The Itinerant Songstress – Yoshiko Yamaguchi – 天涯歌女 – 李香蘭

(Part IV a continuation from January 02, 2015 edition) by Benny Ko

Dr. Benny Ko

Dr. Benny Ko

Dr. Benny Ko is a native of Hong Kong. He is a retired radiologist and a long time residence of Indianapolis since the 1960’s. Dr. Ko is a frequent traveler and a very passionate hiker. He also serves as the lead organizer of the IACA hiking club. Dr. Ko enjoys sharing his adventures to others!



The Post-War Years.

Japan in 1946 was not a welcoming place to its hundreds of thousands of repatriated citizens, military and civilian alike, and probably the least of all, to a Manchurian born that hardly knows it as her own country. A wide swath of the land laid in ruins, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were totally destroyed, each by a single atomic bomb. In Tokyo, nearly a quarter of the city went up in flames, resulted from incendiary bombing by B-29s in the spring of 1945.
At this point, Li Xiang Lan no longer existed, the name had gone, along with its era, or was at least left behind forever on the Asian continent. In her place, an emergent Yoshiko Yamaguchi was determined to survive in a land of devastated buildings and shattered lives.

Li Xiang Lan   李香蘭

Li Xiang Lan 李香蘭

Under American military occupation, the Japanese people’s taste in arts and entertainment has also taken a distinct western turn. Yoshiko sang in a few concerts but her repertoire of pre-war Chinese and Japanese hit songs, along with a few operatic arias, was met with less than enthusiastic review. She then tried stage acting but success there was limited as well. Fortunately, with a resurging film industry, she was invited back on the silver screen in 1948. In a film called the “The Glorious Days of My Life,” she shed her former on-screen stereotype as a naive Chinese girl and played a young woman with awakened passions. It found critical acclaim. She had her first kissing scene on screen, possibly also the first in any Japanese film up to that time. By 1950, Yoshiko Yamaguchi was once again a household name in Japan. She was paired frequently with a new generation of male leads the likes of Toshiro Mifune, and the films are often directed by none other than the legendary Akira Kurosawa. Happiness, however, proved more elusive and did not complement her career success. For one thing, she became the sole supporter of the family following their repatriation from Beijing in 1948. The war and the years of detention have turned Fumio, once a loving father and scholarly gentleman, into a depressed and morosely drunkard, alternatively indifferent and abusive to his wife and children. During this period, Yoshiko was confronted repeatedly by her father’s debtors and only at great financial burden was she able to keep him out of jail. Eventually, her parents divorced. Later, Fumio Yamaguchi would die, alone and a broken man, arguably a victim of a turbulent life and a tragic era. On another front, in spite of public perception of her as a glamorous and adored diva, she was a lonely woman. Her first love, a young bodyguard once assigned to protect her from her fanatic fans in Tokyo, had joined the navy in the closing months of the war. He was reported to be missing in action in the Philippines, presumed to be one among the ten thousand Japanese marines that fought and killed in the Battle of Manila. In yet another love affair with the son of Yosuke Matsuoka, the war-time Minister of Foreign Affairs, the relationship never came to a meaningful conclusion. It might have to do with the disparity in family statures and the perceived lack of respectability in Yoshiko’s profession.
In 1950, Yoshiko was invited to sing in America at various Japanese-American communities. It did not take much deliberation for her to accept. To this young itinerant songstress, it is yet another opportunity to expand her horizon and to step away from a not so happy home front.
(Stay tuned for the American Years for 天涯歌女 – 李香蘭

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