Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Places Puffy Led Me To

Puffy by themselves… soak up more time than I care to admit. When I sit down to listen to music it is good odds I will be listening to them. But Puffy is certainly not the only band I listen to regularly, but Puffy has afforded me the chance to discover more about a genre of music that I have come to greatly appreciate.... to the point of blogging about them and promoting them as serious artists.

Yet this article is not really about music I enjoy. Rather this is how I detoured into foolishness trying to find music inspired by my enjoyment of Puffy.

Not long after I discovered Puffy, I was combing YouTube and stumbled across a video for the song Harada Kinenbi, a multi-artist promotional effort for Sony’s Hit-n-Run label.
Speaking in generalities, I tend to hate group efforts, because they simply never seem to work. Harada Kinembi had been done the year before by Sony’s stable of stars and it was a complete train wreck of hack and pomposity… like We Are The World. The superb Lionel Ritchie could not have saved this one either.

What surprised me and tossed my musical sensibilities on their ear was that the 99 version of Harada Kinembi was dynamite! It is very well arranged and had a more humorous and playful undertone. It had a feeling that Sony’s talent was not shunted into a room and forced to kick out a song or be starved to death.

At this time my musical leanings were only beginning to shift to the east and while I was familiar with some of the artists in Harada Kinenbi, but there were many I knew nothing about that upon this first impression I knew I might like. I had to learn more about them.. One was the band The Wonder Soul Style, which is another blog... The other was a woman with dyed red hair and a stellar voice that merged beautifully with Ami and Yumi’s for a chorus. Google did not offer any pointers and I needed help.

As luck would have it, one thing I am not short of in life is associates who are fluent Japanese speakers. One e-mail to Dr. Doug and my question was answered. The singer in question was Izumi Tachibana. I had a name and I put Google went to work.

This is where I started to become grossly stupid.

Google tripped up Izumi Tachibana’s old website which redirected me to her new website. She had since married and changed her name. The site had a modest amount of information in English, but not enough to be useful. So I went to the Google well again…

One small problem however. I misread her new surname as Sakai and not Sakaki.

This one tiny mistake snowballed. There was a very well known Japanese singer named Izumi Sakai. Her back catalog had a number of albums that after mangled translations had very similar titles. As it turns out many Japanese artists have greatest hits albums with the moniker “Golden Best.” Izumi Sakai also had a very complete Wikipedia entry, which let me to what I thought was an unfortunite end.

Izumi Sakai passed away in 2007. While taking an early morning walk as a respite from chemotherapy treatments, Sakai suffered a head trauma after falling from an ambulance platform. Sakai had previously fought uterine cancer, but that had spread to her lungs. While Sakai’s doctors were encouraged with her treatments, due to this illness she had been on a hiatus. This chronologically corresponded with the hiatus that the singer who was really Izumi Sakaki. I closed the book on this line of investigation.

Fast forward a few months.

Something was not right. I intuitively knew I was wrong about all of this and it simmered in the back of my mind. One morning these thoughts boiled over and I went back and started looking into Izumi Tachibana again. It hit me that while there were parallels in these two performers… I had misinterpreted something.

An hour later, I put my hands were on my head. I had been wrong and I knew why: I had been intellectually lazy. I only looked at the things that were similar between these Izumis, not what was different.

What unraveled my patchwork research was that Izumi Sakai was the best selling female artist is Japan during the 1990’s and to this day Sakai remains one of the top five best selling female artist in Japan. Sakai was also eponymous with the Japanese band Zard, whom she was the only permanent member. Izumi Sakai only appeared on TV seven times. She was painfully shy, yet by all accounts kind and down to earth. Despite being wildly popular, she never received a single award for her work.

It is one thing to discover an artist and learn about them posthumously. It is another to discover them and grow with them. Together moving forward with their songs and forming a soundtrack for our life. I very much feel this about Puffy.

Yet this revelation is not completely sad. Izumi Sakaki (formerly Tachibana) is alive and well. Like The Wonder Soul Style she is no longer with Sony. While Izumi Sakaki went down a different path than the more famous artists who sang Harada Kinenbi she continues as working artist and has a good sized back catalog of her own.

The end result of all this is neither Izumi Sakai nor Izumi Sakaki appeal to my Japanese rock sensibilities. This was a lot of hard work for something that did not work out. That happens. Likewise I have found incredible artists like Puffy via effortless accident.

Without Puffy I also would not have found many artists that I also enjoy.

P.S. The Wonder Soul Style… they are my J-Rock Waterloo. I have liked everything I have heard from them. Which is precious little beyond Midbooster and Harada Kinembi… so if you know any more about them. Please get a hold of me.


  1. If one wants to compare the remade "Harada Kinenbi" with the original, the PV for the original is up on YouTube as well:


    I prefer the original, if only because it's not quite as jokey. My preference for the original may also be influenced by the concert clips from the Hit & Run 2000GTR-S concert from 1997 (which used to be on YouTube) -- those were some awesome performances (Ami and her group playing "Be Someone Tonight" and Jimi Hendrix's "Fire"? Yumi's group playing "Asia no Junshin" as surf rock? Awesome).

    Puffy has also introduced me to the works of other artists I may not have known otherwise, like Tamio Okuda and Jellyfish. But I'll really always be in debt to Puffy for introducing me to Shoko Suzuki (who was also at that GTR-S concert in '97, playing drums for Yumi's Waikiki Champions). It's funny how this stuff just snowballs...

  2. Oh yes, the 1997 (or so) all stars concert footage is great, I did skim that off youtube so there is a copy floating somewhere...

    Jellyfish, I tried to like them... Andy Sturmer once removed musically is more to my taste. I have both albums and after a couple of efforts to listen to them, no dice.

    Puffy also led me to Glay (connections being obvious) but it was the Ami and Glay doing Asia no Junshin with a Glay song in the middle... Honestly she should have been doing the synthed voice through out the middle... musical lightning.

    Yes snowballs... just like my credit card bill a few times a year. :/

  3. Thanks, Anthony. I'd never seen the '97 PV before. Love the concert version and was glad to get a few unfamiliar artist's names from the PV. But I also thought it was very enjoyable on its own terms.

    Although many of my favorite artists have led me to explore the music of others, that hasn't been true of Puffy, unfortunately. Not sure why. Maybe I'm just getting too short on time and money. Or just burning out. But if I had tried to work outwards from Puffy, in addition to the obvious connections (Tamio Okuda, Jellyfish, Shoko Suzuki...), my usual method would be to check out the artists they covered. Since I like the song Puffy did for the recent Judy and Mary tribute, and because ex-lead singer Yuki seems like a natural choice if Ami and Yumi ever decided to expand Puffy to a trio (I'm basing this on her guest appearances on Pa Pa Pa Pa Puffy... good chemistry there), Judy and Mary might be a good place to begin.

    But I probably won't. I can continue to rationalize and tell myself that Puffy is just too unique, and that's that.

    Btw, I smiled many times while reading about the twists and turns of your search for Izumi Sakaki, Wes. This seems like such a familiar story to me, and it's kinda fun watching someone else go through it. But tenacity pays off... like the dog with its bone, you never want to let go of something until your curiosity is satisfied. Sometimes that's the only reward, but maybe it's enough.


  4. Wes: I only have Jellyfish's first album (Bellybutton, I think?), and while it tries too hard to emulate the Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles, I like some of it. But I'm like you in that I prefer Tamio Okuda and Andy Sturmer filtered through Puffy; on their own they're more hit-and-miss.

    Don: Judy and Mary are pretty firmly in the punk-pop category, but Yuki herself has a much more diverse musical output (and Andy Sturmer wrote a couple of songs for her as well...). Her first album has some of that same punk rock energy (mostly courtesy of ex-Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her frontwoman Aiha Higurashi -- I told you, this stuff snowballs...) mixed with more traditional rock and pop (some courtesy of big names like Spitz and Carole King), then she moved into a more Puffy-like sound on her second record ('60s-'70s-inspired pop rock) before moving into a much more mainstream pop sound on her third and fourth albums. Both Judy and Mary and Yuki's solo stuff are worth checking out, in my opinion.

    It's really weird where following related threads and reading CD booklets will get you with other artists, though. That's how I discovered Shoko Suzuki -- for a long time I was obsessed with "Koi no Line Ai no Shape" (from Fever*Fever), and I discovered that Shoko wrote the song and played drums on it. Then I found she wrote several other songs for Puffy as well ("Watashi no Nozomi" and "Kireina Namida ga Tarinai yo" to name two), and that led to yet more money finding its way out of my bank account (mostly by hunting down long out-of-print CDs)...

    And going back to the '97 Hit & Run 2000GTR-S concert for a moment, I found a set list (and artist line-up) if anyone is interested (I'd love to hear the Hit & Run All Stars' takes on "No Woman, No Cry" and "The Locomotion"...). It's in Japanese, though:


  5. Being an XTC fanatic, I'm dying to hear some Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her!!!


  6. bonsaipark, thanks! This blog itself has a bit of an interesting journey, I had intended it for another site I have written at but I could never quite make it work. So I shelved it until I started writing here as it finally had a home. It will be fun to get back at my Puffy reviews project.

    Anthony, I have both... I think trying too hard is a good descriptor. I would say they are vaguely like Blind Melon which was a band I hated with the heat of a thousand suns. I will have to check out Shoko Suzuki... snowballing is right... sigh.

  7. Wes: With a few exceptions, I remained blissfully unaware of popular music until I left high school (I was too busy wearing out my Beatles records), which means grunge more-or-less passed me by. The only Blind Melon song I even vaguely know is their one hit, with the video of the girl in the bee suit. Bleh. But yeah, trying too hard is a good description of Jellyfish, from the music to their wacky pseudo-'60s clothes.

    As for Shoko Suzuki, there's a bit of a caveat. If you go into her work expecting everything to sound Puffy-like, you'll be disappointed. She started off her career as more of a pop/ballad singer (with the occasional rock song), before moving into more of a pop-rock vein in the mid-'90s. And even then, she's a bit like Paul McCartney or Todd Rundgren in that she dabbles in a ton of genres -- pop, rock, hard rock, country, soul, blues, piano pop, ballads, etc. (and like Macca and Runt, she has an album where she played every single instrument - guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, etc.). If you want some recommendations, I can do that for you, since I have most of her records. I think she's definitely worth checking out, though.

  8. Your post reminded me of when Izumi Sakai died. It was such a shock. Chatting with a friend via Skype who is in Japan, he said it was shocking to him because ZARD's music was something they grew up with during the 90's. I followed her music since 95 so I can relate to hearing how a band changes and matures over the years.