Chris Hart

A couple of years ago, Nihon Terebi (Japan TV) began broadcasting an offshoot of the long-running NHK programme Nodo-jiman. The original Nodo-jiman is a Gong Show-style singing contest in which ordinary folk from around the country are given the chance to perform with a live orchestra – posh karaoké, if you will – and for Nodo-jiman Za! Wahrudo (literally ‘Throat Boast The! World’, although the programme also goes by the more sensible, English-language name of ‘Song For Japan’), the difference is that while the songs are Japanese, the singers themselves are foreign.

Mrs M has a bit of a crush on two-time winner Nicholas Edwards – a twenty-one-year-old American with big blue eyes and even bigger hair – and the winner of the sixth show was a Londoner called Paul Ballard, but if you’re looking for genuine singing ability, the real star of Nodo-jiman Za! Wahrudo has been Chris Hart.

Hart was born in San Francisco into a musical family – his father is a jazz bassist and his mother a classical pianist and singer – and learned to play the oboe, clarinet, saxophone and flute while he was still a child. He began studying Japanese at the age of twelve, and the following year stayed for two weeks as an exchange student with a family in Tsukuba, Ibaraki. After graduating from university – where his studies combined his two great loves, music and Japanese – Hart applied for jobs that would allow him to polish his language skills, working at an airport and for a cosmetics company. Having moved to Japan in 2009, he got a job at a vending machine company and practiced singing in his spare time, uploading videos of himself to YouTube.

Nodo-jiman Za! Wahrudo came along at exactly the right time for Hart, who won the star prize at his first attempt in March 2012, singing Kazumasa Oda’s ballad Tashika-na-koto (video here) and the SMAP song Yozora-no-mukoh. The funniest thing about his performance of the latter (video here) is that Masahiro Nakai – who is SMAP’s version of Andrew Ridgely and famously can’t sing – is one of the co-hosts on Nodo-jiman, and had to look on as Hart showed him how it was done.

Hart was contacted the next day by Jeff Miyahara, one of the most renowned producers in Japanese pop music, and his debut album, Heart Song, was released in June this year. Of course the true test of Hart’s longevity will come when he turns his vocal chords to some original compositions, but for the moment, Heart Song shows what he has made of some of the most memorable J-Pop hits of recent years – this is a snippet from his version of the Yusaku Kiyama song Home.

This is a video of Hart singing the same song on Nodo-jiman (on the strength of this performance, the original went to the top of the download charts the following day ), and the following video shows Hart’s version of the Naotaroh Moriyama song Sakura. While for some reason (possibly copyright-related) the first minute or so is audio only, it’s worth watching all the way through just to see how it reduces the comedian Kanako Yanagihara to an emotional wreck.
Hart’s less-is-more singing style is mirrored in his personality – it wasn’t until Mrs M and I saw a news piece about him that we realised he is a fluent Japanese speaker, as he hardly says a word during his appearances on Nodo-jiman – although don’t get your hopes up, ladies, as he was married earlier this year to fellow singer Hitomi Fukunaga.

At the time of writing, it is still possible to book Hart as a wedding singer via his official homepage. OK, so this is actually part of a semi-charitable scheme which has seen Hart perform for free in disaster-affected areas in the north east of the country – all you have to do is write to him and state a decent case for why you would like him to sing for you – but this opportunity will surely not be available for much longer. Most of the dates for his forthcoming national tour are already sold out, and Hart is, I suspect, destined for much bigger things.

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