Kohaku 50 Times

Jump to: navigation, search

Book review of NHK Red & White Song Contest book, Kohaku 50 Times - 紅白50回. This book recaps NHK's annual Kohaku Utagassen (Red & White Song Contest) TV program held every New Year's Eve for the past 50 years.


Published: Jan. 16, 2000 Publisher: NHK Service Center ISBN: -- Price in Japan: ¥1,980 Qualities: Soft cover, color and B/W photos Size: A4, 200 pp. Language: Japanese

If you are a fan of NHK's Red & White Song Contest (Kohaku Utagassen), you gotta get this book. Or if you're a historian on Japanese popular music, you also gotta get this book. Or if you're a writer on Japanese pop music, you also gotta get this book. But you also have to be able to read Japanese.

The Kohaku Utagassen is the mother of all J-pop TV shows in Japan. It is Japan's most prestigious and most glamorous music program a singer or group can perform in. You haven't made it in Japan until you appear on this program. It is a great honor to be invited by NHK (Japan's public broadcasting station) to perform on this show which is broadcast live nationwide from NHK Hall in Shibuya from 8 pm to 11:45 pm every New Year's Eve. It has long been a tradition among many Japanese households to watch this show as the new year approaches. So much so that it doesn't feel like New Year's Eve unless you watch it.

The program has an equal number of male and female singers or groups divided into the Red (female) and White (male) teams. The Red and White team members sing alternately and against each other. A panel of judges (as well as the in-house audience) then vote on who was better. The total number of votes is counted at the end and either the Red or White team wins the contest.

In recent years, the aura and allure of Kohaku has waned a bit as fewer people watch it. NHK has therefore worked to make sure that an audience of all ages would enjoy the show. It features both young and veteran artists. For the 1999 program, NHK got a major blow when Hikaru Utada, 1999's record-breaking singing sensation, declined the invitation to appear because she did not want to interrupt her work on new recordings during new year's.

At any rate, Kohaku continues to be very popular. This book lists all the singers who appeared on the program over the past 50 years, starting with the first Kohaku held in 1951. (The one just held on New Year's Eve 1999 was the 50th.) It also lists all the songs that they sang. There are photos of some of the singers and scenes of each show. Only one or two pages are devoted to the early Kohaku programs, while four pages are given to the more recent ones.

Kohaku actually started out as a radio program held soon after New Year's Day. In 1953 for the 4th Kohaku, it became a TV program held on New Year's Eve, a format which has continued ever since. Hibari Misora made her first appearance in 1954, at the 5th Kohaku. In 1961, Kyu Sakamoto appeared to sing his hit (and now classic) song, "Ue wo Muite Aruko," known as "Sukiyaki" in the West which became a No. 1 hit in the US. Something which no other Japanese singer or group has ever achieved since.

The end of the book gives an assortment of interesting facts and figures about the show. For example, how many times the Red and White teams won (just about dead even). Chiyoko Shimakura is the female singer who made the most appearances at 34 times, and Saburo Kitajima appeared 35 times to be the male singer appearing the most. Other singers who appeared 20 or more times include Harumi Miyako, Kyoko Suizenji, Akiko Wada, Sachiko Kobayashi (known for her elaborate costumes), Aki Yashiro, Shinichi Mori, Haruo Minami, Hiroshi Itsuki, and Takashi Hosokawa. Shinichi Mori also has the distinction of appearing the most consecutive times (32) from 1968 to 1999. Hiroko Shimabukuro from the group SPEED is the youngest female singer to ever appear on Kohaku at age 13 in 1997. And Hiromi Iwasaki and Yoshimi Iwasaki are the only sisters to have appeared together (singing different songs) on the show (in 1980).

If you can read Japanese, you can absorb the wealth of facts, figures, interviews, and anecdotes about the famed Kohaku Utagassen. It's too bad English is not provided, not even for the singers' names. Only the year is in English numbers. You'll just have to recognize the faces in the photos or the kanji characters. (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)