A Tale of Two Stars: Understanding the Establishment of Femininity in Enka through Misora Hibari and Fuji Keiko

Koon Fung Tong

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    To date, most female portrayals and performances in the Japanese popular music genre of enka have been understood in terms of the homogenous ideal of the subservient, outdated image of "the traditional Japanese woman." Yet, two of enka's most important female singers, the "queen of enka" Misora Hibari and "the girl destined to carry enka'sstar" Fuji Keiko, possess starkly contrasting images in the public imagination—something that tends to question the adequacy of homogenous understandings of enka's femininity, based allegedly on Japanese tradition. In this paper, I examine the careers of Hibari and Fuji with a focus on the conditions of musical production and promotion, utilizing biographical accounts and critiques of these two singers. Through this analysis, I argue that dominant representations of female "subservience," "outdatedness" and of the "Japanese-ness" in enka emerged out of contingent decisions that particular musical producers and singers made within the context of the Japanese music industry in the 1960s and 1970s. The argument offers a more recent historical origin for the stereotypical femininity of enka, highlighting the dialectical relationship between individual-level musical praxis and certain Japanese social discourses in those decades. These complex forces condemned Fuji in her late career to obscurity, while ultimately securing Hibari's status as a national symbol of perseverance.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)23-44
    JournalSituations: Cultural Studies in the Asian Context
    Volume8
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

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