The term Enka (a combination of a public speech and a song) started in Japan during Meiji period (1868-1912). At first, it was a form of political dissent, when speeches, set to music, made them spread more easily. Today, the name "Enka" means traditional Japanese music from two periods, Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926), though a more common usage of the term is to describe a kind of melodramatic Japanese popular song, similar in some ways to American country music in terms of themes and audience.
Within last few years the popularity and recognition of Enka has decreased, as American-like J-pop music has gained a more national appeal. However, there are still many people in Japan, who actually love it. Enka's popularity among younger Japanese people has gone up lately due to the singer Kiyoshi Hikawa and the early solo compositions of Yuko Nakazawa.
If to go into a more detailed observation, Enka is a Japanese popular song in the "traditional" style. Enka music is composed largely in the Pentatonic scale, five notes per octave, similar to the scale, used in Greek, Celtic , Gypsy, Eurasian music and some modern blues and jazz music. To emphasize the emotional content, performers resort to a dramatic musical phrasing, with a wide dynamic ranging from whisper-soft sibilants to spine-tingling crescendos. Enka lyrics are both dramatic and philosophic; the common themes are love, separation, death and suicide. Although men perform Enka, women dominate in this genre. Some Enka lovers consider that many Enka parts can be done properly only with a female voice. Performers use quite an original mixture of Japanese and Western instruments, including violins, electric guitars and kotos. Enka singers, females in particular, usually perform in a kimono.
You can imagine it in the following way... poetic and old-fashioned Japanese lyrics are set in the combination of old-days Gypsy music with blues or country music shades. The arrangements are half-Japanese and half-classical European instruments, accompanied with an electric guitar. A Japanese woman is wearing a kimono and choreographing her performance in the way that it resembles an opera aria.
In fact, if you want to listen to Enka songs, you can find good CDs for sale on the web. Nevertheless, do not think that you will like Enka at once. If you listen to it for the first time, it will appear somewhat strange. The second hearing will allow you to like at least one or two melodies. Only repeatable hearings will allow you to penetrate fully into the genre, and it actually takes a long time to get accustomed to this music and to become interested in more discoveries in Enka styles and compositions.
If you would like to start your Enka research and experience, here is the list of popular Enka performers: Nobue Matsubara, Kaori Kouzei, Hibari Misora, Youko Nagayama, Sayuri Ishikawa, Fuyumi Sakamoto, Harumi Miyako, Aki Yashiro, Natsuko Godai, Miyako Ohtsuki, Miyuki Kawanaga, Ayako Fuji, Mitsuko Nakamura, Toshimi Tagawa, Kiyoko Suizenji, Chiyoko Shimakura and Kaye Eunsook. The songs vary a lot and you can be sure that you will find a piece of Enka music, mostly appealing to your taste.