'Kohaku Uta Gassen' sings for Japan

By Chris Betros

NHK's popular music extravaganza, the “Kohaku Uta Gassen” (Red and White Song Contest), pulled out all the stops on Saturday night, with the memory of the March 11 disaster never far from the proceedings.

Hosted by actress Mao Inoue and all-male band Arashi, the 62nd edition of "Kohaku" featured 55 acts under the theme of "Let's sing for Japan." Several artists performed in front of montages of scenes from Tohoku.

Members of Japan's World Cup-winning women's soccer team made a special appearance at the start to get the proceedings under way.

Top batter for the 4th year in a row was pop diva Ayumi Hamasaki, wearing an enormous dress that draped down over several steps. Soon after, the stage was overwhelmed by legions of AKB48 singers, performing a "Special AKB48 Mix," but showing little coordination in their dance moves.

Staying up beyond their bedtime were the show's youngest participants, Mana Ashida (Red) and Fuku Suzuki (white), both 7. They were backed by dozens of children brought from the Tohoku area, as they sang "Maru Maru Mori Mori," the infectious hit theme song for Fuji TV's "Marumo no Okite." The precocious pair then sang Disney's "When You Wish Upon a Star" in Japanese.

Three Korean groups took part -- KARA and Girls Generation for the Red team, and Tohoshinki on the White team.

Seiko Matsuda, 49, appearing on "Kohaku" for the first time in 10 years, sang a rare duet with her daughter Sayaka Kanda, 25. Before a full house at a countdown event at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, they sang Kyu Sakamoto's 1963 song "Ue o muite aruko" (the only Japanese song to reach the No. 1 spot on the Billboard pop charts in the U.S.).

At 10 p.m., actor Jackie Chan offered a message of encouragement for Japan, before Lady Gaga appeared from New York by video link, to perform two numbers -- "You and I" and "Born This Way." For many older Japanese viewers watching at home, this was probably their first look at Lady Gaga who has visited Japan twice since March 11 to show her support and encourage tourism. Cosnidering all the pre-show hype, it was a little disappointing that she didn't say anything to the audience in Japan and around the world.

The women outperformed the men, easily winning the contest (after losing the last six years in a row). Too many of the male rock bands just made a lot of noise with incomprehensible lyrics. One exception was the ever-youthful Hiromi Go, 56, with his energetic "Go Smile Japan." The women had better set decorations on stage, wore more attractive costumes, or just kept it simple, such as when a 9-month pregnant Angela Aki sang "One Family" at the piano. Several artists appeared to be lip-synching (the trio of Perfume singers were quite obvious).

Throughout the broadcast, messages from viewers -- many in Tohoku -- were displayed across the bottom of the screen. Inoue introduced a segment on the plight of families in the Tohoku region. In December, Inoue visited families with babies who were born in Miyagi Prefecture on March 11 and spoke with them about their struggle since that day.

Inoue, who played the part of a mother in the postwar period in the NHK drama “Ohisama” last year, said: “I was inspired by seeing how strong the family bonds were when I visited Miyagi. These people have shown extraordinary bravery. It’s like a miracle.”

Arashi sang a poignant tribute to the survivors of the disaster with "Furusato." Singer-songwriter and human rights activist Rocker Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi performed "Hitotsu" live from the grounds of a damaged school in Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. The Hula Girls, a group of Hawaiian-style dancers from the Fukushima onsen resort of Iwaki, also made an appearance via video link.

Veteran performers for the Red team included Akiko Wada, making her 35th appearance, Sayuri Ishikawa (34th), and Sachiko Kobayashi (33th), sporting her usual gaudy costume, while the veterans for the White team included Saburo Kitajima, making his 48th appearance, Shinichi Mori (44th), Hiroshi Itsuki (41st) and Takashi Hosokawa (35th).

Though it has lost some of its luster in the past 10 years, “Kohaku Uta Gassen” is still considered the most prestigious TV music program to be invited to appear on.

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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The family watched a large part of Kohaku, and I think the ratings will be higher than the previous years. I feel people felt it was patriotic or something to try and return to their roots, which involved watching the song contest.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Although hubby occupied the TV and watched some very silly show, I managed to see some of the Kohaku-it was inspiring this year,they didn't sing for the show or for a win, they sang for Tohoku and Japan. Actually, Lady Gaga changed the words of her song for Japan http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20111231-00000006-mantan-ent

1 ( +1 / -0 )

AKB48 was great!

Couldn't stand Mickey, though.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )


2 ( +8 / -6 )

I loved KARA and AKB48 too!!

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I, for one, enjoyed this year's Kohaku Uta Gassen. I watched at a friend's apartment while eating traditional New Years foods. The performance by Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi in front of the school, was particularly moving and had us both in tears, grabbing for the tissue. I loved all the women's dresses and costumes. Lady Gaga's first song was strange, but that's her style! When did Go Hiromi sing - we missed the top of the show and left early for hatsumōde to the local temple, Darn! One of my favorite moments was seeing Goofy playing the taiko during the Disney set. Happy New Year, everyone

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Sayuri Ishikawa was lovely.

A vocally rich and seasoned performance.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I thought it was one of the better editions of the show in many years. Many touching moments because of the sad memories of the disaster.

And, almostshat, your one-word message tells us all we need to know about your lack of ability to judge what an entertaining variety musical show is about.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I felt the show really pulled through for Tohoku and really everyone in Japan. Sure, lots of it was pretty silly (enter name/s of your choice here), but they did not hide the terrible times and acknowledged the pain while providing a feeling of bonding. I found it uplifting, really.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I watched the show, then went to my local public bathhouse (sento). When I asked my fellow bathers if they watched the show, each and every one of them said "no." One even held his arms up and crossed them, while saying something like "no way." So while Kohaku was not a hit with my fellow bathers, the women on my wife's side of the bathhouse seemed to be more favorable to the show. My wife, for one, liked it. As for my feelings about the show, with the over-the-hill gang, same people, same songs year after year. With the younger crowd, same songs I heard all year so nothing really new here. As for the AKB48 girls, wish they would learn to sing "live" ... that is, stay away from their canned music/singing ...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

thankfully passed again

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Sayuri Ishikawa was lovely.

I agree, her voice is so soothing.

I see Namie turned it down again.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I was pleasantly surprised at Nishida Toshiyuki's performance. I think he really put his heart into it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Thanks JT for detailed report as i didn't watch Kohaku Uta Gassen and kept my promise to TEPCO for saving elec :)

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I was pleasantly surprised at Nishida Toshiyuki's performance. I think he really put his heart into it.

Very much agree! I did not know Hamachan could sing so well. He is from the Tohoku region.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Hirahara Ayaka was awesome. That girl can really sing.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A few comments:

Angela Aki was by far the best performer.

The two Korean girl groups outperformed AKB48 in every respect.

SMAP and Tokio once again embarrassed themselves due to their complete lack of talent.
-2 ( +0 / -2 )

A new low point was reached last night. They had a girl on who looked like one of AKB48 - if she put a surgical mask on. That was it. Her skill. Network TV on the biggest night of the year.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

"The two Korean girl groups outperformed AKB48 in every respect"

They did not. They were all great!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Notice how both Shiina Ringo and SNSD both had two nice obviously subliminal methods of gaining votes for akagumi. Near the start of the show, the multi pastel color pants that the members of Arashi wore made them look more like Momoiro Clover. The report was that there was over 290 AKB/SKE/JKT/etc. 48 members on stage at one time there. Outfits were cute this year. I do feel things were a bit toned down this year, even Sachiko Kobayashi who I feel did not outdo her mechanical bird with the wingspan of a 737 that appeared on last year's Kouhaku. Despite them also having their own new year's countdown show over at Fuji (the so-called "imitation" Kouhaku), Mana Ashida and Fuku Suzuki stole the show but it took Disney to water it down. I was cringing on the thoughts that Gaga was going to appear and when she came on with that Elton John get up and she did not speak directly to Japan, it was useless. I cried a few years ago when Susan Boyle made her surprise appearance on the Kouhaku, but Gaga was nothing compared to that. Despite the (appropriately) toned-down nature of this year's show, it was a memorable show and it was fantastic to see the girls of akagumi finally win one. Everybody was saying on social networks that because of the Johnny's boy bands (that are really not "bands"), shirogumi will always win. These days when I see SMAP perform, I am looking for the wires. I love the Kouhaku because this is the one day of the year when this closet enka fan can indulge. I always love seeing Yoshimi Tendo perform. She still has the cutest face in enka. We'll see you all back here in 12 months!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Loved all the performances, especially SMAP going into the audience and making the connection with everyone at the end. Was Jero invited? One disappointment was there were a lot of performances by feed.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Arashi is a blight.

What's the mindset of the menopausal women who cackle over them? Are they imagining getting into Arashi's androgenous, prepubescent pants? Are they grossly reimagining their junior high-school years of awkward, zit-faced boys? Do they think these preprogrammed, cookie-cutter menchildren would be masters of romance? Just odd.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I left after Hamasaki Ayumi. Deaf in one ear doesn't excuse the fact that she was pitiful and should never have been classed a singer. My wife was her biggest fan yet she cringed. I hope it got better cos even with 1000 backing dancers it couldn't have become worse.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Hamasaki was a little flat--I didn't know she was deaf in one ear, but that might explain her being flat. The quality of her singing voice, though--well, that's a different problem. Overall, it was entertaining. My wife thought the two children (Mana/Fuku) were the best/cutest act. Ayaka Hirahara--very good performance. Angela Aki--solid vocals; she could've dressed a little nicer. SMAP--they were pretty mediocre. AKB48, plus the other 8000 singers from the ***48 crew were okay. The Korean girl groups are definitely sexier and more vocally polished than their Japanese counterparts.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Having defended her a lot against some criticism here, I did feel very let down by Lady Gaga, although I'm not exactly sure how the opportunity to appear on the program was presented to her. My disappointment was that she didn't sing 'live' but mimed to a pre-recorded track. She has such a strong voice that she could have blown away most of the singers performing this (er.. last) year. Some of the enka singers too filled me with doubt that they were actually performing live, Girls Generation were certainly not.

So is this a singing show or a miming show?

I missed most of it though.

Happy New Year all.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


Seriously? Are you comparing the Korean groups with AKB48. Please do not watch Kouhaku Uta Gassen if you love comparing. This show is not a competition to compare among the artists on stage. The Korean groups are glad enough that they are invited to sing in this prestigious event. If it were any reason that it would come down to compare the K-pop with J-pop, I do not think KARA and SNSD would be performing today !

I love this program ever since I started watching it 7 years ago. To see that people are not appreciating the way it is, really is a shame. Can everyone just enjoy the show and stop evaluating the singers. Although I know there is hate and all, this program is not made for it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Concur with scatbar. Nagabuchi was excellent as always.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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