“Enka” becomes a popular word in Japan’s music world starting from the 1960s. Until the 1950s Kayokyoku (folk music) in the post WWII Japan were predominantly written in pentatonic scale, then in the 1960s the diatonic scale was adopted rapidly due to the influence of Western popular music. It was in response to this trend that some love songs called enka slowly emerged as a kind of Japanese popular music. It imitated an older Japanese style and had the same nomenclature of the political songs sung in the early Meiji era.1
Enka has a long history in Japan that could be traced back to the 1880s. During the early Meiji period enka were anti-government songs sung in the streets in support of the “freedom of the people’s rights movement” when the Meiji government imposed controls on public expression. Enka was used to avoid government restrictions and was used to spread the new ideas to the public. Enka was half sung and half spoken by the enka singers (enkashi) who were regarded by many as the “singing street guerillas”. Gradually the role of enka singers shifted into entertainers. They formed groups to write songs and distribute lyrics.2 The popularity of enka declined after Japanese’s victory in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-5. Its revival was seen in the early 1900s. In 1907 violin was introduced into enka performance and enka’s content was mostly about news of the time.3
The popular music in the Taisho period was considered by some scholars as the most closely linked to the present day enka.4 During the Taisho era many rural people migrated to the cities for work. The popular music of the time often sang about personal experience of lost love, and about separation and loneliness of leaving home. One favorite theme was about rural hometown (furusato). These themes were similar to those seen in the post WWII enka.5 (to be continued)
1. Junko Kitagawa. “Music Culture” in The Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture. Yoshio Sugimoto ed. Cambridge University Press, 2009, p.265.
2. Christine R. Yano. Tears of Longing: Nostalgia and the Nation in Japanese Popular Song. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 2002, p.31
3. Ibid., p. 31
4. Ibid., p. 33
5. Ibid., p. 33