|BIG IN JAPAN
Dango San Kyodai
by Yukiko Leitch
"Kushi ni sasatte,
dango, (jya-jyan) mitsu narande, dango (jya-jyan)... " come on, you know how it goes.
You don' Where have you been for the last eleven weeks? Nowhere near a TV set, record
store, department store, shotengai or toy store, apparently. For the last three months
Japan has been awash in dango fever thanks to "Dango San Kyodai," a catchy
little children's ditty which first debuted as the January song on the popular NHK
children's show Okaasan to Issho.
This surprise hit of 1999 was penned by the genius commercial director Sato Masahiko and
illustrated by Uchino Masumi. Sung by the "NHK Uta Onichan and Onechan" (Hayami
Kentaro and Shigenori Ayumi), Dango is the tale of three dango brothers' relationship set
to a tango beat. When Dango time comes, Onichan and Onechan are joined by their two
cohosts, the gaggle of under-threes known as the Himawari Kids, and the Dango chorus in
singing and performing the rhythmic dance created just for "Dango." By the end
of January every diapered fanny, and every mother, was wagging in time to the
By the time the single hit the record stores on March 3 it had already built up a loyal
following but NHK program executives were unprepared for what happened. On its day of
release "Dango" shot to the Number 1 position on the Oricon singles chart
(Japan's Billboard), selling close to two million copies in its first week.
"Dango" was then released as part of a collection, pushing an otherwise
average-selling assortment of kiddie songs to the Number 7 slot on the Oricon album chart.
Talk of the "Dango effect" started to circulate.
Bandai debuted several dango gift items at a recent Toy and Gift Show to a resounding
thud. Consumers weren't, er, biting so Bandai pared the Dango line down to a few select
items and sales have been steady. Had you gone to a department store in May to buy real
dango for Children's Day you would have found yourself wading through crowds to find that
dango - all dango - had sold out. One columnist went so far as to claim that "today's
children... raised on a fast food diet are for the first time discovering Japanese
traditional foods thanks to Dango."
But it's not just the Pampers and yochien set who are tangoing to the Dango beat. Adults
are snapping up copies of "Dango" to, at last count, the tune of over three
million copies. Since "Kuroneko no Tango" sold two and a half million copies in
October 1969, no other children's song has managed to so wholeheartedly capture the hearts
of both children and adults alike.
Dango strikes a deep chord in Japan. As the size of the average Japanese family continues
to shrink, perhaps the appeal of Dango for adults is sentimental. Those raised in three or
four sibling families are now raising one child and the sense of loss for what they can
not, or will not, give their own children is quite palpable. Social journalists and media
watchdogs posit this as one possible reason for Dango's success. One has to consider the
Disney factor as well: attract the kiddies and the wallets will follow. Disney has proven
this "social theory" to the tune of billions of dollars a year.