Hikawa Kiyoshi
Before Debut

Just when it seemed that enka was going to sink to an all-time low in the popularity charts, a fresh new face has brought enka back into headlines. The singer in question is the 24-year-old Hikawa Kiyoshi.

Hikawa Kiyoshi was born in Fukuoka Perfecture in 1977. There are lots of young guys out there just waiting to be scouted as singers, most of them hoping to belong to Johnny's Jimusho or some other production company that keeps on churning out groups of cute boys whom they transform into the idol flavour of the month. If their looks or talents don't suit pop, then they are channelled into some other genre. But the appeal of Hikawa Kiyoshi is that he could very well be a pop singer if he wanted, because he has both the looks and the voice, but he has chosen to become an enka singer because he loves enka.

Since childhood his hobby has been drawing pictures. They are mostly rather melancholy, black and white, psychedelic type compositions full of detail, and usually include hearts, the word "love", tears and figures of aliens. Definetly, quiet the mysterious fellow.

The super-slim Hikawa Kiyoshi says that he decided he wanted to be a singer from his first year in high school. However, he has never been good at sports and at that time he was overweight and was bullied for being fat. In order to achieve his dream he dieted, and cut out all sweets and oily food, and then after he lost weight he started to apply for auditions.

At his school he joined an entertainment club and his teacher suggested he try enka. When he did, he found that he liked it. He says he felt the lyrics were warm. As a club member he made more than 20 visits to sing at old people's homes. He says that they often cried when they listened to him and that moved him. That was when he decided that if he could give people courage and cheer them up by singing, then he determine to be an enka singer.

Kiyoshi was serious about learning enka. In his school club, the members of the enka section had dwindled to six, five girls and Kiyoshi, but he continued for 3 years, never once missing a lesson or being late. Even in winter, Kiyoshi arrived at the school first, put the heating on and waited for his teacher, Honma Shigeyoshi. Honma said that Kiyoshi is always very respectful to older people, listens to them intently and does that they ask. Not everyone praised his dedication, though, and he was thoroughly teased by other students for his interest in enka, which is widely considered to be middle-aged people's music, and not something to be sung seriously by a teenager.

While at school he started to enter karaoke competitions and often won. He received many different prizes which he mostly gave to his mother, such as electriacl equipment, a TV, video, furniture and travel vouchers. Then on the 23rd of December, 1995, he appeared on an NHK program called "BS Kayo Juku Anata Ga Ichiban", in which amateur singers appear and a famous composer or lyricist gives them a lesson in front of the TV cameras, correcting their mistakes and suggesting how they can improve. At that time the teacher on Hikawa's program was Mr. Mizumori. After the program, Mr Mizumori told Kiyoshi to contact him after he had graduated from high school.

Immediately after leaving school, Kiyoshi contacted Mr Mizumori and told him that he wanted to be his deshi ( student ). For the first year, he did nothing but voice training. Kiyoshi supported himself while taking lessons by doing part-time jobs, such as working as a waiter and a cook in a restaurant. He lived in a separate apartment but acvted as a kind of secretary cum housekeeper when the teacher away. His duties included taking phone calls, looking after Mizumori's children, naking meals and washing the car.

Mr Mizumori recalls that to his embarrassment, even before Kiyoshi's debut had been decided, kiyoshi went around all the shopkeepers in the local area asking them to support him and buy his records. He was handing out flyers and campaigning even before he had a record to sell! Kiyoshi's anxiety to get on with his career almost drove him toquit his dream. in the second year as Mizumori's student, he had been told that he would be able to make his debut, and had even told his mother that it would be soon, but it didn't happen. The timing wasn't right; enka wasn't selling and even some established singers were struggling. Kiyoshi was frastrated and his parents urged him to return home. However, he stuck it out and finally, in the third year, the president of his present company gave him the go-ahead.

Having at last made his debut, the next hurdle that Kiyoshi had to overcome was his debut record itself. When he first heard the song, he says that he thought the lyrics were very long and he didn't understand them. In order to get the feel for the song and the image behind it he watched a lot of videos and films. Kiyoshi says that "Hakone Hachi Ri no Hanjiro" was a very old kind of song and therefore had a "retro" feel about it to him, and thus it seemed very fresh.

Hikawa's real family name is Yamada. He was named "Hikawa" by Kitano Takeshi who was one of the 2 actors before Hikawa's performance at Kohaku Utagassen on 31 December, 2000. Mr. Kitano used "Hikawa" because there is a "Hikawa Jinja" ( Hikawa Shrine ) near Kiyoshi's record company, Nippon Columbia Co., Ltd., in Akasaka, Tokyo. ( Address of Hikawa Jinja : 6-10-12 Akasaka, Minato, Tokyo, Japan, 107-0052 )

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