Kobayashi Sachiko / Enka

Kobayashi Sachiko

Kobayashi Sachiko

KOBAYASHI SACHIKO: Celebrating Her 40th Show Business Anniversary

by Jean Wilson


Back in the mid-1980's, if you asked anyone to name the top five female enka singers in the country, the answer would inevitably have been Misora Hibari, Miyako Harumi, Yashiro Aki, Ishikawa Sayuri and Kobayashi Sachiko, probably in that order. If you ask anyone today, Kobayashi Sachiko (49) would come in way ahead of the field and there isnt anyone even standing in her shadow. With the exception of Misora, who passed away, Sachiko has overtaken the others and zoomed ahead in the fast lane. It is significant that Misora herself once said that the only person who could fill her shoes after shed gone was Kobayashi Sachiko. Those have proved to be prophetic words. This year, Sachiko celebrates 40 years in show business, and is reaping the benefits of the tireless energy she has poured into making herself not just a famous enka singer but proving that she is a seasoned, all-round entertainer.

In April 1987, when Sachiko was 33, she broke away from Daichi Promotion to go independent. In the showbiz world production companies do not look kindly on stars who desert them because of the huge loss of income and status those companies suffer, so they make sure that the stars in question have as hard a time as possible reestablishing themselves. (Other enka stars who suffered similar fates and survived are Mori Shinichi, Yashiro Aki and Itsuki Hiroshi.)

Sachiko paid a large settlement amount in order to clean the slate and allow her to continue to appear on TV. She formed her own company, Sachiko Promotion, and announced her intention to change the content of her concerts. Enka singers just stand in the middle of the stage and sing for an hour and a half, she said at the time, but Im not going to do that any more. I think my best feature is that I can act various different kinds of roles, and dance and do review-type things, but theres no other enka singer who does this kind of show except Misora Hibari and Itsuki Hiroshi. Thus began her determination to incorporate all of her talents and interests into her work.

Appearing in samurai dramas comes naturally to her, since she has been doing it since she was a child. Sachiko says she loves chambara sword fighting and moving around, and she prefers to play male roles to female ones, although she is equally skilled at handling both. She has become one of the best stage actresses around, and has appeared in such roles as a geisha, samurai, ninja spy, female thief, princess, and Kabuki actor who specializes in female roles. She is especially good as a wandering gangster, for which she deepens her voice and skillfully wields a sword. She also does Japanese dance, hence her skill at moving smoothly, and at being able to wear kimono with such style.

For her 40th anniversary month-long performance: Edo no Awa Yuki, at the Koma Theater in January this year, she played the leader of a traveling troupe of actors who is also a thief. Sachiko almost always plays two contrasting roles in her plays, and this is another way that she showcases her talent. This year was her 14th one-month run at the Koma, but it was only in January 2000 that the theater had the idea of offering the January slotconsidered the most prestigious of the yearto her. It was the first time for a woman to take that position in 16 years, but it has proved one of their most lucrative moves to date.

Sachikos motto is "Hade ni..." (flashy or glitzy), and her concerts always feature flamboyant costumes and a carnival atmosphere. She is an aficionado of both Takarazuka, the all-female review troupe, and kabuki, and their influence is clearly seen in her shows, which include quick costume changes and chunori flying stunts. She wears every conceivable kind of clothing from skin-tight body suits to gorgeous traditional kimonos and mens tuxedos to frilly flamenco frocks. In her January Koma concert she opened with a huge silver cape and blue wig, followed by a black strapless sheath dress with a shocking pink stole, an Indian sari while she sang and danced accompanied by sitars, and a black kimono decorated with a pattern of silver snow, gold clouds and flowers. Part of the pleasure of her concerts is that Sachiko also ensures that patrons are treated to a second look at her latest costume from the year-end NHK Kohaku show. (See the next page for a special section about these costumes.)

With so much going on visually, we should not forget Sachikos vocal skills. Usually billed as an enka singer, she is in fact much more, as she can sing pop and jazz with equal verve. She has a strong vibrato (kobushi) quality to her enka singing. Earlier in her career it became so strong, and sometimes harsh, that it was off-putting to some listeners. She obviously became aware of this and made a conscious effort to moderate it. Ever the professional, she has made sure it has never surfaced again; her voice is now powerful but pleasing.

Sachiko Kobayashi (her real name) was born on December 5, 1953 in Niigata. At the age of nine she entered TBSs Uta Mane Tokuhon, and became the grand champion. One of the judges was the late composer Koga Masao, and soon after, she became his student and in 1964 made her debut. She was predicted to be the next Misora Hibari, the child star who became Japans greatest post-war singer. Although Sachiko appeared in films and TV dramas, her music career did not do well. Her second record was a flop and then when she was 15, her fathers meat shop was forced to close down. With the responsibility of paying her fathers debts, Sachiko began singing in cabaret nightclubs, lying about her age in order to be hired. It was one of the toughest times in her life, but she credits having overcome those hardships with making her into the person she is today.

It wasnt until 1979, 15 years after her debut, that Yusen Hoso cable radio spotlighted "Omoide Zake", the B side of her release at the time. It took off and became her first million-seller, rocketing her to stardom. She refers to that number as the song I can never forget, the song that changed my life. Since then, Sachiko has had numerous hits and won umpteen of Japans music awards. On January 1 this year she released two 40th anniversary singles entitled "Ribbon" and "Kujaku".

In addition to music and theater work, she has branched out and tackled TV dramas and films. In 1995 she was the female lead in the 47th and penultimate "Tora-san" film of the series before the death of the star, Atsumi Kiyoshi. She has also sung the soundtracks for an American Tom and Jerry cartoon, and the Pikachu Pocket Monster video. She has appeared in an NHK yearlong Taiga drama, and last year she was a regular in NHK TV's drama "Honmamon".

It is hard to believe that at the end of this 40th anniversary year Sachiko will turn 50. She pays a great deal of attention to her looks and it pays off; she seems more beautiful than at any time before. She openly tells her audiences her age, adding: "The most important thing is to like the way you are at the age you are". All we can say is this glamorous and talented star works extremely hard and fully deserves the success she is now enjoying. Congratulations, Sachiko!


The name Kobayashi Sachiko is synonymous with the most extraordinary stage costumes worn by anyone in Japan. Every New Years Eve since 1985, on NHK TV's "Kohaku Uta Gassen" popular music program, Sachiko has been seen wearing one of her creations, which at least for tax purposes are classified as stage properties rather than gowns. This year, as Sachiko celebrates her 40th anniversary in show business, she is also planning to submit her Kohaku stage costume feats to the Guinness Book of Records.

Her Kohaku costume marathon began in 1985, when she appeared wearing a junihitoe, the traditional 12-layered kimono. This is the style of kimono Princess Masako wore when she married. The following year, Sachiko appeared as the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, dressed in a clingy gown and cloak of gold, with a huge circle of peacock feathers spread out behind her. For the next five years, the influence on her costumes of kabuki actor Ichikawa Ennosuke and his Super-Kabuki production fashion designers was clear. For example in 1988 her outfit was a modified Noh costume, and in 1991, her costume "Fuyu no Tori" (Winter Bird) was similar to the phoenix costume which Ennosuke wears at the end of "Yamato Takeru" to fly to the heavens. Sachiko likewise was attached to wires and used the kabuki chunori flying technique to rise above and over the stage.

As each year passed, the design and scale of her costumes became more elaborate. In 1992 she wore "Hikari no Fantajii" (Fantasy of Light), which was the first of her outfits to be illuminated with electric lighting. In 1993, Sachiko's 30th showbiz anniversary, came what was probably the most extraordinary costume of all. Called "Pegasus", the glittering gold creation stretched from her shoulders to the far sides of the stage, as giant wings unfurled upwards to produce a halo effect behind her. The following year, the outfit consisted of descending layers of revolving blue balls from which came steam (from dry ice) intended to give the image of a waterfall. It was called "Ningen Niagara" (Human Niagara). The next Kohaku costume consisted of dazzling sheets of silver cloth like the panes on a space vehicle. The bottom of the costume was the launcher, from which smoke was emitted when she was pulled upwards off the stage on wires.

During this period, while everyone was sensationalizing the costumes, it seemed clear that Sachiko was not having an easy time singing. She was usually physically attached to these outfits and was limited in movement. Some of the costumes were so restrictive they inhibited her singing. Moreover, people were focused so much on what she was wearing that they were not even really listening to her voice or aware of what song she was singing. To rectify this, a conscious attempt was made to create stage illusions, rather than costumes, effects that would be visually interesting, but at the same time give Sachiko more freedom of voice and movement, and which allowed the attention to be on her as much as on the outfit.

In the Kohaku stage costumes that followed, it was still not uncommon for wings, petals or other sections of the dress to unfold, while the bodice and headdress were illuminated as she rose on a podium or was suspended on wires above the stage, but they were mechanical devices that operated around her. Also the outfits were revealed in stages, at the ends of the song verses, so Sachiko herself was kept more in the spotlight. It was around this time that she made a famous quip about the costumes saying that each one "...takes a years salary to make, six months to plan for and three minutes to watch!"

The 1996 outfit, named "Yuki Onna" (Snow Woman), was half-dress and half mechanical stage prop. As a giant snowflake opened behind her she rose on a podium, while her dress with a long bodice of gold automatically grew longer to fill the space between her and the floor. The 1997 costume, "Creation" was an amazing scene. The design resembled a chrysalis from which she emerged while the stage was entirely in darkness. Inside the costume were dozens of small lights that lit up once the wings were fully extended. The "veins" in the wings were also outlined in electric wires that glowed with fluorescent colors. The beauty and chaos of the galaxies at the moment of creation was spread out before the audiences eyes. Sachikos own curvaceous figure was the centerpiece of the "Human Fantasy" outfit she wore in 1998, while the 1999 piece was called "Kaguya Hime" (Princess Kaguya), named after a Japanese fairy tale. For this she wore a kabuki-like red princess kimono and ornamental wig. The kimono was then pulled off to show another blue and green one underneath, while peacock-feather decorated sections unfolded behind her in the shape of a shimmering fan that stretched across the width of the stage.

From interviews given by Sachiko around this time that it was becoming clear that the pressure of trying to come up with a more novel and exciting performance each year was getting to be a real headache. It was at this point that an unexpected rival surfaced. Exuberant enka singer Mikawa Kenichi surprised everyone by wearing an exotic Kohaku costume of gold, and sitting on a throne decorated with dozens of snakes and a lions head. For the viewing audience it was great fun, and for Sachiko, she must have heaved a sigh of relief that at last the pressure was off her and someone else could take over. She announced that her 2000 Kohaku costume would be her last. It began simply enough with a black and white kimono. Holding a red, waxed umbrella, she crossed a lacquered red bridge. Atop it she was momentarily hidden from sight and then emerged in a gorgeous pink gown. Behind her the pink-hued wings of a giant butterfly unfurled, while a huge skirt covered with small flashing lights completed the outfit.

Naturally, everyone was curious to see just how she would tone down her costume when she appeared in the 2001 Kohaku show. This time there was little mechanical movement, just one, large, five-petalled, gold flower behind her. Instead she created a tableau of Sachiko's 19 dancers, all dressed in coral and gold and wearing Sachiko facemasks, arranged themselves around her to form a kind of Elizabethan ball gown effect. It was novel and interesting, and finally broke with the tradition of mechanical illusions with which she had become associated.

Imagine everyones surprise, then, when in the 2002 Kohaku for Sachiko's 24th appearance on the show, she was back once more with one of her spectacular and elaborate stage costumes. Entitled "Kori no Jo-ou" (Ice Queen), she wore a fantastic dress that looked like icicles in shades of blue as she rose to central position in front of a giant diamond backdrop, a creation of illusion designer Duke Matsuyama. The reason, it seems, is what is called "fan service" in Japan. Because her fans want to see more extraordinary costumes, and of course because NHK wants to boost its diminishing Kohaku viewer ratings, Sachiko had been pressured to give in and continue the tradition she started in 1985. In fact she received 50% viewer ratings during the 2002 program, but was beaten into second place by Nakajima Miyuki, who was making her first ever appearance on the show.

Sachiko deserves a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for having provided such extraordinary visual entertainment for 18 years, and now she has decided to continue, fans can look forward in anticipation to what amazing creation she will wear for this special anniversary year's Kohaku program.


Real Name: Kobayashi Sachiko

Hometown: Niigata City, Niigata Prefecture

Hobbies: Nichibu (Japanese dance), Shamisen, Wadaiko (Japanese drums), Tap Dancing, Tate (Sword fighting), Swimming, Scuba Diving


1963 TBS "Utamane Dokuhon" (music program); champion, began studing singing under the famous song composer Koga Masao

1964 Debut song "Usotsuki Kamome" with Columbia Records

1979 Changed music companies to Warner Pioneer and released "Omoide-zake" which sold over 2 million copies; won many music awards, and made her first appearance on NHK's "Kohaku Uta Gassen" program.

1996 Changed from Warner Music to Nihon Columbia. Released "Echigo Jowa".

1998 Celebrated her 35th anniversary in show business. Released "Kobayashi Sachiko Boogie O Utau" produced by Miyagawa Yasushi. Performed a jazz concert the first time at the "Blue Note" club in Tokyo. Participated as a voice actress in the animation "Pocket Monster Myutsu no Gyakushu".

2000 Was the first female performer in 16 years to be the year's opening act at the Koma Gekijo. Participated in the movie "Kureyon Shinchan Arashi O Yobu Jungle" speaking her own voice. Won the music award "Misora Hibari Memorial Sensho".

2001 Appeared in the January slot for the second consecutive year at the Koma Gekijo.


1979 Omoide-Zake, Roku-ji, Shichi-ji, Hachi-ji Anata wa

1980 Tomari-gi, Wakare no Minato, Futari wa Hitori, Meguri-Ai, Arekara Ichi Nen Tachimashita, Hitori Katasumi De

1981 Ushiro Kage, Yume Yo Samenai De, Mayoi-dori, Aishiteinagara

1982 Nakaseyagatte Konoyaro, Aishu, Mo Ichido Dake, Hitori Tabi Nakasendo

1983 Futatabi no, Wasuremashoka

1984 Moshikashite, Miren to Iu no Ja Nain Desu, Moshikashite Part II, Moshikashite, Yaguruma Nikki, Tomarigi no Katasumide

1985 Hitoban Tomete Ne, Meotoshigure

1986 Wakare, Omoidette Iu Mono wa

1987 Yuki Tsubaki, Muchakucha Horete Gozaimasu

1988 Fudanso, Kokoro Uta, Koi no Manjushaka, Kita Yako

1989 Fukuju-so, Oyako, Melancholic Mama, Otoko Nante Aoi Tori

1990 Furusato, Shiodoki, Inochi Moyu, Tanabata Bojo

1991 Fuyu-gesho, Hana no Mai

1992 Koibotaru, Kokoro Sasowarete, Namida no Kazu Dake Kikazatte, Konna Watashi Ja Arumai ni

1993 Ichiya Kagiri, High Heel, Wakarete Soshite, Ai no Furiko, Yakusoku, Nemuri Uta

1994 Ame no Yataizake, Nirin-so

1995 Haha Hitori, Hitori Shinju

1996 Echigo Jowa, Waki Yaku

1997 Shiawase, Ichimadin,Towani

1998 Torikaekko Please, Tsuki Densetsu, Kokoro no Mamani, Kaze to Isshoni

1999 Yancha-zake, Jidaiya no Nyobo

2000 Nakase Ame, Hyakka Ryoran

2001 Ryuhyo Aika, Koibumi, Inochi Shirazu no Wataridori, Inochi Shirazu no Wataridori, Jirocho Fuun Hen, Twin Pack Kobayashi Sachiko/Ryuhyo Aika, Yume no Hate, Shigosen no Yume

2002 Setsunaiyo

Ishihara Yujiro
Ishikawa Sauri
Ishikawa Sauri
Ishikawa Sauri
Ishikawa Sauri

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