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The Peanuts

Like the mythical Norns who tended the tree of Yggdrasil in The Norse Myths, The Peanuts are an almost supernatural entity in Japanese pop culture, and sit at the roots of it all. For these identical twin sisters – born Hideyo and Tsukiko Ito, on April Fool’s Day 1941 - achieved such sustained international success, both on the charts, in movies and on TV, that they have a cultural status all their own. Leaving their home in the Aichi prefecture in the mid-50s, to work as The Ito Sisters in the huge industrial city of Nagoya, the twins were discovered by Japan’s foremost music impresario Sho Watanabe, founder of the Watanabe Pro management company that was later to have such impact on the Group Sounds scene. In 1958, Watanabe re-named the sisters Emi and Yumi, and brought them to Tokyo to co-present THE HIT PARADE TV show with former Elvis wannabe Miki Curtis. In the Tokyo media world, the Ito sisters were embraced and nicknamed The Peanuts because of their diminutive size; and manager Sho Watanabe noted that as Emi Ito had a mole next to her left eye, so sister Yumi should draw one in the same place to reinforce their sense of similarity. In 1959, the twins made their first recording as The Peanuts, and had instant hits with ‘Kawaii Hana (Cute Flower)’ and ‘Jyonetsu Hana (Passion Flower)’. Their own TV series SHABONDAMA HOLIDAY (‘soap bubble holiday’) followed, named for their detergent company sponsors; and they gained massive fame throughout the Far East in 1961, when they sang the theme tune to Ishira Honda’s classic monster movie MOTHRA, concerning a monster moth worshipped as a Goddess by the island people over whom she presides. The Peanuts, while still co-hosting the TV series, then had another massive hit with ‘Koi No Balansu (Vacation Of Love)’ in 1963, and were befriended by the German singer Caterina Valente, who performed their latest song when she appeared on their programme. When The Peanuts reciprocated by covering several of Valente’s songs, their versions became successful in Germany, which led to performances on variety shows across Europe and even in America, where they appeared on both Ed Sullivan’s and Danny Kaye’s TV shows. In 1964, The Peanuts topped the charts with the theme song for the new blockbuster movie MOTHRA VERSUS GODZILLA, and furthered their mythical cause by appearing in the movie as two tiny shobijn, beautiful underworld characters just twelve inches tall, who had a telepathic connection to the mighty Mothra. More hits followed in the year ahead with ‘Koi No Fuga (Love Fugue)’, ‘Sayonara Wa Totsuzen (Goodbye Was Too Sudden)’, and the 1965 theme song of the third Mothra movie GHIDORAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER. In the meantime, The Peanuts continued to present their long-running TV series, on which Emi met her future husband singer Kenji ‘Julie’ Sawada of Group Sounds superstars The Tigers. However, The Peanuts’ TV show was finally cancelled in 1972, and, after the inevitable round of geino kai (celebrity appearances), The Peanuts officially retired from show business with a farewell appearance on Nihon TV, on May 25th 1975.

Julian Cope
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