Two famous Japanese died in 1989. One was Emperor Hirohito, now known posthumously as Emperor Showa. The other was enka singer Misora Hibari (美空ひばり：which translates as “beautiful skylark” ).
The artist’s real name was Kazue Kato. Without meaning any disrespect to the late occupant of the Chrysanthemum Throne, it could be argued that Misora – known as the Queen of Enka – was more widely mourned than Hirohito.
Misora started out as a child actress in the late ’40s, and her cheerful gamine persona struck a chord with Japanese trying to survive the realities of everyday life in postwar Japan.
Misora, who like many Japanese entertainers was ethnically Korean, was born in Yokohama in 1937 (her father was a fishmonger) and displayed an interest in music from an early age.
She made her professional debut as a singer at the age of 12, scorings hits with typical period fare such as Kappa Boogie Woogie. Misora’s specialty was enka: weepy, sentimental ballads with melodies based on the Japanese minor pentatonic scale.
Last video of Misora ♪ Kawa no Nagare no Yō ni ♪ (As the River Flows)
Besides being one of the postwar era’s biggest recording acts, Misora was also a movie star, appearing in dozens of films. One measure of her fame is that in 1956 several people were seriously injured when an audience waiting to get into one of her concerts rushed the hall.
In 1989 Misora died, with pneumonia given as the cause of death. In 1997, one of Misora’s best-known numbers, Kawa no Nagare no Yō ni (川の流れのように), was voted the best Japanese song of all time in a 1997 NHK poll.
This song is often performed by numerous artists and orchestras as a tribute to her, including notable renditions by The Three Tenors (Spanish/Italian), Teresa Teng (Taiwanese), and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan (Mexican).
♪ Kawa no Nagare no Yō ni ♪
(English Version by Evan Ross)
Just as Elvis Presley will always be the King, Misora is still the Queen as far as her many fans are concerned.
Each year there is a special on Japanese television and radio featuring her songs. The memorial concert for Misora is held sometimes.
It features numerous musicians such as Ai, Koda Kumi, Ken Hirai, Kiyoshi Hikawa, Exile, AKB48 amongst others, paying tribute by singing her most famous songs.
Misora was born Kazue Katō (加藤 和枝 ) in Yokohama, Japan. She displayed musical talent from an early age after singing for her father at a World War II send-off party in 1943.
He invested a small fortune taken from the family’s savings to begin a musical career for his daughter. In 1945 she debuted at a concert hall in Yokohama, at the age of eight.
♪ Tokyo Kid ♪
At the same time, she changed her last name, Katō, to Misora (“beautiful sky”), at the suggestion of her mother. A year later, she appeared on a NHK broadcast, and impressed the Japanese composer Masao Koga with her singing ability.
He considered her to be a prodigy with the courage, understanding, and emotional maturity of an adult. In the following two years, she became an accomplished singer and was touring notable concert halls to sold-out crowds.
Her recording career began in 1949 at the age of twelve, when she changed her stage name to Hibari Misora, which means “lark in the beautiful sky.”
Her performance in Tokyo Kid (1950), in which she played a street orphan, made her symbolic of both the hardship and the national optimism of post-World War II Japan.
On January 13, 1957, Misora was attacked with hydrochloric acid, and injured in Asakusa International Theater. The criminal was an overly enthusiastic fan of hers. Fortunately, the wound did not scar her face.
In 1962, Misora married actor Akira Kobayashi, though the marriage ended in divorce only two years later, in 1964.
At one point in her career Misora, despite her superstar status, was not allowed to perform on NHK TV’s “Red and White Song Contest” New Year’s Eve show ( Kōhaku Uta Gassen), because of her brother’s underworld associations (for gang-related activity).
In April 1987, on the way to a performance in Fukuoka, Misora suddenly collapsed. Rushed to hospital, she was diagnosed with avascular necrosis brought on by chronic hepatitis.
She was confined to a hospital in Fukuoka, and eventually showed signs of recovery in August. She commenced recording a new song in October, and in April 1988 performed at her final concert at the Tokyo Dome.
Her triumph was short-lived. Misora died on June 24, 1989 from pneumonia at the age of 52, at a hospital in Tokyo. Her death was widely mourned throughout Japan.
Her song was voted the greatest Japanese song of all time by more than 10 million people.
Ｑ: Who are some of the best-known singer in Japan?
Ａ: By far the most prominent, or possibly the most famous singer from 20th century Japan, is Misora Hibari, often dubbed the “Queen of Enka,” or “Queen of Showa.”
Misora Hibari 〜 Medley
♪ Stardust ♪