Enka is a Japanese popular music genre. Although considered to resemble traditional music stylistically, modern enka is a relatively recent musical form which arose in the context of such postwar expressions of modern Japanese nonmaterial nationalism as Nihonjinron, while adopting a more traditional musical style than Japanese prewar popular ryuukouka music.
The term "enka" was first used to refer to political texts set to music which were sung and distributed by opposition activists belonging to the Freedom and People's Rights Movement during the Meiji period (1868～1912) as a means of bypassing government curbs on speeches of political dissent and in this sense the word is derived from "enzetsu no uta" (演説の歌), meaning "speech song".
Modern enka, as developed in the postwar era, is a form of popular ballad music. Some of the first modern enka singers were Hachiro Kasuga, Michiya Mihashi and Hideo Murata. One theory holds that modern enka means "enjiru uta" (演じる歌), meaning "performance song". The revival of enka in its modern form is said to date from 1969, when Keiko Fuji made her debut.
One of earliest Japanese songs which used modern enka's mainstream scale called "Yonanuki Tan-Onkai" (ヨナ抜き短音階) or "Minor Scale without Four and Seven (re and so)" was said to be Rentarou Taki's song "Koujou no tsuki", which was called "shouka" (唱歌) or "school song" in the Meiji Period. There was not the seventh scale degree in the B minor song "Koujou no tsuki". The scale was a modified version of "Yonanuki Chou-Onkai" (ヨナ抜き長音階) or "Major Scale without Four and Seven (fa and shi)", which came from one of Japanese previous scales, "Ryo Scale" (呂音階, Ryo Onkai).
The music, based on the pentatonic scale, has some resemblance to blues. Enka lyrics are usually about the themes of love and loss, loneliness, enduring hardships, and persevering in the face of difficulties, even suicide or death. The music is different from kayoukyoku, which has a lack of expression of feeling.
Archetypal enka singers employ a similar style of vibrato known as kobushi. The voice accents of singers are commonly, but mistakenly, regarded as kobushi by enka fans. The true kobushi technique is that the pitch of the singer's voice fluctuates within one scale degree. The difference between vibrato and kobushi is that vibrato is the regular cycle, unlike the fluctuation of kobushi. The kobushi technique is not limited to Japan, as you can hear in Italian song "Santa Lucia". In Showa 10s (1935～1944), the music of composer Masao Koga began to resemble shomyo possibly because his record label asked him for production of mersh music. Although Koga became a composer whose work is considered seminal for the creation of this genre, present enka is different from primary music of Koga because the singing styles of many postwar singers were different from the kobushi of Koga's musical note.
Enka suggests a traditional, idealized, or romanticized aspect of Japanese culture and attitudes. Enka singers, who are predominantly women, usually perform in a kimono or in evening dress. Male enka performers tend to wear formal dress, or in some performances, traditional Japanese attire. Nods to traditional Japanese music are common in enka. The melodies of enka are fundamentally Western harmonies, but its musical instruments include shakuhachi and shamisen, making it more Japanese.