The Sylvie Of The East
From the moment Chiyo Okumura made her singing debut in 1965 with "Watashi Wo Ai Shite," a cover of the Sylvie Vartan's "Car Tu T'en Vas" (from the Sylvie in Nashville album), she became known as the "Eastern Vartan." Perhaps it was her husky voice and good looks that linked Chiyo to France's most popular export. Whatever the reason, Chiyo claims that she had never heard Sylvie Vartan until the press began comparing the two pop singers. In a statement to the music press, Chiyo said: "It was after people began comparing me to Sylvie Vartan that I saw one of her music videos. But I'll tell you, my love for her was instant."
Much like Sylvie Vartan, Chiyo Okumura quickly became one of Japan's most popular girl singers whose career spanned over many decades. Born in 1947 in Kumamotoshi, a small town in Southern Japan, Chiyo got her first break during high school when she lent her voice to a commercial song for an energy drink called "Kinou, Kyou, Ashita" (Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow). Apparently someone at Watanabe Productions, a major talent scout agency that invested only in Japan's most gifted hopefuls, took notice of Chiyo's vocal prowess and signed the young singer to a recording deal with Toshiba Records. After her first three singles failed to rouse much attention, a conventional pop ditty called "Gomenne Jiro" (I'm sorry Jiro) gave Chiyo her first taste of success. "Gomenne Jiro" didn't deviate too much from the popular Japanese pop standards of the time- a time when young singers and songwriters made every attempt to mimic the styles of the America's more straight-laced pop stars-- Brenda Lee, Connie Francis, Doris Day, .....you get the picture.
Chiyo Okumura continued her output of fairly innocuous pop songs until The Ventures, America's favorite instrumental rock band, launched a tour of Japan in 1965, creating an electric rock frenzy that shook up the entire Japanese music industry. Already drenched in the traditional Japanese sound, The Ventures' "Hokkaido Skies" turned out to be an ideal match for Chiyo Okumura's deep, passionate voice. Chiyo Okumura's cover version became a massive chart-topper, but more importantly, it set the 20-year-old star on a path filled with sex and sophistication, leaving behind a prudish image and a less than spectacular collection of singles.
No longer the teenager donning short pig tails and a big smile on her EP covers, Chiyo Okumura ushered in the late sixties as a full-fledged sex kitten- sporting mini skirts, black boots, and bare skin. The collaboration with Japan's finest songwriters and producers such as Tsutsumi Kyohei and Kunihiko Suzuki prompted hugely successful years for Chiyo Okumura, namely 1969/ 1970 when a collaborative effort between lyricist Nakanishi Shitsu and songwriter Kunihiko Suzuki produced three hit singles known as the "Love Series." "Koi No Dorei" (Love Slave), the first in the series, is unquestionably the sexiest song to come out of Japan..... ever, and with lyrics that surpass even The Crystals "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)" on the brutality scale, the song flew to the top of the charts. On "Koi No Dorei," an unrestrained and passionate Chiyo insists that "When I'm bad, please beat me" and "I'll latch onto your knee like a puppy dog." Sadomasochism with style.
Chiyo Okumura had her biggest and last hit in December 1971 with "Shuchaku Eki" (Terminal Station), written by Keisuke Hama, who would later become Chiyo's husband. Although it would be her last chart-topping record, Chiyo Okumura never faded from the spotlight. At age 56, Chiyo continues to appear on television talk shows and music programs, as well as record the one-off single, as she did with fellow "kayou-pop" singer Fei Fei O'yung in 2001.