Hibari Misora

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Hibari Misora
Misora Hibari.JPG
Hibari Misora in 1953
加藤 和枝 (Katō Kazue)

May 29, 1937
DiedJune 24, 1989(1989-06-24) (aged 52)
OccupationSinger, Actress
Musical career
Years active1945–1989
Japanese name
Kanji美空 ひばり
Hiraganaみそら ひばり

Hibari Misora (美空 ひばり, Misora Hibari, May 29, 1937 – June 24, 1989) was a Japanese singer, actress and cultural icon.[1][2] She received a Medal of Honor for her contributions to music and for improving the welfare of the public, and was the first woman to receive the People's Honour Award, which was conferred posthumously for giving the public hope and encouragement after World War II.[3][4]

Misora recorded a total of 1,200 songs and sold 68 million records.[5] After she died, consumer demand for her recordings grew significantly, and, by 2001, she had sold more than 80 million records.[6][7] Her swan-song "Kawa no Nagare no Yō ni" (川の流れのように) is often performed by numerous artists and orchestras as a tribute to her, including notable renditions by The Three Tenors (Spanish/Italian), Teresa Teng (Taiwanese) and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan (Mexican).

Each year there is a special on Japanese television and radio featuring her songs. A memorial concert for Misora was held at the Tokyo Dome on November 11, 2012. It featured numerous musicians such as Ai, Koda Kumi, Ken Hirai, Kiyoshi Hikawa, Exile, AKB48 and Nobuyasu Okabayashi amongst others, paying tribute by singing her most famous songs.[3]


Life and career[edit]

Misora was born Kazue Katō (加藤 和枝, Katō Kazue) in Isogo-ku, Yokohama, Japan. Her father was Masukichi Katō (加藤 増吉, Katō Masukichi), a fishmonger, and her mother Kimie Katō (加藤 喜美枝, Katō Kimie), a housewife. Misora displayed musical talent from an early age after singing for her father at a World War II send-off party in 1943. He invested a small fortune taken from the family's savings to begin a musical career for his daughter. In 1945 she debuted at a concert hall in Yokohama, at the age of eight. At the same time, she changed her last name, Katō, to Misora (美空, lit. "beautiful sky"), at the suggestion of her mother. A year later, she appeared on a NHK broadcast, and impressed the Japanese composer Masao Koga with her singing ability. He considered her to be a prodigy with the courage, understanding, and emotional maturity of an adult. In the following two years, she became an accomplished singer and was touring notable concert halls to sold-out crowds.

Her recording career began, aged 12, in 1949. She changed her stage name to Hibari Misora, which means "lark in the beautiful sky," and starred in the film Nodojiman-kyō jidai (のど自慢狂時代). The film gained her nationwide recognition. She recorded her first single Kappa Boogie-Woogie (河童ブギウギ, Kappa bugiugi) for Columbia Records later that year.[8] It became a commercial hit, selling more than 450,000 copies. She subsequently recorded "Kanashiki kuchibue", which was featured on a radio program and was a national hit.[8] As an actress, she starred in around 160 movies from 1949 until 1971, and won numerous awards. Her performance in Tokyo Kid (1950), in which she played a street orphan, made her symbolic of both the hardship and the national optimism of post-World War II Japan.[9]

On January 13, 1957, Misora was attacked with hydrochloric acid, and injured in Asakusa International Theater. The attacker was described as an overly enthusiastic fan of hers.

In 1962, Misora married actor Akira Kobayashi. They divorced in 1964.

In 1973 Tetsuya Katō, Misora's brother, was prosecuted for gang-related activity. Although NHK did not acknowledge any connection, Misora was excluded from Kōhaku Uta Gassen for the first time in 18 years.[8] She then refused to appear on NHK for years afterwards.[8]

In 1978, she adopted a 7-year-old boy, Kazuya Kato.

In 1981, on the 35th year anniversary of her debut she performed a recital at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo.

Illness and death[edit]

In April 1987, on her way to a performance in Fukuoka, Misora suddenly collapsed. She was rushed to a hospital in Fukuoka, where she was diagnosed with avascular necrosis brought on by chronic hepatitis. She eventually showed signs of recovery in August. Misora commenced recording a new song in October, and in April 1988 performed at her comeback concert at Tokyo Dome.[citation needed]

Misora died from pneumonia on June 24, 1989, aged 52, at a hospital in Tokyo. Her death was widely mourned throughout Japan.

Beginning in 1990, television and radio stations annually play her song "Kawa no Nagare no Yō ni" (川の流れのように) on her birth-date to show respect. In a national poll by NHK in 1997, the song was voted the greatest Japanese song of all time by more than 10 million people.


In 1994, the Hibari Misora Museum opened in Arashiyama, Kyoto. This multistorey building traced the history of Misora's life and career in multi-media exhibits, and displayed various memorabilia. It attracted more than 5 million visitors, until its closedown on November 30, 2006, as to allow a scheduled reconstruction of the building. The main exhibits were moved into the Shōwa period section of the Edo-Tokyo Museum, until reconstruction was complete. The new Hibari Misora Theater opened on April 26, 2008, and includes a CD for sale of a previously unreleased song.[10] A bronze statue of her debut was built as a memorial in Yokohama in 2002, and attracts around 300,000 visitors each year.[11]


A monument depicting Hibari's portrait with an inscribed poem was erected in her memory near Sugi no Osugi in Ōtoyo, Kōchi. In 1947 Hibari Misora, at the age of 10 years, was involved in a traffic accident in Ōtoyo, Kōchi. While recovering from injuries she stayed in the town and reportedly visited Sugi no Osugi and wished to become a famous singer. She returned to Tokyo, where her recording career began in 1949.[12]

Portrayals in media[edit]

After Hibari's death in 1989, a TBS television drama special aired in the same year by the name of The Hibari Misora Story (美空ひばり物語), where Misora was portrayed by Kayoko Kishimoto.

Her voice became focused on in September 2019, after it was used for a version of the Vocaloid engine known as "VOCALOID:AI", which tried to recreate her singing vocals. The performance also used a full 3D rendering of the singer.[13][14][15]

Question of Korean ancestry[edit]

Hibari Misora's ancestry has been a matter of dispute.[16] There are assertions that she was of ethnic Korean ancestry, and that she and her family held Korean passports. This claim spread around widely.[17][18][19][20][8] After her death in 1989, author Rō Takenaka and journalist Tsukasa Yoshida investigated Misora's background, confirming that she was not Korean, but Japanese.[21][22][23]

Notable songs[edit]

  • Kappa Boogie Woogie (河童ブギウギ, 1949)
  • Kanashiki Kuchibue (悲しき口笛, 1949)
  • Tokyo Kiddo (東京キッド, 1950)
  • Echigo Jishi No Uta (越後獅子の唄, 1950)
  • Omatsuri Mambo (お祭りマンボ, 1952)
  • Ringo Oiwake (リンゴ追分, 1952)
  • Minatomachi 13-banchi (港町十三番地, 1957)
  • Hanagasa Dōchū (花笠道中, 1957)
  • Yawara (, 1964)
  • Kanashii Sake (悲しい酒, 1966)
  • Makkana Taiyō (真赤な太陽, 1967)
  • Jinsei Ichiro (人生一路, 1970)
  • Aisansan (愛燦燦(あいさんさん), 1986)
  • Midaregami (みだれ髪, 1987)
  • Kawa no nagare no yō ni (川の流れのように, 1989)
  • Arekara (あれから, 2019; posthumous)[24]


Japanese movie poster for Kanashiki kuchibue (1949) showing Hibari Misora.

Hibari Misora appeared in 166 films:[25]


(1940s complete)


Japanese movie poster for Haha wo shitaite (1951) featuring Hibari Misora.

(1950s is complete)

1960s – 1980s[edit]

Songs in films[edit]

Her songs also appeared in 5 Japanese films:[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "NHKは何を伝えてきたか−NHKテレビ番組の50年". Nhk.or.jp. Archived from the original on April 7, 2015. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  2. ^ "Top 100 Japanese pops Artists – No.5|HMV ONLINE". Hmv.co.jp. November 26, 2003. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  3. ^ a b "| a-ticket(エーチケット)". Avexlive.jp. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  4. ^ "国民栄誉賞受賞者リスト". Hyou.net. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  5. ^ https://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DE7DA1E3EF936A15755C0A96F948260 New York Times obituary June 25, 1989
  6. ^ "Nippon Columbia Co., Ltd. | History". Columbia.jp. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  7. ^ "hontoネットストア – 美空ひばり大全集 20世紀の宝石 全歌詩集録/ドレミ楽譜出版社編集部 – 本". Bk1.jp. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d e Anderson, Mark (2001). Sandra Buckley (ed.). Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture. Routledge. pp. 123, 323–4. ISBN 978-0-415-14344-8.
  9. ^ Tansman, Alan (1996). "Mournful tears and sake: The postwar myth of Misora Hibari". In John Whittier Treat (ed.). Contemporary Japan and Popular Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0-8248-1854-7.
  10. ^ 日本コロムビア. "Columbia Music Entertainment, Inc" (PDF). Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ 高知県観光コンベンション. "Misora Hibari Poem". attaka.or.jp. Retrieved January 21, 2016.
  13. ^ "美空ひばりの新曲ライブの実現を支援 あの歌声を当社最新の歌声合成技術『VOCALOID:AI™』で再現 「NHKスペシャル AIでよみがえる美空ひばり(仮)」に技術協力 | VOCALOID ( ボーカロイド・ボカロ ) 公式サイト". vocaloid.com. September 3, 2019.
  14. ^ "なんといっても #AI美空ひばり さんの新曲ステージ。 フルコーラスでお聞かせする。 生演奏のステージで、ゆったりと歩みだし、観客を見つめ歌い始める・・・ その瞬間、会場は時が巻き戻されたような、 もしくは、30年の時をこえひばりさんが復活したかのような不思議な雰囲気に包まれました。pic.twitter.com/7Y1lAoZQy3". September 29, 2019.[non-primary source needed]
  15. ^ "AIでよみがえる美空ひばり". http://www6.nhk.or.jp. September 3, 2019. External link in |website= (help)
  16. ^ Yano, Christine R. (2004). "Raising the ante of desire: foreign female singers in a Japanese pop music world". In B. Shoesmith (ed.). Refashioning Pop Music in Asia: Cosmopolitan Flows, Political Tempos, and Aesthetic Industries. Routledge. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-7007-1401-8.
  17. ^ Dorian, Frederick (1999). World Music. Rough Guide. p. 148. ISBN 978-1-85828-636-5.
  18. ^ Lie, John (2000). "Ordinary (Korean) Japanese". In Sonia Ryane (ed.). Koreans in Japan. Routledge. p. 2002. ISBN 978-0-415-21999-0.
  19. ^ Weiner, Michael (2004). Race, ethnicity and migration in modern Japan. Routledge Press. p. 167. ISBN 978-0-415-20854-3.
  20. ^ Wan, Foong Woei (August 13, 2006). "A touch of Korea". The Straits Times.
  21. ^ Shūkan Bunshun 「『美空ひばりの父は韓国人』はどこまで本当か」, August 10, 1989.
  22. ^ 美空ひばり時代を歌う (1989.7) ISBN 4-10-365402-3
  23. ^ http://www.goodsarchive.com/kakaku/4062098172.html[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ "Yamaha VOCALOID:AI™ Faithfully Reproduces Singing of Legendary Japanese Vocalist Hibari Misora". October 7, 2019. Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  25. ^ a b http://www.jmdb.ne.jp/person/p0331260.htm accessed January 20, 2009
  26. ^ "Watashi wa josei no. 1". IMDb.


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