From The Archives: The “Predicament” Strikes Again! – An Oku Hanako playlist [2013-01-10]

If you haven’t already done so, please read the backstory.
Update: for more Oku Hanako, visit Thoughts on Oku Hanako, my blog dedicated to her.

I got another “attack” of the “Predicament” back in January, and it was sparked by stumbling upon Solarblade’s reviews on Oku Hanako’s singles and albums. He recommended many songs, all of which I probably listened to. I don’t agree with his takes on some of the songs, though, and that’s probably because I actually like her piano ballads; Solarblade seems to be more of the pop type.

Later on, I found Oku Hanako’s JpopAsia page and discography, giving me more songs to look up. Of course, the only official discography is on her official website, but that’s in Japanese and doesn’t include her really early indies works (most of which can be found on her album [2005]). I found that the only comprehensive discography is at the fan site 奥華子さんの歌詞を掲載するサイト (, which also includes the lyrics for almost all her songs.

As a result, I ended up increasing my song count from 14 to 36, and then to 47 about four weeks later. Heh heh….
Recall that I had the condition that for every Oku Hanako song I get, I would get one of Peter Cetera. I changed it. Instead of one-for-one, the condition is now that Oku Hanako’s songs cannot outnumber Peter Cetera’s solo works, partly because I started running out of his songs and partly because Oku Hanako had become a welcomed artist in my music library.

Perhaps part of the initial appeal was that her songs reminded me of those by some of my favourite artists: Peter Cetera, Phil Collins, Side A, Jim Brickman, Jose Mari Chan, Les Horribles Cernettes, and a few others.

Guess what? March 20 is Oku Hanako’s birthday! This playlist is just in time!

Listening Advice:
Since you most likely don’t understand Japanese, my recommendation for the best listening experience is to listen for the subtleties: the layering, the quiet notes, etc. The music students should know what I mean. Just don’t strain yourself in doing so. Also, it helps if your surroundings are quiet and you have good speakers/headphones, especially with the slow songs.
In short, just immerse yourself in the song.

  1. Garnet (Hikigatari) / ガーネット (弾き語り) (2006)
    Garnet is the theme song for the movie The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It is what most Westerners who listen to her start with. Actually, even for the Japanese: Garnet is the song that got her famous!
    There’s also an arranged version with strings and drums, but I think the added flourish is a bit distracting.
    By the way, Hikigatari means that it’s just her and her piano; it means “singing to one’s own accompaniment“.

  1. Kawaranai Mono / 変わらないもの (2006)
    This is the insert song of the same movie. It’s a lot more involved than Garnet arrangement-wise.
    A YouTube poster (I can’t seem to find it again mokade3) said that these two songs were twins: Garnet is from the female character’s viewpoint, and Kawaranai Mono is from the male character’s viewpoint.
    I prefer this over Garnet, and I dare say this is my favourite of her songs. Like Peter Cetera’s Glory of Love, I could listen to this all day! Come to think of it, I have, more than once!

  2. Meiro / 迷路 (2008)
    A medium-paced song. It seems to combines a lot of her typical elements. There’s even an electric guitar. You don’t find that in typical J-pop, now do you? ;)

  3. Garasu no Hana / ガラスの花 (2010)
    Garasu no Hana is the theme song for the video game Tales of Phantasia: Narikiri Dungeon X (pronounced “cross”). The song is very involved, arranged with a strong melody and supporting accompaniment. Her voice fits quite nicely, too. I almost wanted to cry when I first heard this because I was overwhelmed with the amount of energy in this song. You know something’s up given that this only happens with Peter Cetera’s songs. It’s just so very well done!

  4. Hane / (2010).
    An uncanny song with a bit of a folkish feel to it. This is the insert song for the aforementioned video game.
    If you can get over the similarity with Kawaranai Mono, it’s a very nice song to listen to.
    By the way, YouTube has a lot of songs, but it doesn’t have everything. That’s what I have Google Video for.

  5. Shiroi Ashiato / 白い足跡 (2006)
    “White Footprints”. I can’t quite tell if this is in a major or minor key.

  6. Kimi no Sora / きみの空 (2006)
    I honestly don’t know how I found this one. I probably found a YouTube playlist or was looking for another song.
    It has a nice addition of the drums and triangle. Synth drums would usually deter me (in part because I’m a percussionist), but apparently not in this case.

  7. Shiawase no Kagami / しあわせの鏡 (2008)
    “Mirror of Happiness”. This is a very moving song! If there’s one song for which you should take my listening advice, it’s this one.

  8. Kimi no Egao / 君の笑顔 (2011)
    Her voice really helps Kimi no Egao be gentle and pleasant-sounding.
    There’s also the album version, which is a little more upbeat and sounds re-sung. I think the Hikigatari version is better because it directs energy in a direction instead of spreading it out through the strings and drums as the album version does.
    Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems that she borrows some elements, perhaps subconsciously, from her indies song Namida no Iro (涙の色).

  9. Anata ni Suki to Iwaretai / あなたに好きと言われたい (2008)
    Anata ni Suki to Iwaretai stands out as one of her few songs whose original version doesn’t start with her playing the piano. A lot of energy is packed into this one, and it even has a guitar solo. Like I said: you can hardly call this your typical J-pop.
    She also released a Hikigatari version on her 2009 album BIRTHDAY, but I can’t seem to find it. I wonder how well that went; the piano plays an important but subtle role in this song, and it’s really the other instruments that put this together.

  10. Cinderella / シンデレラ (2012)
    One of her more recent upbeat A-Sides. When I first heard this, it reminded me of my uncle’s Italian pop songs (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing).

  11. Sonna Fuu ni Shika Ienai Kedo / そんな風にしか言えないけど (2006)
    A cute and fun song to end the playlist with.

I still haven’t quite figured out why I like her so much. Her voice is definitely a factor. Her poetry is nothing to sneeze at either, but I can’t fully appreciate it because I don’t understand Japanese. It’s also quite admirable that she writes, composes, and performs all her songs herself. I’m not sure if she still does it now, but she used to perform in the subways even after she became famous, just like she used to do before signing with Pony Canyon. Also, if you really think about it, playing the piano and singing at the same time is tough!
Maybe I’m just a sucker for piano, but I like to think that I’ve found someone truly exceptional.

Happy Birthday, Oku Hanako-san!

APPENDIX A: Bonus Tracks

  1. TAKOYAKI (2012)
    A very cute tune. Perhaps it would help if you know that takoyaki is a popular Japanese snack. An octopus dumpling, if you will.

  2. Kusabi / (2005)
    One of her indies songs, and one of my original 14. For some reason, this stood out more in the second wave of songs.

  3. Hatsukoi / 初恋 (2010)
    A sad and touching song. The title translates to “first love”.

  4. Chiisana Hoshi / 小さな星 (2004)
    There are actually a few versions of this song floating around: indie, live, single, and Yasumi. This is the indie version, which I say is superior to the rest.

  5. Happy Days (Album Mix Version) (2009)
    Another upbeat song. This is the album mix version found on her album BIRTHDAY. The original was on her 2009 single Waratte Waratte, but I can’t seem to find that one.

APPENDIX B: Tips for finding foreign songs

It can be quite tricky sometimes to find foreign songs on the Web. When looking for foreign songs on YouTube, try searching with the Romanized name first. If that fails, then use the original name in the original language. If YouTube is useless, search elsewhere! Google Video is one such place where you can start.

This definitely won’t be the last playlist for Oku Hanako; after all, I do have 47 too many songs!
Definitely not; I have a whole blog dedicated to her now.
(if someone asks, I’ll post the song titles)

  1. Nassar Khan said:


  2. Regarding the “upbeat” Cinderella song, as you described. I think that many of her upbeat songs sound like Stevie Wonder in the 1970s. On this one YouTube video from Japanese TV, Oku-san was being interviewed pre-concert, on stage during a sound check. They were playing Stevie Wonder over the loudspeakers during the soundcheck.

    • At the time when I sent this email, it was the most “upbeat” song I had (along with Happy Days). Since then, I’ve gotten more upbeat songs, like Ichibanboshi. Some of her other upbeat songs are a little too “pop” for my tastes, especially those with synth drums, but it seems that I might actually grow to like them: I just listened to a few and I didn’t mind them that much (either that, or I’m just really tired).
      Do you suppose you can find that video again?

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