Notes From Nihon II: Yumi Matsutoya


By Xin-Rui Lee, staff writer

Hayao Miyazaki. Yes. Studio Ghibli’s resident chain-smoking genius and the quintessential name-drop when it comes to Japanese animated films. If you’ve never seen one of his stunning pictures, I suggest you keep that to yourself. Otherwise, you’re running the risk of becoming a social pariah for this gaping void in your cultural knowledge (seriously dude, just cover your ass and watch Spirited Away right now). Miyazaki meticulously considers every aspect of his films, and with his latest (and supposedly last, but we don’t want to believe him) movie Kaze Tachinu more commonly known to us as The Wind Rises, he’s provided us with this week’s featured artist, Yumi Matsutoya (formerly known by her maiden name Yumi Arai, and nicknamed Yuming).

Let’s backtrack a few decades and hang with the hepcats of 1970’s/80’s Japan, a time where female pop icons upon female pop icons were shooting to fame as quickly as they were fading into obscurity. Despite the abundance of one-hit wonders and an exceedingly superficial scene, there’s an inexplicable draw of gogo boots and groovy nightclubs in which young’uns practice weird hip-twist gyrations to whimsical doo-wop ditties.

“Hikoukigumo,” the title track of her debut album, later to be featured in The Wind Rises

My main reason for choosing Matsutoya as this week’s artist is mostly because I’ve had her song Hikoukigumo (also the name of her debut album) on repeat ever since I heard it in The Wind Rises approximately 3 years ago. But it’s also in part because she’s one of Japan’s most influential pop icons and has sold over 42 million records to date. Written by Matsutoya when she was only 16 years old, “Hikoukigumo” brought her little commercial success, but sure serves as testament to her musical prowess at such a young age.


Even if she did sort of conform to a certain mold of the era, there’s an edge about Matsutoya’s distinct voice and performance that sets her apart from the masses. Beginning her career aged 14, Yumi Arai (as she was known by before marrying music composer/producer Masataka Matsutoya) released a couple of flops before really gaining traction for her fifth single “Rouge no Dengon” off her third album Cobalt Hour (a personal favourite of mine). Her first number one hit single “Ano Hi ni Kaeritai” was to follow, and shows her transitioning from the sugar-coated poppy norm to experiment with different styles, this one in particular taking on bossa nova.

“Ano Hi ni Kaeritai”, Yumi Arai

Since then she’s given Japan a number of classic pop hits that are still covered by artists today and an ENORMOUS discography of 38 studio albums, nearly one for every year of her career.

Rouge no Dengon”  A favourite of mine from Cobalt Hour, also featured in another Miyazaki film Kiki’s Delivery Service.

I get the feeling the Japanese music industry is a lot more conscious about piracy and streaming, so it took a whole lot of effort to navigate the net for somewhere you could listen to Matsutoya’s music in decent quality. And I’m proud to say I’ve managed to dig up this Russian channel below with an oddly comprehensive collection of her music. Enjoy!



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