Japan Transit Tales:  The Train Ferry Torch Song
Yes, there is such a thing as a "train ferry torch song" – in Japan.
And yes, it was definitely a "hit" - so much so that a monument was built to commemorate the song and its composer. Two monuments, in fact.
The Tsugaru Strait1 separates Japan's northern island of Hokkaidō from Honshū, the Japanese mainland, and extends between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan. For decades, passengers and goods traveled across the strait by ferry. The principal connection between the rest of Japan and Hokkaidō was the Seikan Ferry service between Aomori and Hakodate, 113.0 km / 70.1 mi. This was established by the Railway Ministry and was opened on 1908 March 7.
Passengers walked on and off the vessels while railcars carried goods. The ferry service eventually became part of the Japanese National Railways (JNR) system. It was handed to JR-Hokkaidō, one of the six Japan Rail Group companies that succeeded JNR, on 1987 April 1. Seikan Ferry service was discontinued with the opening of the Seikan Tunnel (53.9 km / 33.4 mi) on 1988 March 13, although vehicular ferry services continue in operation between Honshū and Hokkaidō.
A contemporary genre of Japanese popular music, enka2, might be described in brief as sentimental ballads with sad lyrics and slow, melancholy music. At least one source describes enka as "Japan's own crooning country-Western music;"3 others describe enka as "Japanese blues." These labels we find misleading simply because enka songs do not sound anything like "country-Western" music, and rather little like "blues." However:
Most enka songs are about longing for home, enduring hard times, lost love, rainy weather and drinking (Kaiyokyoku and Enka, q.v., below).
The label "torch song" - that is, a lamentation of lost or unrequited love - fits some but not all enka songs.
Modern enka dates to the late 1940s and achieved substantial commercial success at the end of the 1960s. The genre declined from the end of the 1980s as young people lost interest and the music became associated with older generations. A revival began during the early 2000s. (This, remarkably, has been spurred by the popularity of Pittsburgh native Jerome White, Jr.; "Jero"4, of African-American and Japanese-American ancestry, combines enka with elements of hip hop.)
The "train ferry torch song" mentioned above is titled Tsugaru Kaikyō - Fuyugeshiki5, the literal meaning of which is "Tsugaru Strait - Winter Scene" (or ". . .  Landscape"). However, the title defies translation just as the song itself defies translation: adaptations stray from the original lyrics, and literal translations seldom "fit" the music.
Tsugaru Kaikyō - Fuyugeshiki is about a jilted, lovelorn woman returning home from Tōkyō, crossing the Tsugaru Strait by Seikan Ferry on a cold winter day. (The song implies, but does not state, that "home" is somewhere in Hokkaidō.)
The lyrics were written by Yū Aku6, and the music was composed by Takashi Miki7. The song was recorded by Ishikawa Sayuri8 (who made her debut as an idol9 singer at age 15 in 1973), and released at the beginning of 1977. Ms. Ishikawa won a singing award10 at the 19th Japan Record Awards11 (held at the end of 1977). She also won the 1977 FNS Music Festival12 Grand Prix award for best singing (and the audience award for best singing)13. Both were for Tsugaru Kaikyō - Fuyugeshiki.
These YouTube videos show Ms. Ishikawa performing Tsugaru Kaikyō - Fuyugeshiki: in 1977 津軽海峡冬景色 and in 1992 津軽海峡・冬景色 石川さゆり 1992年.
This YouTube video shows a succession of images evoked by the song: 石川さゆり 津軽海峡・冬景色 2008年編 .。.:*・゚歌詞付き:*・゚。:.*; the recording is the 1977 version by Ms. Ishikawa.
This YouTube video shows scenes of the Memorial Ship Hakkōda Maru14, a former Seikan Ferry vessel preserved at Aomori, and Seikan Ferry vessels in service prior to opening of the tunnel: 津軽海峡冬景色 石川さゆり 八甲田丸の夢. The recording is by Ms. Ishikawa but the video does not give a date (it sounds like the 1977 release).
This version of Tsugaru Kaikyō ・ Fuyugeshiki is performed by Teresa Teng (1953-1995)15, the great, and beloved, Taiwan-born pop singer.
Another version is performed by the fictional Shizuo Heiwajima16 one of the characters from the Durarara!!17 "light novel" series. The voice actor18 is Daisuke Ono19.
Tsugaru Kaikyō - Fuyugeshiki is but one of many Japanese songs with a transport, travel or railway theme; there are also Chinese and Korean songs with similar themes. However, we know of only one - this one - that is commemorated by stone monuments. As mentioned above, there are two: one, at Aomori, built in 1995; the other, at Cape Tappi, built in 1996. We note, with interest, that both locations are on the south (Honshū) shore of the Tsugaru Strait. Both are named in the song, which mentions no other location other than Ueno Station, Tōkyō.
We denizens of www.publictransit.us plan to present occasional descriptions of similar songs for the interest of loyal readers ( . . . as well as loyal and disloyal opponents).
津軽海峡・冬景色  Tsugaru Kaikyō - Fuyugeshiki
Japanese and rōmaji, (with adaptation in English)
 上  野   発     の  夜 行  列車
U e  no   ha tsu   no    ya kō   ressha
U-e-no departure, train through the night, I rode
降りた  ときから
o  ri  ta    to ki ka ra
northward to A-o-mo-ri
 青   森     駅  は
A o  mo ri    e ki   wa
Snow, it fell so softly, cov-
 雪    の    中
yu ki    no    na ka
‘ring all I could see
 北  へ   帰   る  人   の   群   は
Ki ta  e     ka e   ru   hi to  no  mu re  wa
Northward we walk to continue our journey home
  誰  も   無    口   で
da re  mo   mu  ku chi  de
all of us go quietly
 海  鳴 り  だけ  を
U mi na  ri    da ke    o
All I care to hear is the
 聞いて  いる
 ki   i  te     i  ru
rumbling of the sea
     私      も  ひとり
Wa ta shi    mo    hi to ri
I go on, cold and alone
 連   絡   船  に 乗 り
re n  ra ku se n  ni  no  ri
thoughts of love’s debris
こごえ そうな      鴎     見 つ め
Ko go e  so u na   ka mo me  mi tsu me
I stare at seagulls, they’re out in the bitter cold
 泣いて   いました
na  i  te      i ma shi ta
crying together with me
 ああ   津   軽    海   峡
 A  a     Tsu  ga ru   ka i   kyō
  A  a     Tsu  ga ru   ka i   kyō
  冬   景    色
fu yu   ge   shi ki
its wintery scene.
 ごらん あれが  竜 飛     岬
Go ra n    a re ga   Tap pi    mi sa ki
Look, over there, see the point, it’s Cape Tappi
 北   の  は ず れ と
ki ta  no   ha  zu  re   to
Northernmost end of the land,
 見 知らぬ   人 が
Mi shi ra nu  hi to ga
See them all, the strangers, they
 指   を さす
yu bi   o  sa su
talk and wave their hands,
 息で  く も る    窓   の  ガラス
I ki de  ku  mo  ru  ma do no “gu-ra-su”
I wipe the glass but there’s nothing out there to see,
 ふいて みたけど
 fu  i  te  mi ta ke do
nothing but mist, fog and clouds
 はるかに  かすみ
Ha ru ka ni   ka su mi
Cold and sad I feel as we
 見える  だけ
mi e ru    da ke
slip through the grey shrouds
 さよなら  あなた
Sa yo na ra   a na ta
Sa yo na ra   a na ta
    私     は   帰ります
wa ta shi  wa  ka e ri ma su
Farewell my love, homeward I have gone.
  風   の  音  が   胸   を  ゆする
Ka ze  no  o to  ga  mu ne  o   yu su ru
I hear the wind, the cold howling and moaning, it
 泣け と ばかりに
na ke  to  ba ka ri ni
shakes my heart, brings me to tears.
 ああ  津    軽    海   峡
 A  a     Tsu  ga ru   ka i   kyō
 A  a     Tsu  ga ru   ka i   kyō
  冬   景    色
fu yu   ge   shi ki
its wintery scene.
 さよなら  あなた
Sa yo na ra   a na ta
Sa yo na ra   a na ta
    私     は   帰ります
wa ta shi  wa  ka e ri ma su
Farewell my love, homeward I have gone.
  風   の  音  が   胸   を  ゆする
Ka ze  no  o to  ga  mu ne  o   yu su ru
I hear the wind, the cold howling and moaning, it
 泣け と ばかりに
na ke  to  ba ka ri ni
shakes my heart, brings me to tears.
 ああ   津   軽    海   峡
 A  a     Tsu  ga ru   ka i   kyō
 A  a     Tsu  ga ru   ka i   kyō
  冬   景    色
fu yu   ge   shi ki
its wintery scene.
Note: Japanese-language lyrics are protected by copyright, and are presented here for educational purposes. We have transcribed Japanese into the Latin alphabet using the Modified Hepburn (Hebon-shiki) system herein, with long-vowel symbols, adding capitals and hyphens as appropriate (using an ad-hoc style devised in collaboration with J. Wallace Higgins). We have also used mean-value symbols (<>) to set apart foreign loanwords as appropriate (e.g. <glass>).
Translation: "The Winter Scenery at Tsugaru Strait"
When I got off the late night train that departed from Ueno station,
Aomori station was covered in snow.
The crowd of people returning home north was silent,
so I listened only to the rumbling of the sea.
I too board the ferryboat alone.
Staring at the seagulls out there in the freezing cold, I cry.
O, the winter scenery at Tsugaru Strait.
"Look, that is Tappi Cape, the northernmost point,"
say strangers, as they point their fingers.
I tried wiping the glass window that has been clouded by my breath,
but all I can see in the distance is mist.
Farewell my love, I’m going home.
The voice of the wind shakes my heart, bringing me to tears.
O, the winter scenery at Tsugaru Strait.
Farewell my love, I’m going home.
The voice of the wind shakes my heart, bringing me to tears.
O, the winter scenery at Tsugaru Strait.
Monument to the song Tsugaru Kaikyō - Fuyugeshiki, Cape Tappi20, located at Sotogahama town, Higashi-Tsugaru county, Aomori Prefecture, Honshū21. The lyrics are protected by copyright and are therefore blurred.
Monument to the song Tsugaru Kaikyō - Fuyugeshiki, Aomori city22. The lyrics are protected by copyright and are therefore blurred. The ship moored in the background is the Memorial Ship Hakkōda Maru (q.v., above).
(The ferry vessel which appeared in the video by Teresa Teng (q.v., above) was the Mashū Maru 23.)
Wikipedia articles:
Daisuke Ono English.
Durarara!! English.
Enka English.
Jero. English.
Joo Hyun-mi  [Ju Hyun Mi} (q.v., below). English.
Poch'ŏnbo Electronic Ensemble (q.v., below). English.
Light novel English.
Teresa Teng English.
Trot (music) (q.v., below). English.
津軽海峡・冬景色 Tsugaru Kaikyō - Fuyugeshiki; Japanese.
For Further Reading (and listening):
财团法人邓丽君文教基金会 Cáituán fǎrén Dèng Lìjūn wénjiào jījīn huì [Teresa Teng Foundation], Chinese.
Yusaku 's Teresa Teng Page ["Yusaku Godai"], English.
Yusaku's Teresa Teng Song Collection ["Yusaku Godai"], English.
Yusaku's Teresa Teng Lyrics ["Yusaku Godai"], English.
Yes, Teresa Teng did record, and perform, in English:
Beat It (YouTube video), (cover, original by Michael Jackson);
The Power of Love (cover; original by Jennifer Rush); YouTube video; Memorial 24;
Careless Whispers (cover; original by George Michael / Wham!); YouTube video;
I Just Called to Say I Love You (cover; original by Stevie Wonder); YouTube video;
(The audio clips of "The Power of Love," "Careless Whispers" and "I Just Called to Say I Love You" were recorded at NHK Hall, Tōkyō; "Yusaku Godai" states that this was her last performance there. The YouTube videos were made apparently during this concert.)
For the Connoisseur:
We were surprised to find a "cover" version of Tsugaru Kaikyō - Fuyugeshiki from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea25, on YouTube. At the risk of veering too far afield (= "OT"), we present the following for the interest of our remaining readership (. . . all one or two of you . . .): 津軽海峡冬景色 - 北朝鮮版
Despite what one might think, Japanese enka songs are popular in Korea - and, evidently, more so in the DPRK than the Republic of Korea26. YouTube user "chojiro22," who uploaded the video above, states only that the song is performed by "a north korean singer." The musicians are the Poch'ŏnbo Electronic Ensemble27, known as the DPRK's most prominent band (which has also earned recognition in China and Japan). The singer is Ri Kyŏng Suk28, who performs the song in Japanese, then in Korean, then concludes in Japanese.
The television screen visible at 0:06-0:09 appears to show a DPRK music video - and does precisely that. This is titled (in translation) "Whistle"29, and is performed by the Poch'ŏnbo Electronic Ensemble. The singer is Jŏn Hye Yŏng30. "Whistle" is perhaps best described as a discreet love song, definitely the former but very much the latter. It was a DPRK favorite during the 1990s and remains popular today.
The video was not necessarily produced for karaoke. Videos produced in East Asian countries of vocalists in concert and in "music videos" often include lyrics.
A video of a live performance of "Whistle" by the Poch'ŏnbo Electronic Ensemble and Ms. Jŏn (the video does not have a date but is apparently quite recent, ca. 2010-2011): KCTV (Jeon Hye Young Music) 1 "휘파람"- 전혜영[全惠英].
The debut compact disk (CD) of ROK-born Kil Jeong-Hwa,31 released in 2000, is titled (in translation) "Whistle - Unification Girl."32 This includes several songs of DPRK origin, including three versions of "Whistle;" two of these, on YouTube videos, are original and "Latin." Note Ms Kil's South Korean accent.
Trot33 singer Ju Hyun Mi,34 born in Gwangju (ROK) appears in this YouTube video: 평양노래자랑; "Pyŏngyang Singing Contest" (2003). Master of ceremonies ("MC") Songhae35 introduces Ms. Ju, who performs a trot version of "Whistle." She converses with DPRK co-MC Chŏn Sŏng Hui,36 then performs a trot song titled 또 만났네요, transcribed Tto mannassneyo but pronounced "To-man-nan-ne-yo." Again, note Ms Ju's South Korean accent.
We stumbled across "Whistle" (the song) quite by accident. Our good friend Allen Morrison, webmaster of the superb Electric Transport in Latin America site, sent us a link to a "Google Video" some time ago. This video shows the tramway at Itatinga, Brazil (description; scroll down to bottom; Itatinga is near Bertioga, which in turn is near Santos). The video, which is now available on YouTube, is titled A Trip to Itatinga, and was filmed by Mr. Morrison on 1980 April 30.
An adjacent video titled "A Trip to North Korea" stirred our curiosity. It turned out to be a creative presentation of still images accompanied by music from the DPRK. One of the songs caught our ear (3:36-5:11). Setting international politics aside for the moment, we attempted to identify this song (titles were not presented by the compiler, whose name no longer appears on the "Google Video" page). We succeeded - the song is "Whistle" (q.v., above). While searching, we came across the first song on the video above (0:39-1:24). This military song37 is titled (in translation) "Look At Us!" (a better translation might be "Behold Us!"). This YouTube video has subtitle lyrics in Korean and Japanese: 우리를 보라 Look at us!. The singer is Ri Kyŏng Suk. Another Poch'ŏnbo Electronic Ensemble video that we stumbled across: 사랑은 푸르다-김광숙、L'AMOUR EST BLEU (恋はみずいろ)金光淑. The singer is Kim Kwang Suk38.
How amusing that we came upon all this from watching "the tram from Itatinga."
1 津軽海峡; tsugaru kaikyō; "Tsugaru Strait"
2 演歌; enka.
3 The Arizona Republic, November 20, 1991, p. A6.
4 ジェロ; Jero.
5 津軽海峡・冬景色; Tsugaru Kaikyō - Fuyugeshiki.
6 阿久悠; Aku Yū; the family name is Aku.
7 三木たかし; Miki Takashi; the family name is Miki.
8 石川さゆり; Ishikawa Sayuri; stage name of 石川きぬよ; Ishikawa Kinuyo; the family name is Ishikawa.
9 アイドル; Idol (or idols).
10 歌唱賞; kashō-shō; "singing award."
11 第19回日本レコード大賞; Dai 19-kai Nihon rekōdo taishō; "19th Japan Record Awards."
12 FNS歌謡祭; FNS Kayōsai; "FNS Music Festival;" FNS stands for "Fuji Network System."
13 最優秀グランプリ; Saiyūshū <Grand Prix>; "Grand Prix award."
14 メモリアル・シップ 八甲田丸; Memorial Ship Hakkōda Maru.
15 Traditional characters 鄧麗君, simplified characters 邓丽君, Wade-Giles transcription of Standard Mandarin (Common Chinese) pronunciation Teng Li-chun; Hànyǔ Pīnyīn transcription Dèng Lìjūn. Ms. Teng, who suffered from asthma throughout her life, died at age 42 following a severe asthma attack.
16 平和島静雄; Heiwajima Shizuo; the family name is Heiwajima.
17 デュラララ!!; Dyurarara!!
18 声優; seiyū; "voice actor."
19 小野大輔; Ono Daisuke; the family name is Ono.
20 竜飛崎; tappi-misaki; Cape Tappi.
21 青森県東津軽郡外ヶ浜町; aomori-ken higashi-tsugaru-gun sotogahama-chō; Aomori Prefecture, Higashi-Tsugaru county, Sotogahama town.
22 青森市; aomori-shi; Aomori city.
23 摩周丸; Mashū Maru; the second Seikan Ferry vessel to carry this name.
24 This video includes a clip from Ms. Teng's wake, held in Taiwan following her sudden death in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on 1995 May 8.
25 조선민주주의인민공화국 (朝鮮民主主義人民共和國), Chosŏn minjujuŭi inmin konghwaguk, (DPRK, KP; "North Korea").
26 대한민국 (大韓民國), Daehan minguk, (ROK, KR; "South Korea").
27 보천보전자악단 (普天堡電子樂團), Poch'ŏnbo jŏnja aktan, Poch'ŏnbo Electronic Ensemble.
28 리경숙 (李京淑), Ri Kyŏng Suk; the family name is Ri.
29 휘파람 (吹口哨), Hwiparam, "Whistle." Other Korean-language songs have the same title.
30 전혜영 (全惠英), Jŏn Hye Yŏng; the family name is Jŏn.
31 길정화 (吉京淑), Gil Jeong Hwa; the family name is Gil. Preferred Latin-alphabet spelling (from official website): Kil Jeong-Hwa.
32 휘파람 - 통일소녀, Hwiparam - Dong-ilsonyeo, "Whistle - Unification Girl."
33 트로트, teuroteu, "trot;" the word is a truncation of "foxtrot." This is recognized as the original genre of Korean pop music.
34 주현미 (周炫美), Ju Hyeon Mi (or Zhōu Xuànměi; her ancestry is Chinese); the family name is Ju (or, in Chinese, Zhōu). Preferred Latin-alphabet spelling (from official website): Ju Hyun Mi. The song is titled 찔레꽃, Jjillekkot, "Mountain Rose." We believe that the video dates to the late 1980s.
35 송해 (宋海), Songhae, the stage name of 송복희 (宋福熙), Song Bok-hui, comedian, actor and singer, born in today’s DPRK.
36 전성희, Chŏn Sŏng Hui; the family name is Chŏn.
37 The last line of the chorus is 보라 우리는 무적의 지도자동지 군대, Pora urinŭn muchŏkŭi chidochadongchi gundae; this translates roughly as "Behold! Army invincible, With our Leader, all as one.
38 김광숙 (金光淑), Kim Kwang Suk; the family name is Kim.