MIYAKO HARUMI: Singing Sensation
by Terri Nii
We were fortunate to have the chance to pose a few questions to one of the busiest performers in the Japanese entertainment scene. This year, marking the 40th anniversary of her geinokai debut, Miyako Harumi has been making the rounds on stage and TV in special appearances. For Eye-Ai readers, she took some time out to reflect on her career, including her "retirement" period and reentry to show business, and to tell us of current performances schedule and future plans.
Eye-Ai: Your mother encouraged your singing. How did you feel about singing as a child?
Miyako Harumi: Yes, my mother started me out in lessons. In
Eye-Ai: Your mother and father met in the textile business. Do you have a special appreciation of kimono or have you ever been involved in their design?
Miyako Harumi: Actually my family was engaged in the craft of weaving traditional Nishijin fabric. (Nishijin is a style of weaving in which yarns of various colors are woven to make patterns for fabric used to make kimono cloth. - ed.) But I can’t say that I have any particular knowledge about kimono and have not had any experience in their design.
To me, the kimono is first and foremost a uniform: it is the wardrobe of my profession. Wearing a kimono is not a habit in my private life, and in fact I don’t own even one garment.
When I perform, it is most important to me to be able to move about on stage freely, so experts in the proper style of wearing kimono may notice some variances in the way that I am dressed in the garment. Perhaps they see some things that diverge from the traditional or accepted manner of dressing in kimono. As for myself, I am not too concerned about dressing in a particular way if an adaptation is more suitable.
Eye-Ai: Your debut was at the age of 16 with the song "Komaru no Kotoyo" but "Anko Tsubaki Wa Koi no Hana" was a particularly big hit. Throughout your career, you have performed many songs that have gone on to be very popular. But of all your songs, which one would you say is your favorite?
Miyako Harumi: Well of course, each song is associated with special feelings, but if I had to choose, I guess that Suki ni Natta Hito would have to be the one. Even now I conclude my concerts with this song. Although the melody gives a different impression from the content of the song’s lyrics, I guess that the cheerful tune best fits my personality.
Eye-Ai: In 1984, saying that you wanted to become a "futsu no obasan" (ordinary middle-aged woman), you retired from the geinokai entertainment world. At that time, what was your image of the "futsu no obasan?"
Miyako Harumi: Somehow, my comment about becoming a "futsu no obasan" was altered in the telling. So before answering your question, I would like to give you the actual conversation that was exchanged and correct the perception.
At my retirement press conference, a journalist asked about what I would be doing after my retirement. To my reply that I had not made any plans, he commented, "So then, you are going to return to life as an ordinary middle-aged woman, right?" I answered, as I was not at the age when I could be called anything younger than a "middle-aged woman," yes, that was what I envisioned.
From that conversation, the story shifted to my saying that I "wanted to go back to the life of an ordinary middle-aged woman" as the reason for my retirement.
Eye-Ai: How did your trying to become a "futsu no obasan" turn out? Was it as you expected? Do you think it was a good decision for you at the time?
Miyako Harumi: Oh, I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever. During the five and a half years that I took off, I did such things as get a driver?s license and travel to lots of places I?d wanted to visit. It was a period of time that permitted me many valuable experiences and I?m really glad that I had those various opportunities.
Eye-Ai: We heard that during your retirement you took care of your father who was ill. You must be glad that you took the time to be with him in his final days.
Miyako Harumi: Yes, having the time to care for my father was the main reason for my retirement, so I am satisfied that I was able to show my devotion to him at that time.
Eye-Ai: You came back to the geinokai in 1990. What brought you back? How did your "retirement" affect your career?
Miyako Harumi: Well, the organizers of the NHK Red and White New Year’s Singing Contest planned to have a segment on music in the Showa Era and I was invited to give a talk. But as giving such a presentation is not really my specialty, I suggested that performing a song would be more useful. I considered this to be a one-time event and did not think of it in the context of making a comeback to the geinokai. Soon after that, I happened to see a program about Edith Piaf and was deeply impressed by how earnestly she approached her singing. There was no sense of flirtation or attempt to flatter her listeners. I decided that I wanted to pursue my career in music the same way that she addressed her singing, and that led me to think about returning to the entertainment industry.
Whereas before my retirement, my primary aim was to perform songs that would be commercially successful, after my return I changed my approach. Now, with the assumption that I am in the process of producing both myself as well as the music, I select the songs I will sing and decide the way I want to sing them.
Eye-Ai: Over half of your songs were composed by Ichikawa Shosuke. Please tell us about your work with him and his influence on you.
Miyako Harumi: To me, Ichikawa Sensei is truly a master composer who encouraged me to attempt to develop and grow and who was always there when I needed support.
Eye-Ai: You prefer to think of yourself as a female Japanese vocalist rather than an enka singer. Why is that?
Miyako Harumi: Well, actually, at the time of my debut as a singer, there was no such much genre as "enka." I was a vocalist who sang "Kayokyoku" (popular music) and was not concerned with identifying myself with any particular genre. In fact, it was more important for me to express the sound and style that I was capable of doing, and therefore to create and communicate the "Miyako Harumi" brand.
Eye-Ai: You released a new single, "Un-pu Ten-pu" (meaning "leave fate to the heavens") on
Miyako Harumi: "Un-pu Ten-pu" was released to commemorate Hoshino Tetsuro’s 50 years as a professional lyricist. The song was composed by Ichikawa Shosuke. Besides this song, on October 10 we released a new single in celebration of the 40th anniversary of my debut. It?s called "New York Story" and was composed by Ito Kaoru and arranged by
Eye-Ai: Could you tell us how you feel about your career at the time of the 40th anniversary of your debut?
Miyako Harumi: Any success I have achieved in my work is due primarily to the continuing support and encouragement from fans over the years for which I am very grateful. Having said that, however, I have tried to focus on moving forward and making progress rather than reviewing past work or accomplishments.
Eye-Ai: In January 2003 you held a concert at Nippon Budokan. Could you tell us about the reaction from your fans?
Miyako Harumi: Yes. This was my 9th opportunity to perform at Nippon Budokan and it is my favorite venue. The Budokan is where traditional Japanese martial arts, or "budo" matches are held, and is therefore a place visited by the god of battle. When performing there, I have the sense that I am taking on that god alone. I usually conclude the year’s concerts at the Budokan, but as this year is special, I decided to open the 40th year anniversary celebration there.
I was told by audience members who viewed my performance that they were inspired, but I also am greatly encouraged by the energy from the spectators.
Eye-Ai: From this point on, do you have a particular genre of music that you would like to focus your energies on?
Miyako Harumi: Of course in the future I want to continue selecting the songs that I perform as I have in the past. But it is also important for me to try to make the songs I perform known to people who have not yet had a chance to hear my music. For example, I would like to familiarize children with the work I have done.
Eye-Ai: We saw your television performance on August 22 on NHK Kinyo Showtime, the same date you were performing live in Tsukuba. You have a very busy schedule - even before one thing is finished, you’re off to the next!
Miyako Harumi: Well, of course the television program was prerecorded. This year, in addition to the total of 70 concert appearances (in some cases there were two performances a day), in April we had a month-long performance schedule at the Nissay Theater.
Eye-Ai: With so many commitments, how do you stay healthy?
Miyako Harumi: I tend to think of it as "health management" and pay attention to my physical condition. Wherever I am, whether at home or on the road, meaning concert venue, green room, or hotel, I take along a humidifier. I also have a regular health routine that includes gargling, foot care, and a trainer who accompanies me on concert tours.
Eye-Ai: What do you do as a hobby?
Miyako Harumi: When I have free time, I like to play golf, take in a movie, or go shopping.
Eye-Ai: Could you tell us about some of the concerts planned for next year?
Miyako Harumi: As of now, many dates have already been scheduled and it looks like we will be doing about the same number of performances as during this year.
Eye-Ai: Many of our readers are in
Miyako Harumi: Sometimes I am approached to perform overseas, but at this time we don’t have any definite plans. In 1999, I went to