Sunday, June 12, 2011

Surrendering to the Flow of Time

Teresa Teng - Surrendering to the Flow of Time (1986)
Music: Takashi Miki
Lyric: Toyohisa Araki

Teresa Teng was bigger than Jesus in China. That's actually an understatement, since Jesus has never been all that big in China. She was bigger (and prettier) than Chairman Mao and Confucius combined. If you've spent any significant amount of time in a Chinese restaurant that plays Chinese music, you've heard Teresa Teng. All Chinese people like Teresa Teng. It's the law. (In fact, the law for most of the '80s was that her music was banned in China [just like Jesus!] because she was from Taiwan, but you know how that goes.)

While she was never quite the legend in Japan that she was in her native Taiwan and other Chinese-speaking countries, she was fairly popular, and had a string of major hits with songs written by Takashi Miki and Toyohisa Araki in the '80s, the most notable of which was "Surrendering to the Flow of Time," in which she ponders life without the man she loves:

Moshi mo anata to aezu ni itara
Watashi wa nani o shiteta deshou ka
Heibon da kedo dareka o ai shi
Futsuu no kurashi shiteta deshou ka
If I had never met you,
What would I have done?
Would I have fallen in love with another,
And led an ordinary life?
Toki no nagare ni mi o makase
Anata no iro ni somerare
Ichido no jinsei sore sae
Suteru koto mo kamawanai
Da kara onegai soba ni oite ne
Ima wa anata shika ai senai
Surrendering to the flow of time,
I am dyed through with your color.
For you, I would give up even
My one and only life.
So please stay by my side.
I can no longer love anyone but you.
Moshi mo anata ni kirawareta nara
Ashita to iu hi nakushite shimau wa
Yakusoku nanka iranai keredo
Omoide dake ja ikite yukenai
If I were forsaken by you,
There would be no more tomorrow for me.
I don't need a promise,
But I can't go on living with only memories.
Toki no nagare ni mi o makase
Anata no mune ni yorisoi
Kirei ni nareta sore dake de
Inochi sae mo iranai wa
Da kara onegai soba ni oite ne
Ima wa anata shika mienai wa
Surrendering to the flow of time,
I press my cheek to your chest.
Having become so close to you,
I don't need even my own life.
So please stay by my side.
I can no longer see anyone but you.

Teng also recorded a Chinese version called "I Only Care About You." I don't think I really made this clear in the translation, but I suspect that the lines about giving up her life are not about literally giving up her life, but rather about not feeling the need to live a life independent of her lover, as a sort of rejection of cultural feminism. I don't know enough about the history of feminism in Japan to know whether that's a reasonable interpretation.

Notes on Translation: I was considering just shortening the title to "Surrendering to Fate," but I'm not sure that "fate" is an accurate translation for 時の流れ. Also, most other translations of the song read 綺麗になれた as 綺麗に成れた, i.e., as "Having become pretty." That's never really sat right with me, so I tried out some other なれたs and thought that 綺麗に慣れた, i.e., "having become completely intimate with" made a bit more sense. I'm still not 100% sure, but I think I got it right. I took some liberties with 貴方の胸に寄り添い, since it doesn't acutally say anything about a cheek, but that's the picture I have in my mind, and I'm sticking with it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Yuko Ishikawa - Jinchoge (1979)
Music: Kaoru Nakajima
Lyric: Hiroyuki Hino

Yuko Ishikawa was one of the better acts of the "Idol Pop" genre, which was popular in the '70s and '80s and consisted of pretty girls between the ages of 15 and 25 or so singing pop music. Ishikawa was unusual for the genre in that she wrote most of her own songs.

Her debut single, Jinchouge, was unlike much of her later work, both in that she didn't write it, and also in that it had a much more traditional sound somewhat remniscent of the enka genre. Oddly enough, there had been an actual enka song called Jinchouge released the prior year by Sayuri Ishikawa, who was born the same year as Yuko Ishikawa. To the best of my knowledge, the two Ishikawas are not in any way related, nor were the songs.

The jinchouge is a flowering shrub native to China and Japan. Apparently its English name is "winter daphne." I'd never heard of it, so I just decided to stick with jinchouge rather than using the English or Latin name.

Tsumetai heya de
Chiisa na jinchouge ga
Niau you ni
Anata hiekitta kono boku ni
In my cold room,
Like the little jinchouge,
You have completely
Frozen me out.
Iitarinai hodo no yasashisa de
Atatamete kuremashita
Yurushite hoshii
Kokoro no mazushii kono boku o
With kindness words cannot tell,
You gave me warmth.
Please have pity
On my impoverished heart.
Hiraicha ikenai nikkichou
Karecha ikenai jinchouge
Aa semete semete
Haru ga kuru made
Aa semete semete
Haru ga kuru made
A diary that must not be opened,
A jinchouge that must not die,
Ah, at least, at least,
Not until the spring comes.
Ah, at least, at least,
Not until the spring comes.
Tsumetai heya de
Kaseki ni narou to shiteru
Anata o omou tabi hiraita yo
In my cold room,
I try to turn to stone.
Each time I thought of you,
I opened my diary.
Jinchouge hisoyaka ni
Kono fuyu mo sakimashita
Samishiku naru to
Yokei ni kaoru no jinchouge
This winter, too,
The jinchouge bloomed before I knew it.
Whenever I am lonely,
Its perfume fills the room.
[Repeat chorus]
Ishikawa uses the first-person pronoun boku in this song. In modern usage, boku is used predominantly by males (mostly young boys), but I believe that in this context it's used to express humility and self-effacement rather than to indicate that the character being portrayed is male.

The Flaxen-Haired Maiden

The Village Singers - The Flaxen-Haired Maiden (1968)
Music: Koichi Sugiyama
Lyric: Jun Hashimoto

The Village Singers were a band belonging to the Beatles-inspired genre known as "Group Sounds" in Japan, though they were a bit more folk-oriented than other Group Sounds bands like The Spiders and The Tempters.

"The Flaxen-Haired Maiden" was composed by Koichi Sugiyama, better known in the United States for being the composer of the music for the Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior series of video games. Either that or for his role in the recent "The Facts" advertising campaign denying the culpability of the Japanese Empire in the Nanjing massacre during World War II.

Anyway, "The Flaxen-Haired Maiden" was The Village Singers' biggest hit, reaching #7 on the Oricon chart. It was an even bigger hit for Hitomi Shimatani, whose 2002 cover hit #4. The first recording was actually done by Michi Aoyama under the title "On a Windy Hill" in 1966, but it wasn't actually released until decades later.

Amairo no nagai kami o
Kaze ga yasashiku tsutsumu
Otome wa mune ni shiroi hanataba o
Hane no you ni oka o kudari
Yasashii kare no moto e
Akarui utagoe wa koi o shiteru kara
The wind gently caressing
Her long, flaxen hair,
The maiden clutches a white boquet
To her chest.
Down the hill, like a feather,
Her cheerful song
Sends the fine young man her love.
Barairo no hohoemi aoi sora
Shiawase na futari wa yorisou
Amairo no nagai kami o
Kaze ga yasashiku tsutumu
Otome wa hane no you ni
Oka o kudaru
Kare no moto e
A rosy smile, the blue sky,
Joyous lovers drawing near.
The wind gently caressing
Her long, flaxen hair,
The maiden, like a feather,
Descends the hill
To meet her love.
[Repeat chorus]

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Between the Sky and You

Miyuki Nakajima - Between the Sky and You (1994)
Music/Lyric: Miyuki Nakajima

Another Miyuki Nakajima song today. This time it's "Between the Sky and You," the theme song from the television series Homeless Girl. I don't know much about the series, other than that the main character was a homeless girl with a pet dog. Apparently it was an homage to Hector Malot's Sans Famille. In the song, Nakajima takes on the role of the girl's pet dog. The embedded version is the album cut, which I much prefer, but there's also the synthier, more up-tempo single cut, if you're into that kind of thing. There's also a so-so English cover by Valerie Carter, called "Bitter Rain."

I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something unique about this song. If I had a better grasp of music theory I could probably identify a specific reason for that, but as it is all I've got is that I really like it.

Kimi ga namida no toki ni wa
Boku wa popura no eda ni naru
Kodoku na hito ni tsukekomu you na
Kotoba ienakute
In your time of sorrow,
I will be a poplar branch.
I have not the words to say
To take advantage of a lonely girl.
Kimi o nakaseta aitsu no
Shoutai o boku ga shitteta
Hikitometa boku o kimi wa
Furiharatta toui yoru
I saw the true nature
Of the one who made you cry
On that long-ago night,
When you held me back and drove me off.
Koko ni iru yo ai wa mada
Koko ni iru yo itsu made mo
My love is still here.
It is still here, forever.
Sora to kimi to no aida ni wa
Kyou mo tsumetai ame ga furu
Kimi ga waratte kureru nara
Boku wa aku ni de mo naru
Between the sky and you,
Cold rain will fall today.
If you would only show me a smile,
I would do anything, right or wrong.
[Repeat Chorus]

Kimi no kokoro ga wakaru to
Tayasuku chikaeru otoko ni
Naze onna wa tsuite yuku no darou
Soshite naku no darou
When men swear lightly,
"I understand your heart,"
Why do women go to them,
And then cry?
Kimi ga susanda hitomi de
Tsuyogaru no wa totemo itai
Nikumu koto de itsu made mo
Aitsu ni shibararenaide
It hurts me so to see
Your eyes steeled in anger.
Don't let yourself be
Forever bound to him by hatred.
Koko ni iru yo ai wa mada
Koko ni iru yo utsumukanaide
My love is still here.
It is still here, so hold your head up high.
[Repeat chorus x 3]

Notes on translation: 僕は悪にでもなる was a bit of a head-scratcher. I suppose it means something along the lines of "I would even do evil," but I suspect that there's some secondary meaning of 悪 that I'm not getting.

For example, one dictionary says that it can refer to the villain in a play. Perhaps this is an allusion to the second verse, wherein the dog recalls the time when he met the man who made his mistress cry. It's implied that he growled menacingly at the man and perhaps even tried to attack him, but that the girl held him back and then drove him off. In this context, he could be said to be playing the part of the villain.

Or maybe I was right the first time. Anyway, I went with "I would do anything, right or wrong."

Country Girl

Hiroko Taniyama - Country Girl (1980)
Music/Lyric: Hiroko Taniyama

Hiroko Taniyama has a very distinctive voice. It's a bit like the sort of voice one might expect from a cartoon character. A lot of her lyrics have a bit of a fairy-tale feel to them (there's actually a Japanese adjective for this: Meruhenchikku, from the German Maerchen, or fairy tale). The subject matter of "Country Girl" is a bit more mundane than the typical fairy tale, but it still kind of feels like one. Taniyama's cartoonish voice doesn't work for all of her songs, but I think it works really well for this story about a country girl in the big city:

Nigiyaka na tokai no keshiki wa
Kawaru mangekyou
Itsu de mo kimi o odorakaseru
Nanairo purizumu
The bustling city scenes
Are an ever-changing kaleidoscope,
Always surprising you,
A seven-colored prism.
Kimi wa ofuro no sukaato
Hajirau you ni
Sore de mo hitomi o kagayakasete
Machi o aruiteta ne
Your secondhand skirt
Embarasses you,
But you walk through the streets,
Eyes sparkling.
Kantorii gaaru kimi no me no naka de
Yuuyake ga moeru
Kantorii gaaru kimi no hohoemi ni
Sougen no nioi ga suru
Suki da yo
Country girl,
The sunset shines in your eyes.
Country girl,
Your smile reminds me of the prairie.
I love you.
Tomadoigachi no kimi no shisen ga
Itsumo oikakeru no wa
Nagai tabako no kiza ni kuwaeta
Wakai otoko datta
Your uncertain gaze
Is always chasing after a young man,
Who smokes a long cigarette
Just for show.
Soitsu ga aru hi kimi ni tewatashita
Aoi fuutou
Tegami no naka ni kakareteita no wa
Konna serifu datta ne
One day, he handed you
A blue envelope
In the letter it contained,
These words were written:
[Repeat chorus]

Aitsu ga kimi wo suteta no wa
Tatta nanokame no koto
Kesshou no umai oshare na musume ni
Sassa to norikaeta no sa
It was only seven days
Until he threw you away.
He quickly traded you
For a fashionable girl in makeup.
Kimi wa kagami ni utsutta
Jibun no kao ni mukatte
Aitsu ga kureta itsuka no kotoba o
Nakinagara tubuyaiteta ne
You looked at the reflection
Of your face in the mirror,
Crying and murmuring
The words he would say to you:
[Repeat chorus]

Boku wa hajime kara owari made
Kimi o mite ita
Makka na ruuju sotto hiite mite
Sugu ni fukitotta no mo
From the beginning until the end,
I have been watching you.
When you first tried on red lipstick,
And then soon wiped it off.
Ima sugu ushiro o furikaere
Boku wa koko ni iru yo
Boku ga kaita ano tegami no kotoba o
Mou ichido kimi ni okurou
Hurry and look behind you,
I am here.
Once again I will speak to you
The words in the letter I wrote:
[Repeat chorus]
This isn't really obvious from the English translation, but it's clear in the original Japanese (which has sex-specific first-person pronouns) that Taniyama is taking the part of a man in the last few verses of the song. All of them, really, but this isn't made clear at the end. This doesn't seem to be all that unusual in Japanese songs. It's quite common for a woman to cover a song written for a man and not change the lyric to make it more appropriate for a woman, even when it could easily be done without messing up the meter. For example, Hiroko Taniyama's cover of Takao Kisugi's "Dream in Progress" is every bit as male-narrated as the original, despite the fact that two lines of the first verse were entirely rewritten.

I can't think of as many examples, but this does happen in reverse as well. Check out Hideki Tokunaga's cover of Akiko Kobayashi's "Fall in Love," in which he sings the line "I'm just a woman, fall[ing] in love" (money shot at 1:35).

It's somewhat less common, I think, for the original version of the song not to fit the singer's sex, but it does happen. I might be able to BS my way through some hand-wavy explanation about how this has its roots in the tradition of Noh plays being performed by all-male casts, but the bottom line is that I don't know why they do it that way.

I don't know what the deal with the letter in the song is. I don't think it's a translation issue; it's just not very clear in the original how it is that the cad came into possession of the letter written by the narrator. Maybe it was a Cyrano-de-Bergerac-type thing?

I love the word mangekyou (kaleidoscope). The literal etymology is "Ten-thousand flower mirror."

Notes on translation: No major difficulties. There were a few expressions that I couldn't translate into English as elegantly as I would have liked, but other than that it was fairly straightforward.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Shinji Tanimura - Pleiades (1980)
Music/Lyric: Shinji Tanimura

I'm fascinated by watching Shinji Tanimura sing. He just stands there in the middle of the stage, moving no more than is absolutely necessary, except to lower his microphone between verses, and occasionally moving his off-hand up to his stomach or down to his side. Between that, the precision of his enunciation and dynamic control, his conservative dress, and the extensive use of natural metaphors in his lyrics, there's something quintessentially Japanese about Tanimura. He's also one of the most talented popular singers I've ever heard.

"Pleiades" is Tanimura's signature song, and his first big solo hit after leaving the band Alice. As an aside, the Japanese title is Subaru, like the car company, which was named for the constellation because its parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries was formed from a merger of several existing firms.

Me o tojite nanimo miezu
Kanashikute me o akereba
Kouya ni mukau michi yori
Hoka ni mieru mono wa nashi
I close my eyes and see nothing.
With sorrow, I open them again
And see before me nothing
But the road leading into the wasteland.
Aa kudakechiru sadame no hoshitachi yo
Semete hisoyaka ni kono mi o terase yo
Ah, stars, fated to shatter one day,
At least shine down quietly upon me.
Ware wa yuku aojiroki hoho no mama de
Ware wa yuku saraba subaru yo
I shall go, my cheeks still pale.
I shall go. Farewell, Pleiades.
Iki o sureba mune no naka
Kogarashi wa nakitsudzukeru
Saredo waga mune wa atsuku
Yume o oitsudzukeru nari
When I take a breath,
Icy winds wail on in my heart.
But my heart grows warm
When I am chasing my dreams.
Aa sanzameku na mo naki hoshitachi yo
Semete azayaka ni sono mi o oware yo
Ah, you nameless, glorious stars,
At least die in splendor.
Ware mo yuku kokoro no meizuru mama ni
Ware mo yuku saraba subaru yo
I shall go, as my heart commands.
I shall go. Farewell, Pleiades.
Aa itsu no hi ka dareka ga kono michi o
Aa itsu no hi ka dareka ga kono michi o
Ah, one day another will walk this path.
Ah, one day another will walk this path.
Ware wa yuku aojiroki hoho no mama de
Ware wa yuku saraba subaru yo
Ware wa yuku saraba subaru yo
I shall go, my cheeks still pale.
I shall go. Farewell, Pleiades.
I shall go. Farewell, Pleiades.
There's also a nice half-Japanese, half-Chinese cover by Teresa Teng here. More songs by Shinji Tanimura here.

Notes on translation: Nothing too tough this time, though I wasn't quite sure how to translate せめて鮮やかにその身を終われよ. I think "At least die in splendor" is more or less correct, though it seems a bit odd. せめて seems to be used in ways that don't quite correspond to "at least" in English. Also not sure about the change from 我は行く to 我も行く. I think it's probably just a change for the sake of variety, but I suppose it could also indicate a second narrator.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Akiko Kosaka - You (1973)
Music/Lyric: Akiko Kosaka

To be honest, Akiko Kosaka doesn't have a great singing voice. It tends to crack, and at times veers into whiny territory. But she is a talented songwriter, and her singing has a certain girl-next-door charm to it. Like Miyuki Nakajima's "Time Goes Around," Kosaka's debut single, "You," won the Yamaha Popular Song Contest and World Popular Song Festival, a few weeks shy of Kosaka's seventeenth birthday.

"You" was wildly successful, selling over two million copies, and has since been covered by many other musicians, including Seiko Matsuda the American jazz flautist Herbie Mann in his 1976 album Surprises. Unfortunately, none of her subsequent songs ever achieved the same level of success and she released only five albums before retiring from recording. It's a shame, as she had a few follow-up songs that really ought to have been big hits. "Longing," for example. But this post is about "You":

Moshimo watashi ga ie o tateta nara
Chiisa na ie o tateta deshou
Ouki na mado to chiisa na doa to
Heya ni wa furui danro ga aru no yo
If I built a house,
It would be a small house
With a big window and a small door,
And an old fireplace in our room.
Makka no bara to shiroi panjii
Koinu no yoko ni wa
Anata anata
Anata ga ite hoshii
Bright red roses and white pansies,
And next to a puppy...
I want you there.
Sore ga watashi no yume datta no yo
Itoshii anata wa ima doko ni
That was my dream.
Where are you now, my darling?
Buruu no juutan shikitumete
Tanoshiku waratte kurasu no yo
Ie no soto de wa bouya ga asobi
Bouya no yoko ni wa
Anata anata
Anata ga ite hoshii
With a blue carpet spread out,
We would live a life of joy and laughter.
Outside the house, a boy would play,
And next to the boy...
I want you there.
Sore ga futari no nozomi datta no yo
Itoshii anata wa ima doko ni
That was our wish.
Where are you now, my darling?
Soshite watashi wa reesu o amu no yo
Watashi no yoko ni wa
Watashi no yoko ni wa
Anata anata
Anata ga ite hoshii
And I would weave a lace.
And next to me...
And next to me...
I want you there.
[Repeat coda]