In 1970, novelist and popular songwriter Rei Nakanishi practically dominated NHK Kohaku Utagassen (literally, Red and White song battle), an annual New Year's Eve television song-and-variety special produced and aired by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK).

The show featured five of Nakanishi's big hits, including "Tegami" (The letter), "Anata nara Dosuru" (What would you do?) and "Kyo de Owakare" (We part today).

When I first heard his 1975 hit "Ishikari Banka" (Ishikari elegy), the arcaneness of the lyrics threw me. Nakanishi used unfamiliar words such as "gome," "tsuppo" and"yanshu," which translate as "black-tailed seagulls," "tight-sleeve kimono" and "fishermen," respectively.

However, once I found out that the theme of this song was the decline of the fisheries industry in Hokkaido, I was deeply impressed by Nakanishi's keen social awareness.

But he also wrote many songs that captured the intricate emotions of lovers in messy relationships, causing my teenage pulse to race in front of television.

A veritable leader of Japan's pop music scene during the era of phenomenal economic growth, Nakanishi died on Dec. 23. He was 82.

Starting out as a translator of French chanson into Japanese, Nakanishi wrote more than 4,000 songs throughout his career. He also won the Naoki Prize, a literary award, in 2000.

Born in the former Manchuria, Nakanishi was 6 years old when Japan lost World War II. He fled with his mother and older sister from the invading Soviet army. During his long wait for repatriation, he felt acutely that his country had abandoned him. This bitter experience convinced him of the cruelty of the nation.

It was this background that eventually shaped Nakanishi's own brand of individualism and pacifism.

"There is no peace in the absence of eros, and only in the absence of war can I enjoy being a bad, decadent boy," he asserted, not caring whenever his lyrics and private life aroused controversy.

Characterizing the Japanese Constitution as "a world-class work of art," Nakanishi explained that his creativity was motivated by his desire for "sweet revenge against war."

Looking back on this past year, Japan's postwar pop music community lost some of its brightest stars--Kyohei Tstsumi, Taiji Nakamura, and now Nakanishi.

Whatever age I reach, I want to keep feeling my pulse quicken every time I listen to their masterpieces.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 26

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.