Michiya Mihashi (三橋美智也) - 1957


Hidezou Kondou Meets An Important Person - interview with singer Michiya Mihashi
by Hidezou Kondou (近藤日出造), cartoonist

Dearest Michiya Mihashi-sama,

I listen to your songs from morning until night, day after day. Sometimes there might be a day when a crow doesn’t caw, but there is not a single day when I don’t hear your voice on the radio. How popular you are! What a good singer you are! To tell you the truth, I had been against popular songs. So, when the teacher, Takashi Tatsuno (辰野隆), whom I respect, referred to popular songs as 'beggar songs', I very much agreed with him. Michiya Mihashi-sama, please don’t get angry. Tatsuno-san didn’t include you and I didn’t imagine your face, either, when I agreed with him. Because at that time, no one knew your name and your wonderful voice yet, and critics tend to refer to singers at the lowest level as if they are the standard. Please tell your fellow singers to not be offended by us.

Respectfully yours, Hidezou Kondou (近藤日出造)


MM: Michiya Mihashi
HK: Hidezou Kondou

◎ “I was bitten on my finger.”

HK: You took the name plate off of your dressing room door. Was it because of the incident that had happened to Hibari Misora (美空ひばり)? (The incident he’s referring to happened January 13, 1957, when Hibari Misora was performing at the International Theater in Asakusa, Tokyo. A girl called out to Hibari, then splashed hydrochloric acid on her face. The troubled girl had written in her notebook, “I want to see Hibari’s ugly face damaged by hydrochloric acid.”)
MM: That’s right. Besides that, there was a robbery and whatnot, so several policemen are staying on guard around here.
HK: No one would splash hydrochloric acid on us, even if we were to ask for it, ha ha! There’s some strange people out there.
MM: When I was doing public recording at the video hall, an old lady, who looked just over 50, came out from the back of the audience and grabbed my leg.
HK: A nymphomaniac!
MM: No, she said grabbing my leg would treat her cold!
HK: It seems you’ve become “Obinzuru-sama”, ha ha! (Obinzuru is a Buddhist statue. It is said that if you touch this statue, your disease will be cured.) To tell you the truth, I also have a slight cold. Please let me touch you, ha ha!
MM: No, it doesn’t work, because I myself have had a cold since last November.
HK: That’s why I never believe in the Kami (Shinto deities), ha ha! Anyway, who makes up such a story, that touching your leg heals a cold?
MM: She might have gotten the idea on her own.
HK: Listening to your songs warms my heart, so it’s a specific remedy, ha ha! But, it might actually be possible for your enthusiastic fans to treat their diseases by touching your legs. Anyway, it was good for you to be just touched and not splashed…
MM: It’s not much better. Sometimes, someone tickles me, or bites me.
HK: Oh, are there fans like that?
MM: The other day, I was bitten on my finger! When I was getting in the car, someone rushed at me, and somehow my finger got into her mouth. The skin on my finger was peeled, and my finger was soaked with blood.
HK: The enemy went away happily with your peeled skin in her mouth, ha ha! You need to arm yourself!
MM: When I went to Sapporo the other day, I thought I needed to wear an iron helmet on stage, because a tree suspended from the stage’s ceiling fell down on my head when the rope broke, though this was not caused by my fans.
HK: Were you injured?
MM: What was broken was not me, but the tree which hit my head! Everyone made remarks about what a hard head I have, ha ha!
HK: “If you want to bite me, not on my finger, but on my head, please”, ha ha!
MM: It’s not surprising that I didn’t get injured on the stage, because I’m usually very aware while performing.
HK: By the way, have you ever had a performance when the theater wasn’t filled to capacity?
MM: Maybe I have, because it is all about luck. But, until today, it seems I haven’t. Every day, total of roughly 10,000 people come to see my shows.
HK: I heard from the comic storyteller Shinshō (志ん生) that they had only 5 or 6 guests for 15 or 16 comic performers, at their worst. In those days, they bought cigarettes, but then they had no money for train. If they took a train, then they couldn’t buy cigarettes. So, they had no choice but to buy cigarettes and walk all the way to the next theater, but that made their geta sandals wear out. Geta were expensive, so they smoked every cigarette stingily, like having a cigarette only after finishing jobs at three theaters.

◎ “Popularity because of warm weather?”

MM: I think it was the summer before last. I was just a newcomer to the popular song world. I went to Shikoku to record a radio program. There were more than thirty people in the band. They were holding a competition of Iyo folk songs and I was both a judge and a singer. But, the guests were only about thirty people. That was too bad. However, the recording went smoothly because it was very quiet, ha ha!
HK: Quiet, but lonely. Your name in the advertisement was misprinted, wasn’t it?
MM: Actually, they often got my name wrong, in those days. Yomiuri (a newspaper) also made mistakes. They wrote my name as “Michiko Mihashi”. Asahi (a newspaper) also mistakenly called me “Michiko”.
HK: When we hear “Michi…”, then we want to continue with “ko”, from natural feeling, ha ha! (His remark refers to the former Princess Michiko, who was very popular, at that time.) Is Michiya your real name?
MM: My late father gave this name to me, so it must be my real name, ha ha! On hearing “Michiya”, fans might imagine a pretty face, but actually it is this face, as you know. I feel badly about that, ha ha!
HK: You became extremely popular after that recording in Shikoku, didn’t you?
MM: I don’t understand “popular”, where and how “popular” I am…I think it’s just because of the unseasonably warm weather.
HK: It is an abnormally warm winter, ha ha! Even if it is because of this warm weather, you care about the number of the visitors to the theater, don’t you?
MM: Of course I want to have many customers, and I want to sing as hard as I can for them. So actually, I feel very sorry when I catch a cold or something like that. Some people come a long way to see me, from the other side of the mountain, plus they must stay overnight. When I performed at the Shouchiku Theater in Kyoto, I was fine on the first and the second days. But after that, I caught a cold. A maiko told me about some Chinese medicine for colds, and I took two doses of them in succession. That caused a terrible trouble! I sweated profusely and the sweat didn’t stop on the stage. Of course, I could not change clothes during a performance. I’ve never been embarrassed like that!
HK: Did the medicine work, or not?
MM: It worked, but it worked too much, ha ha! I should’ve taken a modern remedy.

◎ “Trained in singing by his mother.”

HK: Anyway, you’d better not to listen to a maiko seriously, ha ha! You are a singer so you must know the song, “the heart of a geisha and the back metal of setta are…”, ha ha! (When a man wearing setta sandals walked, the metal on the back of the sandals made a ‘cha la cha la’ sound, which is Japanese onomatopoeia for expressing the sound of moving metal. Also, metal is written in kanji as “金属” and “金” means “money”. In short, setta have a ‘sound of money’. Additionally, ‘cha la cha la’ also expresses the act of flirting with someone. Geisha usually flirt with a man who has money. In conclusion, both a geisha and a pair of setta sound like ‘cha la cha la” - the sound of money.) You were born in Hokkaido?
MM: Yes. There is a town named Kamiiso near Hakodate. In Kamiiso, there’s a district named Garou, where coal is produced. I was born there. My father died when I was a toddler. My mother moved to Toubetsu, where the Toubetsu Trappist Monastery is located, and then she married my stepfather.
HK: Is there anyone else good at singing in your family?
MM: My mother was good at singing, she trained me when I was little.
HK: I’ve heard that you had gone through serious hardships after you came to Tokyo.
MM: They weren’t really hardships. I always try to pursue anything I believe in, so I’ve never felt they were hardships.
HK: Belief is the most difficult thing to build up, and the easiest thing to be shaken, so you have ever come close to being shaken?
MM: Thanks to Mr. Nakamura of Tokyo-en (Tsunashima Onsen), I could go on without losing my belief. He helped me a lot.
HK: What a great man Mr. Nakamura is! Even if there’s a boy who has a good voice and sings well, there is little possibility of making any success in show business. Taking this into account, he is such a great person to help you so much, without doubting your future. Maybe you had something that caused him not to doubt. If there is another boy like that out there, what should he do to get into the public eye? It means nothing to sing well in the bath at home.
MM: You should go to the record company or get into that kind of world. In other words, you should sell yourself. You should make them notice your good voice and give you a test. Moreover, it’s just not only having a good voice, but also you have to be able to read music scores in order to become a popular song singer.
HK: Oh, I’ve heard that there are singers who can’t read scores…
MM: I also didn’t know how to read scores, at first, and that doesn’t work at all. Folk songs and popular songs are different, so popular song singers have to be able to read the scores.
HK: Are you singing popular songs mixed with folk songs?
MM: It depends. “Melancholy Train” (哀愁列車) is purely a popular song. “From Apple Village” (リンゴ村から) has a local color. I have confidence in singing folk songs as I have sung them since I was a junior high school student. Folk songs need to be sung with local feeling. People say my “Souma Folk Song” (相馬盆唄) has the feelings of the Souma district, so I’m pleased. The song of Souma can’t be a song of Hokkaido.
HK: A dancer of Japanese traditional dances once said that they could dance well with the “Kuroda Folk Song” (黒田節) if you sang it. Folk songs and popular songs are different in the way of singing, aren’t they?

◎ “You need pathos in folk songs.”

MM: Folk singers usually sing in a loud voice and they try to sing as loudly as possible without caring about the melody of the songs, as if they were showing how loudly they can sing or as if they’re competing in the loudness of voice. But, you need to sing folk songs with your soul. Also, you need to sing them with pathos. Without it, Japanese people don’t sympathize with folk songs.
HK: That’s right. No other people love pathos more than the Japanese. Japanese people love to get teary, so cartoonists can’t become popular, ha ha. Who is your favorite popular song singer?
MM: Shoji Taro (東海林太郎) and Uehara Bin (上原敏).
HK: Both singers are full of pathos! I heard that the top singers of popular songs are you and Kosaka Kazuya (小坂一也). I secretly looked into the reason why these two men are so popular, ha ha. Needless to say, they are very good at singing. Besides, we can hear the words of the lyrics in their songs very clearly. I assume this is one of the reason for their popularity.
MM: A Japanese person sings a song in the Japanese language, and if it is not understood by Japanese people, it makes no sense at all.
HK: Usually street donations (charities) don’t collect much money, which may be because the words they’re speaking can’t be heard clearly. Though they are pure Japanese, they are speaking strange words like “mi-nasyan dosoya ka-kubetuno godojowo mo-chimasite…”, ha ha!
MM: At first, I mistook them as Chinese. If we can’t hear enough of the words of the lyrics of a sentimental popular song, it would sound like goeika (御詠歌 - Buddhist songs that have thirty-one syllabled verses), ha ha!
HK: By the way, why do the words like ‘port’, ‘night fog’, ‘lantern’ or ‘last train’ appear so often in popular songs?
MM: That’s right! Those words appear a lot. That’s why I never wear a sailor cap, at least on stage.
HK: You are great, ha ha! Anyway, those words don’t express the feelings of many Japanese people. Those are just the proof of inability and negligence on the part of the songwriter. They use those words repeatedly. The difference is just ‘port’ at first, or ‘night fog’ at first.
MM: …and ‘cry’ or ‘parting’ between them, ha ha! Those lyrics make songs pretty much the same and they make us feel as if we’ve heard the song before, elsewhere.
HK: The hook-lines of pathos are almost the same in all the songs. Songwriters have such a limited vocabulary that even military songs use ‘night fog’, or in the mood of ‘parting in tears’, ha ha! Remember the song “Preparatory Song” (予科練) or “Beloved Horse March” (愛馬行進曲)? They are both melancholic and anything but encouraging! That doesn’t make us march forward.
MM: Is that why Japan lost the war?
HK: Considering the situation, it’s wise of you to take on Japanese folk songs. Folk songs were not written by songwriters. They were born naturally, so they have real feelings.
MM: I’m not sure of that.
HK: Don’t be so humble.
MM: No, no, it’s true. I’ve never thought I’m good. I’ve never satisfied with my performances.
HK: That feeling keeps you making progress…oh, sorry, that may sound preachy!
MM: Preach of ‘night fog’, ha ha. Anyway, you guess correctly. Every month, around a hundred records are released from the three major record companies. It means twelve hundred in a year. Among them, only one record might actually be a big hit, or sometimes there will be no hits at all. Everyone eagerly pursues that top one. What a challenge!
HK: Do you think your current popularity will last?

◎ “I want to sing until I’m forty years old.”

MM: It depends on the trends. If I were to fall out of popularity, I think I couldn’t help it. I can’t go against fate. Now, I’m twenty six, so fourteen years more, at most. When I become forty years old, my voice will lose its mellowness. At that time, I think I have to quit. I’m thinking that after I quit, I will devote myself to folk songs and become a kind of contract worker for a broadcasting company. Also, I would like to study folk songs and teach them.
HK: How about wearing a mustache at that time, ha ha! Anyway, you are admirable to think concretely about the last train, ha ha!
MM: It’s melancholy train, ha ha!
HK: When you try to master a new folk song, you go to the district where the song was written?
MM: Whenever I can. But, in Tokyo, there’s a Local Art Preservation Association, and they have various presentations. There’s a lot of chances to learn and feel the local arts.
HK: “Sado Okesa” (佐渡おけさ) by Katsutarō (勝太郎) and “Sado Okesa” (佐渡おけさ) by Bunzō Murata (村田文蔵) are very different. In other words, Katsutarō’s song is seasoned with Tokyo sauce. It tastes smooth, but it doesn’t have its own flavor. This is my understanding. Anyway, do you use some sauce intentionally?
MM: My songs are also seasoned with some sauce. Otherwise, they don’t sell records. We should give way, to some extent. If I sing a local song as it is, it sounds rough. In other words, it’s rustic and I like that simplicity. Even so, it would still be better to dress them up beautifully and make them seem Tokyo-style.
HK: Travel to rural areas and get some rural objects, then display them in a Western room; that’s Tokyo-style, isn’t it? By the way, how old were you when you started learning the shamisen?
MM: Around twelve or thirteen years old. I can play anything, like jazz or whatever, with the shamisen. It has a flexible sound with its three strings. It can express the real feelings of the Japanese people.
HK: Being able to play the shamisen is an asset of yours! Would you tell me a bit about your hardship, financially or mentally?
MM: Originally, I didn’t set out to be a singer. I planned to be a salaried worker after graduating from Meiji.
HK: It was lucky for us that you didn’t become a salaried worker!
MM: I started singing songs and traveling around the provincial area. I felt sorrow when I saw how traveling performers typically ended up. I was eighteen years old at that time and I decided to go to Tokyo, because otherwise I had to spend all my life being a traveling performer, I thought. So, I ran away from home and that was my turning point. Once I decided to be a singer, I wanted to be famous. That required education, I thought. I entered high school when I was twenty. My school life was the most painful time. The teacher was almost the same age as me, and all the students were much younger than me, about six years younger.
HK: Six years difference between fifty and forty-four does not matter, but six years difference between twenty and fourteen is a lot!
MM: That twenty-year-old student still raised his hand and answered the questions. I studied math and English very hard, otherwise I could not catch up to the other students, though I was in the top 10 of the class. That meant I studied so hard! That was the hardest time.
HK: Were you boarding, at that time?
MM: I was living at the house of the principal of Jikei University. Then I built my house in Hatagaya and it became easy to go to school. Then, I graduated from the attached high school of Meiji University. Along the way, I almost gave up and quit the school several times. But, I cheered myself on to go forward with a strong belief.

◎ “I would like to do some business in the future.”

HK: After you began your current career, had you ever thought that you wanted to quit singing?
MM: Before I got a hit with “Female Boatman’s Song” (おんな船頭唄), I had some doubts. But, when it began to get really popular, I felt it was interesting! I might have good luck! However, I’m thinking that eventually I’ll have to do some business on my own…
HK: At that time, please let me help you. I’ll be your guard or something, ha ha! When did you get married?
MM: November 10th of last year.
HK: How do you feel in your newlywed life?
MM: I feel calm.
HK: It’s good to have someone waiting for you when you come home.
MM: I go home wondering if she is there, as usual…
HK: Sure she is, ha ha! But, after around twenty years has passed since the wedding, as in my case, I wonder why she’s always at home every day?? She is so patient!
MM: My life is like that of a journalist or an actor, so it may be hard for my wife to guard our home. Moreover, we have to have business relationships with other people, so I want her to become accustomed to that. But, it will take long to go to your house, ha ha.
HK: Yeah, it must be long. As a singer, you are great. But as a wife, my wife is a great senior, ha ha! You were bitten on your right hand by that one woman, and at home you will be bitten on your left hand by your wife…ha ha!
MM: It seems I’m unfortunate…
HK: Yeah! Anyway, the husband usually ends up with a bad deal.
MM: It’s said that 亭主 (husband) can be written as 低主, ha ha. (亭主 and 低主 are read and pronounced the same, but 低 means ‘low’, as if the husband is ‘lower’ than the wife.)
HK: When you got married, did any of your fans complain about it?
MM: One woman sent me a long letter complaining about my marriage, along with a pile of pictures she had collected.

- from The Yomiuri Weekly (週刊読売), 2/24/1957

Anne (アン)

Author:Anne (アン)
43 years old / female
Wahiawā, Hawai'i

I'm a member of
(the Michiya Mihashi
fan club)
since 2016.

I'm also a member
of the Hawaii
Shigin Association
since 2019.
(I began singing
in October, 2018.)

Contact me at: hello_risu@riseup.net

Note: All articles
and captions
were translated
into English
by T. Nonaka.

The profile
picture is
my artwork.