say to do things in a more interesting manner. Doing things like this I am able to enjoy things from my side of things. Since I am now of the understanding that there are things that ‘this me’ can do there are things that most likely only this created version of myself can do. I would not go so far as to say it is a manga like character but I do at times feel that this version of myself will be completely fine with whatever she does. And so I feel that there is nothing I can not do in a live performance.’

    Nakamoto Suzuka is at once and at times, beautiful, cute, playful, fierce, as well as silly, down right badass, mesmerizing, totally down to earth, but most of all she is someone you literally can not take your eyes off of. 

    And one more final point. I will be truly exciting to see how her English speaking and comprehension improves over the next few years. I am amazed at how much she has already progressed in just a couple of years. When I am writing or translating often my wife sits on the other side of the table and is unable to see the computer screen. The other day I was going through videos of Su preparing for this. When I was listening to a compilation of Su-chan’s English interviews my wife blurted out, ‘Is that Su-metal!? Her English is so wonderful!’. (The other time she has responded so enthusiastically to the way someone speaks English was when she heard Brian Cox <the scientist> speaking)

 

 

      Su, Su, Su…. the amazing Nakamoto Suzuka…..and remember she has been crucified 4 times and yet is still going strong. 

 

 

 

EPSON scanner image

 

 

      Utada. That is the name I know her by and the name I use. Utada-Hikaru (宇多田ヒカル)。Think about it, her name is うた…だ。That name itself means ‘Song’. While the Kanji is different, the wording is the same…Uta Da. Now, you may say, ‘OK, that must be a stage name’. Actually her name comes from her father’s family name of ‘宇多田’ and is just by chance, or by fate, her family name.

                       Utada Hikaru (宇多田ヒカル) 

     Now matter how you slice it Utada Hikaru is one of the greatest artists in the history of Japanese music. Just take a look at her stats: 

Records
1999 – First Love: Best-Selling Album in Japan 

2001 – Distance: 4th Best-Selling Album in Japan (All Times) 

2nd Best-Selling Album by a Female Artist in Japan 

Best-Selling Album of the Decade (00s) in Japan

2nd Biggest Weekly Sales Worldwide (Following Adele’s 25)

2002 – Deep River: 4th Best-Selling Album by a Female Artist in Japan (All Times) 

Distance: Best-Selling Album of 2001

‘Can you keep a secret’ was the best selling single in 2001

In the top 10 of overall sales in Japanese history ‘First love’ is still the number 1 seller of all time 

     The blockbuster, mega musician/producer, Komuro Tetsuya

said of Utada, ‘I felt that it was Hikaru who finished me off’. I am sure that he meant that he could not go on to compete or compare with what Utada brought to the Japanese music scene in 1999. He also reportedly said, ‘It was Utada Hikaru and the iPod that revolutionized the music (Japanese) scene’. 

There was also this amazing quote by someone high up in the music industry made on the 15th anniversary of the release of ‘Automatic’. 

‘It would not be an exaggeration to say that Utada Hikaru’s debut was like nothing that had ever occurred in the Japanese music world and she went on to be genuine social phenomena’.

And

‘Utada Hikaru has a music sense that is so complete unto itself and so unique that it makes all the western songs and artists that have been popular up until this point all look like complete fakes’. 

 

    Utada was not born in Japan, but rather in New York in 1983 to Utada Teruzane and Fuji Keiko (more about her famous mother later) . Her father, along with being a musician in his own right, worked as the manager of Utada’s mother, Fuji Keiko – a singer of such great renown as to be hard to explain in words. To put things simply, she was a thoroughbred from the start. So in spite of being a full blooded Japanese she grew up for the first 15 years of her life living in New York where she debuted with a cover of The Carpenter’s ‘Close to you’ in 1998 under the name of ‘Cubic U’, a play on her being the 3rd factor of the ‘Utada’ family. 

Stating that Utada is a true thoroughbred refers to what she received from her renowned mother, Fuji Keiko who may not be well known to people of the present time, but she was undoubtedly one of the greatest Japanese singers in the ‘70s. One only need to listen to her sing for a brief minute to appreciate what an amazing singer she was. 

‘Shinjuku no Onna’

 

 

   It is so tragic and so mysteriously uncanny that she took her own life in 2013, jumping from a building in Shinjuku. 

   Nature or nurture, or nuture and nature, there is no doubt that Utada is who she is to an unmeasurable degree because of her mother. And it seems to go beyond that as we can see that their lives are uncannily almost mirror images of each other (at least to a point). 

   First of all, there is the obvious remarkable similarity in the way they sing as well as their looks and the way they hold themselves. 

 

 

And looking at their respective histories we see:

Fuji Keiko got married in 1971 (to Maekawa Kiyoshi) at the age of 20.

They divorced in 1972. 

Utada got married in 2002 (to Kiriya Kazuaki) at the age of 20. 

They divorced in 2007. 

Fuji Keiko suddenly and unexpectedly announced her retirement at the age of 28 in 1979 and then moved to America. 

Utada also suddenly and unexpectedly announced her retirement at the age of 27 and then moved to the UK. 

Fuji Keiko got remarried (to Utada Teruzane) in 1982 when she was 31 and gave birth to Utada Hikaru the following year. 

Utada got remarried to an Italian man in 2014 when she was 31 and gave birth to a baby boy the next year. 

   I don’t honestly think there is any real supernatural or unexplainable factor that led to this string of coincidences, but it is interesting nonetheless. What can not be denied is that Utada Hikaru is the inheritor of some very outstanding genes. Adding to that, growing up under the influence of her incredibly talented mother and a father that was/is so steeped in the musical industry surely played a major factor as well. There is one more interesting but not really significant point I would like to make in this vein. In one of her fabulous ‘Kuma Power Hour’ radio shows….

[let me go off tangent for a minute as I want to tell you that this series of, I believe, 8 one-hour shows titled ‘Kuma Power Hour’ is something that you really must take a listen to. Utada talks a fair deal about herself as well as her mother, as well as displaying a vast amount of knowledge about the music scene both in and outside of Japan. The most interesting thing about the series is is that Utada speaks 50% of the time in fluent English and 50% of the time in fluent Japanese and it is a great deal of fun to listen to both versions of her talks back to back. As far as I know, Utada Hikaru is the only artist in the world that can truly be considered genuinely fluent in both Japanese and English. That in itself makes her a special presence in the music world. I know at times when she had just made her debut in Japan and her Japanese was not perfectly in mesh with the way Japanese girls would speak who had lived their lives only in domestic Japan, I got the feeling that that was rather stressful and difficult for her at times. She is a unique figure in that way in that she doesn’t really fit perfectly into ‘America’ and she also in a sense doesn’t fit perfectly into ‘Japan’ either-kind of an outsider. I know the feeling well having lived half of my life in the States and half here in Japan.]

…….Utada spoke about about her mother’s way of singing resembling very closely that of Patsy Cline’s. And it is true if you compare them back to back they do have the same feel. Patsy Cline also, it seems to me, implemented in some of her songs a kind of ‘Kobushi’ (tremelo) effect similar to that used in Enka. Sadly, she met a tragic end when she died in a car crash when she was just 30 years old which also seems to echo a bit with Fuji Keiko. 

  Obviously when someone asks who Utada is, the answer would be that she is a first class singer, but she needs to be equally praised for her songwriting. I love everything she has written (and sung) and it is interesting to see just how different she comes across when you compare her songs written in English with those in Japanese. Lets explore first of all one of her songs written in English, ‘Me Meuro’. The way she paints a picture of a young woman being totally devastated when her boyfriend leaves her is, well, it is a masterpiece of lyrical expression. 

Please follow along using the following Youtube videos: 

 

Me Muero (This is the One 2009)

‘Everyday my life’s in shambles

Since you took your love away

I got nothing left to gamble

I’ve thrown it all away’

<She starts out saying there is nothing left in her life. She has obviously given all she has to this man that she is in love with. Well, to start out it is perhaps typical of countless ‘love’ songs written and sung over the ages. But to start out like this in itself is atypical, I would say.>

‘Now and then I’m suicidal

Flirting with a new temptation

Happiness inside a bottle is what I need today’

<So we are seeing that she is herself most likely an alcoholic as who other than an alcoholic would find love inside a bottle. And she is professing to be considering killing herself over the loss of this boyfriend. Do you see how Utada has just added a layer of paint to this canvas? I personally begin to picture a young girl in perhaps a hotel room in a cheap hotel in Mexico (being that the title is in Spanish) talking with herself on how to live after her love has left her.>

‘Oh, my lover’s gone away, gone to Istanbul

Light as a feather

I lie in my bed and flip through TV channels

Eating Godiva

I’m smoking my days away reading old emails

In my old pajamas

What a day, me muero, muero, muero’

<And now Utada really starts to stack on the images, giving us more details about the state this girl is in. Her playboy lover has flittered off to Istanbul without a care for her. And she is left to lie on her bed trying to kill time flipping through TV shows and eating Godiva chocolate. Next, we get an image of her puffing away on cigarettes, reading old emails from her boyfriend without even bothering to change into new pajamas much less into proper clothes. Are you beginning to see the genius behind Utada’s lyrics?>

<And forget for a moment the big picture of her being thrown away by her boyfriend and focus on how she little by little adds to the image of what is going on with her, this young woman.> 

‘Loneliness makes its arrival

Depression starts to settle in

Should I go Wynona Ryder?

And do some crazy things.’

<And now the depression and loneliness really shows itself. How many days have passed? We don’t know. But if you are really listening, her desperation and sadness really starts to show itself to you. This use of ‘Wynona Ryder’ as a verb is absolute brilliance. The way she phrases it not as, ‘Should I do something crazy like Wynona Ryder?’ but rather as ‘Wynona Ryder’ as a something that you can do is only a sensitivity that someone like Utada could conjure up.> 

The rest of the song more or less echoes these themes and images, but I would guess that you will appreciate why I feel this girl is so damn skilled at painting a picture, be it suicidal levels or depression or…..the way to deal with these feelings as we find in the, what I feel, is the greatest song she ever wrote, ‘Show me Love (not a dream)’- this time in Japanese. 

Show me Love (not a dream) (Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 2 2011)

    This is an extremely deep song that speaks about dealing with psychological pain in such a poetic and concise manner that I feel I get more out of this one song than could be found after reading tomes of psychological/philosophical books. It is as if Utada has condensed the deepest thoughts of say, Krishnamurti or the Buddha into a little pill that all one has to do is swallow. And because it is done so artistically it is a pleasant tasting one to boot. 

    It was released as the theme song for the film version of ‘Ashita no Jo-‘ in early 2011 and was performed at her final 2 shows in the Yokohama Arena where she laid down her microphone and went into retirement at the ridiculously young age of 28 (more on that later). 

抑え込んだ其れは消えず

湖の底へゆっくりとまたまた沈んでく

–I have tried to suppress this feeling (psychological pain) but it 

won’t fade away, it sinks slowly once again to the bottom of a lake

<This is such lovely, poetic way to describe the way most of us try to deal with psychological pain or feelings. We think we can push them aside to some place unconnected to us, but they almost always reappear.>

二兎を追う者、一兎も得ず

矛盾に疲れて 少し心が重くなる

–If you chase after two things at once, you end up with neither

My heart and mind grow heavy as I become totally fatigued with 

all the contradictions

<That first line is well known parable or saying in Japan and needs no explanation except to say that it is very good in expressing one of the factors of psychological pain-that trying for two opposing things and the contradictions and fatigue such efforts produce.>

逃げたら余計怖くなるだけって

(Inside my lavender dreams)

分かってはいるつもり

心配しなくてもいつかきっと、なんて言えない

–I thought I understood that running away from this pain (feeling) 

only makes it more terrifying

I know that almost certainly there will never come a day where

I will be free from worry

<This is such a profound understanding-that you only make your problems worse by running away from them. They will come back bigger and more terrifying the more you escape from them.>

自信の無さに甘えてちゃ見えぬ

私の内なるパッセージ Show me love

内なるパッセージ Baby show me love

It’s all in my head Can you show me love

It’s all in my head Not a dream

–If I give into my lack of confidence I will

never be able to take this journey inside myself

Show me love

This journey within

Baby show me love

It’s all in my head Can you show me love

It’s all in my head Not a dream

<She is now expressing (I believe) that she knows the way 

to deal with her psychological pain is to go within and face it 

directly. I can’t correlate the ‘Show me love’ with the way I am 

interpreting the lyrics so I may be off base, but….

And the ‘It’s all in my head’ is the realization that all of her (our)

psychological suffering is something that we ourselves have created or

prolonged through our own thought processes. This is so Krishnamurtian.>

紫の信号が点灯(ひか)って思考停止

不安だけが止まらない

–A purple signal flashes and my mind goes completely quiet

Only the unease and trepidations continue on

<I used to do a weekly podcast for about 3 years, where I interviewed scientists, writers, professors, etc and I tried unsuccessfully to get Utada on as a guest. If I had succeeded this was the number one thing I wanted to ask her, ‘What in the world is this ‘purple signal’?!>

私は弱い だけどそれは別に

(Inside my lavender dreams)

恥ずかしいことじゃない

–I am weak. But, that is not something

that I particularly ashamed of. 

 

実際 誰しも深い闇を抱えてりゃいい

時に病んで、もがいて、叫んで叫んで

痛みの元を辿って Show me love

元を辿って Baby show me love

It’s all in my head Can you show me love

It’s all in my head Not a dream

–In fact, each and everyone of us should 

embrace some kind of deep darkness

At times in sickness we need to struggle, to scream

and shout and go right to the source of our pain

Show me love

It’s all in my head Can you show me love

It’s all in my head Not a dream

 

<It is hard to tell if she means we need to at times get sick and 

go through it and get to the source of pain to deal with it, or if she

means ‘at times of sickness’ we need to do so. Either way, when you see her perform this, you really get the feeling that she personally KNOWS that you must go all out, get kind of raw and tenaciously trace the pain to its roots. Deep stuff.>

 築き上げたセオリー忘れよう

山は登ったら降りるものよ

実際 どんな深い愛も完璧じゃない

自分でしか自分にしてあげられない

自分を認めるcourage Show me love

認めるcourage Baby show me love

–Lets forget all the theories that we have built up

Whatever goes up, must come down

In actual fact, no love is perfect no matter how deep it is

Only I can have the courage to be able to accept myself

Show me love

The courage to accept myself

Show me love

 

実際 夢見てばかり見ていたと気付いた時

初めて自力で一歩踏み出す

私の内なるパッセージ

内なるパッセージ

It’s all in my head

It’s all in my head

–After all it was only when I realized that I had just 

been dreaming it all that I was able to

take my first steps under my own power

This journey within

The journey within

It’s all in my head 

It’s all in my head

 

<I love how she brings this to a conclusion with the

profound realization that all of her (our) problems are nothing

more than dream stuff and that realization sets one free to

really start living.>

 

Following are some shorts clips from various songs highlighting her lyrical genius.

Workout (Exodus 2002)

I was talking with a born-again Christian

“So what’s it like to start life all over?”

He said “Amen,

I feel like I’ve been rediscovering the tomb of Tutankhamen.”

 

<I am not sure what it actually means, but it certainly makes you stop and think>

 

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – FYI (This is the One 2009)

Like Captain Picard

I’m chillin’ and flossin’

It’s seven o’clock

I issue you the warning

That’s right, we’re stealing this show

Damn right, letting him know

We’re sipping Chardonnay on 2 PM on our working day

 

<I love the utter brashness of this song. And it is such a tragedy that this album, ‘This is the One’ didn’t get the attention nor sales it deserves. I mean EVERY song on it is a masterpiece.>

 

Take 5 (Heart Station 2008)

コートを脱いで中へ入ろう

始まりも終わりも無い

今日という日を素直に生きたい

–Take off your coat and come inside

There is no beginning nor ending

I want to live this day true to who I am

 

Deep River (DEEP RIVER 2002)

剣と剣がぶつかり合う音を

知るために託された剣じゃないよ

そんな矛盾で誰を守れるの

–This sword was not entrusted with the task of 

clashing with other swords.

With contradictions like this just who can you protect?

 

<Kind of hard to translate but I think she is saying that if this sword is

used for fighting, for battle, it is not fulfilling its true purpose which is to

protect and defend. If, in other words, we go on the attack and battle we

are actually losing the ability to defend and protect those whom we are entrusted 

to defend and that is the contradiction>

 

Prisoner of Love (Heart Station 2008)

ないものねだりブルース

皆安らぎを求めている

満ち足りてるのに奪い合う

愛の影を追っている

–The blues, the sadness that is created by desiring after things

one can never attain

Everyone is looking for some kind of tranquility

We fight and steal in spite of fact that we have everything

we need

We are all chasing after a shadow of love

 

<This rant on the world is so spot on and the feeling behind it really comes across in ‘Wild Life’>

 

 Utada went into retirement from late 2010, in fact, I would imagine that you could say it started when she laid down her microphone in the manner of Yamaguchi Momoe at the conclusion of her 2nd night show at the Yokohama Arena. It is truly amazing that an artist of her stature could suddenly announce that she was going into retirement for  「人間活動に専念するため」<in order to devote herself to human activities>, or to live a life as an ordinary person. She stated several times that she felt strange that she knew nothing of how to balance a family budget or indeed do any of the daily tasks that most of us take for granted. She also stated, in all sincerity, that she would be happy to work as a cashier at a 7-11 (I don’t think that ever panned out). So, she gave it all up with no intention or set date for a return. That is some pretty heavy fortitude I would say. Now, of course, we know that she returned to the music world in the spring of 2016 after getting married and having a baby boy. I would love to add to this blog entry sometime in the near future when I have more to say on the fabulous album, ‘Fantome’.

I will sign off on this for now with a quote from Utada’s thoroughly enjoyable book, ‘Sen’. 

I believe she wrote this when she was 18 and it really gives insight into how she approaches singing and performing. 

I could have sworn I was reading one of Tohei-sensei’s books when I ran across this comment written by the loveliest singer/songwriter to ever grace this planet-Utada Hikaru. Pure Aikido is this. 

From Utada Hikaru’s book, Sen (線) 

”いろんな人が『腹筋を鍛える!きつい!』とかって言ってるけど、わたくし、宇多田ヒ カルはぜんっぜん何も考えて歌っておりやせん!ぜんぜん腹に力入れてないよ (笑)む しろ、カラダの力全部抜いて、頭のテッペンから口、のど、肺、食道、胃袋、おなか、足 のつまさき、までがぜんぶつながってて、一つの楽器みたいに歌うかな。集中することと、 力を入れてふんばっちゃうのはぜんぜん違うことだと思う。 

ただら、歌うのってぜんぜんつかれない。いっくら歌ったって声あれないし、しゃべった り笑ったりした時のほうがノドすんごいつかれるー! 

My translation: 

A lot of people say, “It must be tough to strengthen your abdominal muscles”. As for myself, Utada Hikaru, I am not thinking anything when I sing! And I certainly do not put tension in my abdomen (laughs). To the contrary, I release all the tension from every part of my body and sing with every part of my body from the top of my head to my mouth, throat, lungs, wind pipe, stomach, intestines to the tips of my toes as one single connected musical instrument.
I feel that concentrating, and digging in by filling your body with tension are TOTALLY different animals.
So, when I sing I don’t get tired at all. I could sing all day without my voice giving out. In fact talking and laughing tire me out way more than singing. 

 

{12} Thoughts on “Japan’s two greatest and most lovable female singers, Nakamoto Suzuka and Utada Hikaru

  1. Wonderful job capturing that which is Su, a task that is extremely difficult to put into words, let along writing, but you pulled it off fabulously. Her “flittering” eyes is something I’ve never noticed before, and I thought I had noticed everything there was to notice about Su. Excellent point.

    Long Live the Queen – Long Live BABYMETAL

  2. Wonderful essay about our queen Su! Profound and warm-hearted. (I’ll need a bit more time for a complete read…) Thank you, Thomas, greetings from Germany 🙂

  3. Ahh finally great to meet the infamous Thomas Malone I keep seeing on variation BM and SG videos.

    All I can say is thank you sir! As a metal head growing up on Pantera and such, I’m now another BM fan and oddly a growing Sakura Garkuin fan for reasons I do not know.

    Again just wanted to say thank you for your translations. Your efforts make a lot of strangers such as me on the net very happy and thankful.

    • Nice to hear from you.
      It is funny how Sakura Gakuin creeps up on one like that – don’t fight it.
      And you are more than welcome.

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