Luis Alposta

Fujisawa - Teatime with Ranko Fujisawa

mong the Japanese singers that were attracted by tango, Ranko Fujisawa deserves a special chapter. I met her in the afternoon of February 12, 1980, at the Ten Roses Café of Tokyo. At that rendezvous, while we had tea, Ranko told me that that one would be the first interview that an Argentine would make to her in her country.

Born with a name that in Japanese means “orchid flower in a lake of wisterias”, she devoted herself to the study of singing and piano playing until age 18 because her parents expected her to be an opera singer.

During the war with her family she had to flee to Manchuria. On their comeback, after the peace treaty was signed, the Fujisawas had to face hard times, true miserable times.

«Then I started to work at an American club where I used to sing classical songs but the money I got was scarcely enough for food. So I began to delve into other music genres: Japanese popular songs, jazz tunes and some Hawaiian numbers. By the time I was 24 I had already included in my songbook some melodies of European tangos. But I was only conquered by Argentine tango when for the first time I heard “La cumparsita” played by the Orquesta Típica Tokyo. After being so deeply touched I decided that I had to sing that music».

Ranko got in touch with Masahico Takayama, an important tango collector and author of two books about the subject who made her listen to records by Azucena Maizani, Mercedes Simone, Ada Falcón, Libertad Lamarque, Hugo del Carril and Carlos Gardel.

«In order to achieve the true intonation of Argentine tango I studied, at the beginning, with Jorge Minoru Matoba, a specialist in Latin American music and, indeed, tango».

By that time when she still sang with an orchestra that included, mainly, European melodies in its repertory, Ranko married to Shimpei Hayakawa, leader of the Orquesta Típica Tokyo, who would soon made her join his orchestra so that she would sing tangos in Spanish.

«The first tango I sang was “Caminito”». According to what Matoba told me she sang backed by the orchestra that her husband conducted onboard an Argentine frigate in 1948. «When World War II was over, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan, general MacArthur, supplied Japan with free food to keep the public order. And among the foreign countries, it was the Argentine Navy the first to send two freight ships loaded with wheat. To thank the officers of the crew a country meeting was held at the official residence of the governor of the Prefecture of Kanagawa.

«This took place in June 1948 in the official residence of Yokohama where a large amount of debris was found in the streets which had been bombed and a large number of soldiers of the American army. The governor Iwataro Uchiyama had been, before the war, the plenipotentiary minister of Japan to Argentina. To have fun in the meeting from the far distant Tokyo on a truck I drove there the female singer Ranko Fujisawa and her future husband Shimpei Hayakawa who fronted the Orquesta Típica Tokyo. I wanted that the Argentine Navy men knew the fact that even when Japan had been defeated in war, tango was safe and sound in this country».

«In fact, the officers and sailors that listened to Ranko that day were amazed, and then I asked the captain of the ship if he could make arrangements so that she would sing in Argentina. This caused that, years later, Ranko and her husband Shimpei Hayakawa were invited to Argentina to sing tangos, helping that way, through music, to improve even more, the Japan-Argentine friendship ties».

In 1950 she made her debut with the Orquesta Típica Tokyo at the Ciro Club in Ginza, and one or two years later she cut her first recording for the Victor-Japan label.

When I asked her about her visit to Buenos Aires, Ranko smiled and after slightly half-closing her eyelids, maybe to bring back her memories with more ease, she answered me: «I travelled for the first time to Argentina in the mid-August 1953. I went as a simple tourist, accompanied by my husband, and I intended to stay a couple of days because Buenos Aires was only a stop in a tour that included Hawaii, the United States, Mexico and other countries. But my stay was extended for two months, mainly by chance: at the Ezeiza airport Mr.Landi was waiting for me. He was director of the short wave radio station SIRA and he had heard me sing on Japanese radio broadcastings. He suggested that I would appear before the Buenos Aires audiences. He insisted on that so much that, finally, I agreed and he made me appear, accompanied by Aníbal Troilo and Roberto Grela, at the Discépolo Theater. The president of the republic, Juan Domingo Perón, went to that performance and the numbers with greater acclaim were “Sur”, “Yira yira” and “Una lágrima tuya”.»

That evening, Troilo welcomed her with words that still today, more than thirty years ago, touch Ranko. Pichuco’s voice comes to us through an old recording:

«With something of Malena or Estercita, she projects in Buenos Aires her oriental charm, to make us know that there, quite far from here, under a moon of an Orient dressed with pagodas, the sweet thing of ours is breathed. That same thing she found along Chiclana or Boedo, old San Juan and Boedo, the same one of the lengues and the heel giving the roses of the eights on the poor patios with grapevines and bricks. A message from Japan that here comes, carrying an embrace, in this little figure of woman ran away, maybe, from a Pierre Loti’s tale. A message that I pick up in my people’s name and that my bandoneon and my soul want to be an echo for it. Welcome girl, Buenos Aires, my fatherland, tango and I say you are ours and we keep a place in the purest corner of the riverbank for you. Tonight, your shining oblique eyes bring us the thrill with the key of your Japanese voice up to the core of our native essence. A bandoneon and a guitar salute you in our fatherland’s name.»

That successful performance arose such interest that several radio stations of the city fought for hiring Ranko. Finally, the director of Radio Splendid made the Japanese singer appear for a month on that radio station.

«I sang with the background of the staff orchestra of the radio station conducted by Víctor Buchino and returned to Japan with a new contract for two more months for the following year. In 1954 I sang again on Splendid accompanied by the same orchestra. But on that occasion I also appeared at the Teatro Nacional, at several clubs and in a show on Channel 7. That same year I recorded in Buenos Aires for the T.K. label the numbers “Nostalgias”, “Mama, yo quiero un novio”, “La morocha” and other pieces on which the Troilo Orchestra backed me up but without the maestro.»

Ranko travelled to Argentina for the third time in 1956. On that occasion she premiered “Recuerdos de Buenos Aires”, a piece with words by Enrique Cadícamo and music by Shimpei Hayakawa, her husband. Also in 1956 she published in Japan, an autobiography entitled “Una extranjera en el tango” (A foreigner in tango).

Alposta, Ranko and Shimpei Hayakawa

«My last travel to your country was in 1964. At that time I appeared with the Orquesta Típica Tokyo led by my husband. Also Ikuo Abo and Hideko Auki sang. We made a ten-month tour of other South American countries. Thereafter I went on singing in my country until, in 1970, I quit show business for good... That does not mean I have forgotten tango: I sing it in reunions with friends or, sometimes, alone, at home. Those who have sensed in their veins that passionate beat will never forget it at all.»

So my interview to Ranko at the Ten Roses Cafe ended. I saw her again when, in February 1981, she reappeared before the Japanese public, accompanied, then, by the great Horacio Salgán. In June that same year we met again, but this time in Buenos Aires. We celebrated our meeting by dining together.

The Orquesta Típica Tokio split in 1971 and his leader passed away of cancer in 1984.

Thanks to my friend Mamoru, I know that her last show was on September 6, 1991 and that after she moved to the city of Nagaoka, 300 km far from Tokyo.