animefringe may 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
Kiyoshi Hikawa - Enka for the New Generation

Before we look at Kiyoshi Hikawa's work, something ought to be said for his genre. At its core, enka is classical Japanese music in pop form. Much like American country-western music, enka uses classical Japanese instruments in short pop songs. Also like country-western, enka has been mainly popular with Japanese adults; it has been uncool amongst Japanese teenagers, until Hikawa came on the scene. One of the youngest, most popular enka singers in the genre's history, Hikawa's strong voice and good looks have popularized enka among Japanese youth.

Kiyoshi Yamada was born September 6, 1977, and was latter dubbed Kiyoshi Hikawa by Kitano Takeshi, who also played the teacher in Battle Royale. Kiyoshi's big break was in 1994, when he sang "Kita no Hou" on "Star wa kimi da." In 1995, Kiyoshi really made it into the music scene with "Otoko no Umi." His performance of the song attracted Hikawa to the attention of composer Hideo Minamoro, who became the younger man's mentor. His 1996 performance on "Ookawa Ongakusai (music festival)" won him the top prize in that competition. That same year, Hikawa graduated from Hukuoka Daiichi commercial high school, the same school as the well-known J-pop duo Chage and Aska.

After graduating, Hikawa traveled to Tokyo for three years to study under Minamoro. In 2000, Hikawa Kiyoshi released his first single, "Hakone Hachiri no Hanjirou," which popularized the phrase yadanettara yadane (from iya da ne, very roughly translated as "I'm saying no!"). In fact, the phrase became so commonplace it won the Ryuukougo Taishou award. "Hakone" is an extremely good example of Hikawa's talents. Both the instrumental composition and Hikawa's strong voice are excellent on this track. He followed up "Hakone" with mini albums in June and October 2000 and a second single, "Ooi Okkake Otojirou" on February 2001.

Hikawa's first album, "Hikawa Kiyoshi Enka Meikyoku Collection Ooi Okkake Otojirou ~Seishunhen~" (The Anthology of Hikawa Kiyoshi enka songs Ooi Okkake Otojirou ~Youthful Days~) came out June 2001. Since then, he has released six more albums, three mini-albums, nine videos, and one DVD.

Hikawa Kiyoshi has appealed to Japanese fans from many walks of his life, for many reasons. His good looks have appealed to many fans, including middle aged Japanese women, who go to see him in throngs. His strong, melodic voice has endeared him to traditional enka fans, while his youth and his ability to go from enka to pop have enthralled Japanese youth. Hikawa's music is something extremely Japanese, so thus far he's virtually unknown in the US.

I would strongly recommend Hikawa Kiyoshi to anyone interested in Japanese music. He is one of the hottest singers of enka today, and his ability to create catchy, powerful songs makes him an excellent introduction to Japanese enka.