Yokohama for me is a city of lights, sights, sounds, memories and statues. One day I decided to pick up my camera and walk around the city to take shots of the statues I spied through the lenses of my prescription glasses. Like many cities in the world, Yokohama possesses a treasure trove of statues — avant-garde, military heroes of forgotten wars, founders of universities and medical facilities — and those from the entertainment world. I chose the first statue to photograph for sentimental reasons. Misora Hibari — who was born in Yokohama and whose parents owned a fish market in Takigashira in the Isogu Ward of Yokohama. Long before she became well-known nationwide, Misora Hibari’s mother took her around the neighborhood nearby their fish market and had her perform on improvised stages at markets and neighborhood events.
The statue is located in the Noge district of Yokohama. It depicts her in her debut film Kanashiki Kuchibue (The Sad Whistle 1949)
I’ve watched the movie many times because it shows the districts of Yokohama I often meander through during my daily walks in the city. Quite a contrast between the city during the early postwar years and today. To give a flavor of what life was like in those long ago years, John Carroll, a long-time observer of Japan and the Japanese in his book Trails of Two Cities encapsulated the atmosphere and color of the Noge district in which Misora Hibari gained recognition as a singer and entertainer.
“At the height of the black market there were 445 stalls on the main road alone, each of which had to pay a fee to the local oyabun, Higo Morizo. They offered black market food that had made its way there from Occupation warehouses and trash cans. Koreans and Chinese who had their own sources of food and the power that stemmed from it sometimes threw their weight around, although gang warfare such as developed in Kobe between Korean and Japan yakuza never really became a problem in Yokohama, perhaps because it was the center of the Occupation and there were too many MPs around. That does not mean Noge could not get rough at times. Kujira Yoko-cho (Whale Alley) near Sakuragi-cho was a killing grounds reminiscent of Bloodtown and other rough quarters of Yokohama’s wild early days. MPs came here every morning to check for dead bodies. Higo himself was knifed to death in 1954 just after the Occupation had come to an end. But Noge was also the place where the Japanese came to enjoy an apres guerre culture characterised by pornography, violence, and a desire to get by without regrets. Here a young singer named Kato Kazue made her debut at eight and soon was wowing standing room-only audiences at Noge’s Yokohama Kokusai Gekijo and big clubs in Isezaki-cho. By the age of twelve she had become nationally famous under the name Misora Hibari.
Japan’s answer to Edith Piaff later built a huge a mansion with swimming pool in Isogo, where she grew up.”John Carroll, Trails of Two Cities, Kodansha International, Tokyo, 1994 pp.78-79
Of the many songs she recorded the one that struck a chord in my father’s heart was Shina no Yoru (China Nights) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63mZal2YNO0
My father along with many other GIs stationed in Japan during the Occupation Period remember the haunting melody even though they could not understand the words. (For an interesting insight to the song refer to the blog:) http://ceintsdebakelite.com/2011/09/26/watanabe-hamako-shina-no-yoru-china-night-she-aint-got-no-yoyo/
The statue is my favorite of all the statues I come across during my walks. When I look at her dressed in the costume, I recall my father saying, “Some day, Kermit, you should come to Japan.” “Well, I’m here now, Dad.”