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Postwar pop in Japan

After the famine and devastation that followed the end of World War II, people turned for solace to songs like the influential 1945 hit Ringo No Uta (The Apple Song), sung by Namiki Michiko and Kirishima Noburo. Despite the arrival of more Western styles like R&B and boogie-woogie, some artists emerged singing kayokyoku in a Japanese style. In 1949, at the tender age of 12, Hibari Misora, the greatest popular singer of the modern era, made her debut.

Hibari, a precocious child who could memorize long poems and mimic adult singers, was versatile. Her voice could handle the natural voice singing style or jigoe, as well as the wavering folk style or yuri. Her powerful, sobbing kobushi vocal technique created a highly charged atmosphere, but she was also talented enough to cover jazz, min'yo, Latin, chanson and torch songs in the thousand recordings she made before her death at 52 in 1989. In many ways, she was Japan's most well-known, and loved, popular cultural icon of the twentieth century: not only did she appear in 160 films; she was also the undisputed queen of enka.

Meanwhile, as Hibari was starting her career, American songs were spreading across Japan, helped by the Allied occupying forces. Japanese composers like Ryuchi Hattori picked up on the trends with the shuffle-rhythm inspired Tokyo Boogie Woogie, even managing a shamisen version. Other styles like bluegrass, rockabilly, Hawaiian (a second boom), doowop, R&B and jazz all developed quickly.

In the 1950s, Japanese Latin music was established, although its roots were laid down at least twenty years previously. During the Fifties and early Sixties, many Cuban-style bands like the Tokyo Cuban Boys were formed; tango and Latin singer Fujisawa Ranko is still remembered for her South American tours. Tango remains popular in Japan and there is even an original Latin rhythm, the dodompa. The tradition has been kept strong with the recent success of Orquesta de la Luz.

Kayokyoku gradually became associated with styles that used traditional scales, like enka, while the more Western-sounding pop became known as Japanese pops. This latter form was defined by songs like Sukiyaki and by the many Western-style groups that developed in the 1960s, known as Group Sounds. Japanese pops mirrored all the Western moves - Beatles imitators, rock, folk-rock, folk and psychedelia were all flavour of the day.

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