My Japanese teacher explained a while back that Japanese women join the workforce to find a husband. Once married, they become housewives.
It’s that cultural factoid that colors the news of Hajime Chitose’s announcement that she was going on hiatus. In early 2004, she announced her marriage to a restaurant manager, and she is expecting her first child.
Examples abound of women singers who resume their careers after having children — Namie Amuro, UA, Shiina Ringo, Mikami Chisako of fra-foa.
But music wasn’t Hajime’s first career choice. She chased away label representatives to become a beautician, only to discover she was allergic to the chemicals in haircare products.
So perhaps too much can be read into the release of the live album Fuyu no Hainumikaze. The nearly two-hour, two-disc set offers a broad overview of Hajime’s career thus far — hit singles, coupling songs, album tracks, songs from the indie days.
The only thing that would make it more complete would be some traditional shimauta. (It’s criminal those earliest recordings aren’t more readily available.)
Her cover songs are missing as well, but it’s no great loss, considering the arrangements never suited Hajime’s voice in the first place.
This kind of retrospective, especially with such a wide scope, is usually given to artists at the end of their career. And man would it suck were that the case.
Because as Hajime ably demonstrates on this album, her voice is no fluke. Maybe here and there, she flubs a note, but her expressive power comes through as clearly in live performance as it does in the studio.
It’s also a testament to her producers and collaborators — though considered a pop singer, Hajime performs material richer and far more difficult than the stuff cranked out for idols.
For the most part, Hajime’s band sticks to the arrangements in the studio, but the midpoint of the album provides some departures.
Taiko drums provide the primary accompaniment on “Shooryoo”, while “Kono Machi” features only Hajime and a piano.
Some songs actually sound better here than on their original release. “Getsurei 17.4” always felt out of place on Nomad Soul, but on this album, it fits nicely.
And the inclusion of some coupling tracks — “Byakuya”, “Sanpo no Susume” and “Hummingbird” — brings up the question why they were relegated to singles instead of included on albums.
Fuyu no Hainumikaze covers a lot of ground, and by the end of it, you can’t help but feel exhausted.
But it also leaves you hungering for more. Hajime may choose to conform to cultural norms and lead a private life after her child arrives. This album provides a great review of her accomplishments, while documenting the depth of her talent.
Let’s also hope I’m just reading way too much into it.