Enka Controversy

Japan’s usually polite world of enka (traditional Japanese ballad-singing) was rocked recently by a scandal when Kohan Kawauchi, one of the genre’s most respected lyrics writers, threatened to bring some sort of action against one of the genre’s biggest-selling singers for changing the words to one of his songs.

Kawauchi wrote "Ofukuro" (Mother) for Shinichi Mori many years ago. The tear-soaked ballad has since become one of Mori’s signature songs, and he performed it during the big New Year’s Eve singing show two months ago on NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster.

Over the years, Mori had attached a spoken prelude to the piece that Kawauchi didn’t know about. When he heard it for the first time last December 31st, he was said to be angered by Mori’s presumptuousness.

It’s common for singers to amend or otherwise change lyrics in songs for creative reasons, even in Japan, and entertainment reporters are saying that Kawauchi seems to have been motivated to protest for other reasons.

According to some media reports, the 86-year-old lyrics writer feels that Mori has never thanked him properly for the song, and in his old age he is beginning to feel irrelevant. He said he would try to prevent Mori from singing the song by using a copyright law that prohibited certain works of art from being altered.

Mori told reporters that it was never his intention to offend Kawauchi and only heard about the writer’s dissatisfaction after Kawauchi called his management office February 17th.

The singer went to a Tokyo hotel February 25th where Kawauchi was staying and tried unsuccessfully to gain an audience with him.