Although I grew up in a (mostly) pop music free home, the name Katja Ebstein was familiar to me. Born in 1945, she was a highly successful pop singer in 1970s-Germany, who reached the finals of Eurovision Song Contest three times (1970, 1971, and 1980). So her songs were hard to miss. But until recently I had no idea that she also recorded in Japan, where she not only sang some of her most famous hits in Japanese but also recorded an original song in Japanese.
アディオ・サッポロ (Addio, Sapporo, 1972) was composed by Suzuki Kunihiko 鈴木 邦彦 (b. 1938), the lyrics were written by Mizushima Tetsu 水島 哲 (1929-2015) both have a number of other works to their credit. According to Japanese Wikipedia, “Addio Sapporo” is one of six singles with Katja Ebstein produced in Japan.
Here is a rough translation of the lyrics:
(1) In the Northern province, the Acacias are fragrant
And far away across the fields the bell sounds
In the evening glow, we embraced, but even this love of ours
Has been damaged, like a boat of folded paper.
Ref. Adieu Sapporo, Adieu/Forever in my heart
Adieu Sapporo, Adieu/Forever in my heart
(2) My closed heart, and the fresh wind,
The sound of the farewell song that pierces my scars,
We loved each other from the depths of our hearts; we tired of that love
We went against other: young as we were, we hurt each other.
Ref. (as above: repeated)
In 1972, the Winter Olympics were hosted in Sapporo, and “Addio, Sapporo” was one of several songs with a Sapporo theme were released at the time, including 「恋の町札幌」(Sapporo, city of love: this one is a version with lyrics in Romanization) and「虹と雪のバラード」(“Niji to yuki no barâdo”, Ballad of Rainbow and Snow: here is what appears to be a revival version) . The “Ballad of Rainbow and Snow” is an upbeat song and explicitly refers to the 1972 Winter Olympics. It is even the melody to signal the arrival of a train on the Sapporo Underground.
“Addio Sapporo” and, “Sapporo, city of love”, on the other hand, are typical of the type of sentimental song known as enka 演歌. Enka are often (but not necessarily), in a minor key, musically eclectic, and with lyrics expressing variations on the themes of departure, longing for one’s home town, and lost love. Both songs evoke Sapporo by mentioning two famous city sights.
The bell of the clock tower 時計台の鐘 built in 1878, is one of the so-called 100 Soundscapes of Japan (日本の音風景100選) designated by the Ministry of the Environment in 1996. The famous bell is also a theme of a song in the style of songs sung in schools since the introduction Western music, known as shôka 唱歌, composed by Takashina Tetsuo and performed by his wife Masuko in 1924 (more about this in my next blog).
The acacias have given Sapporo its reputation as “Acacia Capital”, according to the World Tourist Federation Website.
Enka were particular popular with the generations who lived through the hardships of the early years after the Second World War and the following decades of rapid economic and social changes. Younger people are less enthusiastic about them. Nevertheless, you can hardly avoid hearing enka in Japan, and a few of them might be said to have attained the status of classics. One of them is “Tsugaru kaikyô” 津軽海峡・冬景色 (The Tsugaru Straits in Winter), first released in 1977, and sung by Ishikawa Sayuri.
Incidentally, “Tsugaru kaikyô” also has the Northern Japan as a theme, since the Tsugaru Straits separate the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. There are countless versions of this on Youtube, including cover versions by foreign singers. This version was uploaded August 2018, through a channel styling itself “Tokyo Olympics 2020” and describing itself as a fan site for the singer Ishikawa Sayuri, who has just celebrated the 45th anniversary of her debut.
Now that Sapporo has become the venue for the marathon and the race walking events in the 2020 Olympics, Sapporo-themed songs may well experience a revival. Whether the route, when it is finally determined, will pass the famous landmarks remains to be seen. The route of the yearly Sapporo Marathon (the only Japanese marathon event held in the summer) passes the Clock Tower between the first five and ten kilometres.
P.S. Further reading on enka in English: Christine R. Yano. Tears of Longing: Nostalgia and the Nation in Japanese Popular Song. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2002.