Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Nokko - Natural
Music: Shigeru Umebayashi, Nokko
Lyric: Asako Michiki, Nokko

My memory's a bit hazy since this was well over ten years ago, but I believe that Nokko's "Natural" was the first Japanese pop song I ever heard, aside from Sukiyaki. Definitely one of the first five or so. Nokko was absolutely adorable in her day. Aside from being cute as a button, she has a very distinctively girly voice. A friend of mine called it "mousy," which is better than anything I've been able to come up with.

Back in the '80s, Nokko was in a band called Rebecca. Mind you, Nokko herself didn't go by "Rebecca," and I don't think anyone else in the band did, either. But the band was nevertheless called Rebecca. Just one of life's mysteries, I guess. They were quite good, and I'm sure I'll get to translating some of their songs one of these days. Friends and Virginity are good to start with, if you're interested.

They split after a dozen or so albums, and Nokko went solo. Her first few solo albums were awful, but Colored was pure gold. Next came Rhyming Cafe, which was pretty good if not quite up to the standards of its predecessor. But it did have one stand-out track, "Natural":
Namida wa hoshi yori omoku
Tatteru dake de sei ippai
With tears heavier than a planet,
It takes all my effort just to stand.
Yoake wa yasashiku
Hajimari wa itsumo sunda sora
Mukae ni kita
The dawn comes gently to greet
The sky that always starts out clear.
Kuchibue nante fuitenai yo
Karui furi yori sono mama de
Dakishimeta mune no aoi tori wa
Takaku maiagaru toki o machi
Namae no nai hi ni namae o sagashiteru
Ouzora ni uta o hibikase shizuka ni arukihajimeta
I won't whistle to seem lighthearted,
But rather let the hope in my heart wait for the time
To dance, like a bird, high into the sky.
Seeking a name for a day that has no name,
I send a song resonating through the sky
And quietly begin to walk.
Akichi no jitensha toui mukashi ni kowareta yakusoku
Doushite nante mou kikanai
Kaze no tsuyosa o uketomete
Dakishimeta hikari tokimeku hi wa takaku maiagari
Toki no nai ai o mitsukedashite sukoshi otona ni naru
Ouzora ni uta o hibikase shizuka ni arukihajimeta
Bicycling across vacant land,
A promise broken long ago,
I won't ask why any longer.
Catching the full force of the wind,
The shining, shimmering joy in my heart
Dances high into the sky with the sun.
Having found a timeless love, I have grown up a bit.
I send a song resonating through the sky
And quietly begin to walk.
Couple of points of interest for those not familiar with Japanese music. First, Japanese songs, much more than English songs, I think, tend to have parallel phrasing in different verses. Some of this is lost in translation for the sake of clarity, but note that both verses have something about dancing high into the sky, and also namae no nai hi/toki no nai ai (Day without a name/love without time). There are some English songs that do this (Tim Buckley's Wings, for example), but it's a pretty standard feature of Japanese lyrics.

Also, Japanese lyricists have a tendency to throw the word ai (love) in for no apparent reason. There's no indication that the song has anything to do with love right up until the end, and then she drops the a-bomb, just 'cause. I guess it tested well with focus groups or something.

Notes on translation: I had a lot of trouble with this one, though it became a bit easier when I realized that 青い鳥 and ときめく日 were metaphors for emotions rather than a literal bird and sun. 空き地の自転車 was a bit confusing as well. 空き地 is vacant land. So either it means a bicycle on vacant land, which doesn't make a lot of sense in context...or maybe 空き地 can mean "abandoned" by association? I went with "Bicycling across vacant land," but I'm not sure that that's what was actually intended.

I also had some trouble with 始まりはいつも澄んだ空; I don't think I parsed that correctly, but I don't really have any better ideas. Overall I'm reasonably happy with how the translation turned out, but I think there's still some room for improvement.

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