Musically Yours From Tokyo
It’s a long, long way from Kyoto to Quito,
Or from Lusaka to Osaka.
But people’s hearts can meet wherever the owners live,
as we have this great thing called music and songs.
Why not enjoy the beautiful melodies of Japanese songs,
and sing them together in English –
perhaps the least uncommon of all languages?
Musically Yours, from Tokyo
- Let’s sing Japanese songs in English
Written by Hidekazu (Morris) Morishima
- Chapter-1: My days with Music and English
- Chapter-2: Japan’s Song World – a melting pot
- Chapter-3: Japanese people love shedding tears
- Chapter-4: Some songs for you to sing
Exhibits: Samples of “Atmospheric Translation” of Japanese songs, together with the score sheets. (posting one by one at each update)
Chapter-1: My days with Music and English
I was born in Amagasaki City, Hyogo Prefecture, in the western part of Japan, and
was brought up in Kobe, the Capital of the Prefecture, and the second largest port town after Yokohama. Being a port town, Kobe has always had that vibrant, international
and avant-garde atmosphere. It may not be a coincidence that Kobe and surrounding areas sent out such talented artists as Kenzo Takada, Tadanori Yokoo to global scenes.
I still remember that when the English class started at the middle school in Kobe when I was at the 7th grade, I was thrilled to be able to start learning English, and from then on, I devoted a large part of my time in following up on the textbook as well as trying to learn by heart all those new words.
Another interest I took during my middle-school time was in the basketball. I learned through basketball a fighting spirit and a team spirit as keys to success for any sports playing, or even for all other facets of life, for that matter. For English language, I thought the important thing was the continuity – studying hard continually and on a daily basis, which would eventually accumulate momentums to bring out a good result.
Right after I was admitted to high school, I joined ESS, standing for English Study (Speaking?) Society, and did a lot of practice in English language study such as staging English-speaking dramas, English speech contests, etc.
I continued the English study during my college days, also belonging to ESS there, and joined in debate contests, and taking lessons from an American missionary named Mr. Dale who coached us as a volunteer. Years later, back about 3 years ago, I saw an article on Nikkei, a Japanese economic newspaper, where a certain businessman named Mr. Dale was writing about his life in Kobe and the memory of his missionary father. I was pretty sure that he was the son of “our” Mr. Dale.
Throughout my school days, I took up various musical instruments such as harmonica, guitar, violin, bass and clarinet. My interest in playing on instruments was rather a curiosity-based one, too wide and unfocused that I reached a “proficient” level in none of them. I later took up “electone”, a Yamaha brand of electronic keyboard instrument, and now (2016) I spend a lot of time practicing the playing of the keyboard instrument dubbed PIAGGERO (type no. NP-V80) of Yamaha make, and singing songs and playing the accompaniment chords of the songs simultaneously.
During my college days, I also belonged (in addition to ESS) to Orchestra Club, another intra-college activity club, and played violin. As my part was in the far back of the Second Violin (which tells my skill level on violin!), and as I felt my desire for a center stage(or anywhere nearer) unfulfilled, I soon joined a combo band (another extra-curricular activity) comprising of vocal, piano, guitar, clarinet and bass (me), and played light pop music. We played then- contemporary and -popular songs like those of Paul Anka, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Pat Boone, which are all called Oldies now.
We arranged dance parties where our band played dance music (to save expenses), and sold entrance tickets, and were making some money for drinks.
I joined an international trading company named Nissho (later re-named Nissho Iwai, currently named Sojitz, through mergers) after graduating from Economics Faculty of Kobe University, and was assigned to Marine Dep’t, which handled ships on a global scale． During my long tenure with Nissho Iwai, I lived and worked overseas most of the time. My overseas assignments included Oslo, Norway - London, U.K., - New York, U.S. and Seoul, Korea. My wife Mieko always came with me in these countries and we had two children born in Oslo, and they went to school in London and in New York.
While in London during 1982 to 1987, we enjoyed going to concerts in Barbican and musicals in West End. Musicals I liked were “Cats”, “Les Miserables”, “Starlight Express”, etc. Our children, Toru, then about 12 years old, and Noriko, about 7 years old, once appeared in an avant-garde-type opera “Madam Butterfly” at a Covent Garden opera house. They were there as two of village children, just an extra role, but they seemed to enjoy the experience. Toru and Noriko went to King Alfred School in Hampstead (we lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb), and Toru would join boys’ band marching in town every X’mas season, he playing trumpet. Noriko would be speaking exactly like her class teacher, Linda, trying to mimic her beautiful British accent, after several months at school.
We later lived in New York, and rented a house on Mamaroneck Road, Scarsdale, paying a rather high rental (high for me) out of my limited expat allowances, as we liked the environment in the area – greenery and outstanding residences (except my rented one). I remember Mr. Ryuichi Sakamoto and Mrs. Akiko Yano, both already star musicians, with their two children, having had a house nearby at Heathcote Road, which was a beautiful residence surrounded by trees. We went to jazz bars like Blue Note downtown New York City, and also went to see musicals. The plays we saw were like “Cats” (a New York version), “Chicago”.
I joined Sasebo Heavy Industries Co., Ltd., a shipbuilding company, in 2002, as a director and was named President of the company in 2005. After a 12-year stint at Sasebo, I retired in 2014.
Around this time, I came across a book entitled “The Shipping Man”, written by Mr. Mathew McCleery of Connecticut, U.S., published by Marine Money, CT., and as I read along, I decided that this book must be a good reading for young aspiring students and shipping company people, functioning both as an entertainment and as a textbook of shipping business, and consulted with the author, offering the translation of the book into Japanese language, and he gladly agreed to it and after about 2 years, I finished the translation and got it published by the same publisher, Marine Money, Inc. (actually Matt, the author, was, and still is, the president of this company whose line of business included arranging ship financing seminars, and related publications.) The Japanese version of the book, “The Shipping Man” was published in July 2015, and put out for online sale on Amazon, but not offline through bookstores.
As I said above, playing the keyboard instrument and singing songs to it occupies a major part of my time these days. Songs I sing include Japanese pop songs, American and British songs. I belong to several Karaoke sing-song clubs. One club is English (language) songs club, where members are all fans of American oldies, Country & Western, Jazz & Pops. Other clubs are the gatherings of people with hobby for singing, and high-school and college alumni gatherings. I also go to “Jazz Bird”, a jazz and pop music club where they let you sing to a live band.
As you may guess from reading the above paragraphs, I had always kept avid interest in music, and particularly singing, both Japanese and foreign songs, but I was simply pre-occupied or inundated with the challenges of my work at the trading house, selling ships, financing ship sales, chartering ships, or even leasing aircraft and rolling stocks (freight trains), and best I could do was intermittently singing at Karaoke bars at Cambridge Circus and in Soho in London, and in New York at Japanese night clubs on the 49th St. and Lex.& 3rd, all as a part of company-related customer-interface activities.
While in Oslo earlier in my expat days, as we did not have much of night life facilities in town, we did a lot of home parties, and I had brought my electone from Tokyo, and I tried to play it and the wife of my colleague played much more professionally as she was a well-trained piano player, and we sang to her electone playing. I later bought a newer version electone in Tokyo and brought it over to London, and I also tried to play it. When we were leaving London in 1987, I left the keyboard instrument at King Alfred School where our two children went, as a token of our thanks for their teaching on the children.
So, I became much more avid about singing since I retired from my business and suddenly had a lot of free time for myself. I came across many new (new to me) songs, and the range of songs which I like widened and such new songs and singers/songwriters included those which I had not known or paid attention to before during my “busy” time at the companies, and some of them are Boz Scaggs, Carole King, Sting, Yosui Inoue, Junko Akimoto, Kosetsu Minami, Koichi Iwaki, Miyuki Nakajima. Some of these singers, I had known, but suddenly at this time I wanted to brush up even by a little bit on their songs, and their songs are simply beautiful and full of appeal to listeners’ heart. It was almost like a completely new world opening up, I felt, and I realized that even in the Japanese music industry, there are songs which may be evaluated as world-class in their melodies and lyrics.
And, somewhere along the line, it came to my mind that perhaps I should try to write English lyrics to some of those popular Japanese songs, so that I may introduce to foreign music fans those beautiful Japanese songs. Taking several months for each song, I have so far translated Japanese language lyrics of 6 Japanese songs. I started to sing such songs in our English Song Club. My friends there showed interest in my English lyrics, and liked them. But they also say that it is a bit difficult to sing them on the original melodies, which had been of course created to synch with the original Japanese lyrics. Since I am the guy responsible for the creation and synchronization of the English lyrics, I could sing them with no problem. In addition, I have made these lyrics with rhymes as may appear in English and American songs, or even in many of those Wordsworth’s and other poets’ works. (I have read poems of Wordsworth, and even visited his homestead still remaining in the Lake District, west of York, North England.)
I made the translation of the original Japanese lyrics, not in way of word-to-word switch of individual words and phrases, but in way of what I call “Atmospheric Translation”. Some people in Japan may have tried to do the translation, but always in the word-to-word way, which never succeeds – never succeeds as the eventual translation this way looks almost farcical and far from being artistic or poetic. If one sings such a song, it will be a degrading singing to the eye (or ear!) of the original songwriter. So, I made this “Atmospheric Translation” which respects and keeps the spirit and atmosphere of the original song, seeing to it that it never goes astray from the original, losing the song’s theme, or the musical appeal. I use key words or key phrases of the original wherever possible and whenever desirable (but always synching with the notes from the melodies).
In the later chapter, I will be introducing these 6 songs (and more, as time goes by and my work goes on), together with some explanation so that you may understand the spirit of the original (and translated) songs. But before doing it, I want to give some ideas about unique characteristics of different Japanese song genres. By understanding these ideas, you will come to know much more deeply about Japanese musical culture and its historical background.
So, let us go on to Chapter 2.
(By the way, I have been in contact with JASRAC (Japanese musical copyright watch body), as well as individual record/CD publishing companies and understand that, as long as I use my translated songs for fun or for social good like cultural exchange, involving no money, there will be no need for getting approval from copyright holders, but once a situation should arise where some business is involved, we should get the approval and pay whatever share of whatever money coming out of it. )
Chapter-2: Japan’s Song World – a melting pot
We, Japanese people, like music – we actually love it. I think same goes to every other nation, but what is unique is, the music world in Japan is a sheer melting pot of all kinds of music – Historical, Traditional, Local, School Songs, Enka, “Mood” Songs, Folk Songs, “New Music”, Popular Songs, J-POP, Anime Songs, plus all other “imported” music and songs – imported from U.S. and Europe, mostly, and some now having taken root here.
You may want to have some explanation about those rather unfamiliar genres of Japanese songs:- Historical, and Traditional Songs – (Code TS for later reference)
This genre includes Dodoitsu, Shinnai, Gidayuu, or even Rokyoku, sung out in a story-telling song recitals. These songs and music have been in Japan for at least several hundred years evolving in style, spanning over Edo Era when the civil culture flourished as the peace and stability were sustained due to the Tokugawa Samurai Government’s skillful management of the country, undisturbed by outside interruptions thanks to the government’s watertight “Closed-Door Policy”, and also due to the gradual self-sustaining economic development, especially in the commerce sector. The key structure of the Tokugawa governance mode may be illustrated in “Shi-Nou-Kou-Shou” social structure, where a caste system was set in the order of Shi(Samurai), Nou(Farmers), Kou(Industrials and Skilled hands) and Shou (Merchants and shop-owners). The Shou (Merchants) Class was placed in the bottom of this Japanese caste system, and it was really this class that flourished and gained control over monetary aspect of the daily life, and thus the entertainment, in day and night, arts and crafts, kabuki and dancing got supporters and patrons in rich merchants and shop owners. So did music.
Local Songs – (Code LS)
Local Songs, (“Min-yoh” in Japanese, “People’s Songs”, as literally translated) could be classified as Folk Songs, but once we start calling this genre of songs Folk Songs, it overlaps with the modern genre of Folk Songs which flourished in U. S. first, in 1950’s and beyond, and in Japan during the 1960’s onwards. So, these “real” folk songs, sung by farmers, fishermen, and their families during Edo Era and beyond, may have to be separated from the modern counterparts, and I call the genre, “Local Songs”. These Local Songs are usually sung, accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments such as Shamisen (three-string instrument), Shakuhachi (bamboo oboe), Taiko (drums). The songs are often about the home village and surrounding nature like mountains and rivers, and even involving local animals. They often sing about people’s passage of life and ceremonies (harvesting, wedding, coming of age, memories of lost ones).
School and Family Songs – Code: SS & FS
After Japan’s reluctant opening of the door to foreign trading as well as of diplomatic, political and military relationships with U.S. and other nations, and the “Meiji Restoration” (the breakup of Tokugawa Family’s Shogunate samurai government system and restoration of Emperor-centered social structure that took the place of Shogunate), Japan’s government hurriedly took up imported systems in politics, economy, laws as well as education. Japan had to catch up with the World Great Powers in order to make up for the delay which Japan suffered during the Tokugawa closed-door era having lasted about 260 years in developing the nation in the international relations including economy, industry, diplomacy and military power-building processes. The government opened state-run schools and lined up education programs to suit the government policy of fast growth in culture, economy and military power. New songs and music were encouraged to spring up, but in such a manner as to comply with modesty and self-control so people may follow the unified purpose of the whole nation. At school, songs with beautiful melodies which may be a hybrid of old Japanese undertone and of Western clarity, are taught in Music Class and families were encouraged, or even tacitly enforced upon singing this genre of songs. Even today in the 21st century, many such good songs have survived and are even thriving at school and in society. But, many youngsters feel that these songs are obsoletely monotonous and lack excitement, and so, they would sing such songs only if/when needed, say, during school ceremonies and social gatherings for somewhat sober occasions. Chorus groups at school and companies or in community tend to take up such songs as these songs are generally acceptable, though not quite vibrant and unique.
Enka songs – (Code ES)
Enka, (or literally Performance Songs or Drama Songs?) is probably the most important genre when we talk about Japanese songs and their cultural significance. In addition, Enka songs do seem to be most widely accepted among Japanese song fans, mostly mid-aged and senior. There are avid fans of Enka among younger generation, too. The reason for the popularity could be listed as follows:-
1. Enka songs are mostly written with minor keys, and lyrics are accordingly about heartbreak, loss of dear ones, departures, loneliness, vacant nature of life itself, etc., and this tendency suits Japanese traditional sentiment well. Even men’s Enka songs are sung about their struggle for success, victory on a strife, striving to stand out in society, but almost always in a minor key. Only infrequently, “fight songs” and “cheer songs” are sung in major keys. The minor key gives a special atmosphere involving the hero’s efforts as well as an unseen support rendered to him by his family, say, wife or lover, or even more often his mother. The hero’s success cannot be told without the tearful support in bad time by the mother.
2. Enka’s melodies and rhythms are similar to each other in many songs, I dare say, and tend to be simpler than other types of songs. So, anybody who feels sympathy to the song can try to sing it him-/herself, without much of difficulty. On the other hand, Enka singers must try to stand out from others with their excellent voice, emotion displayed through singing, and even some graceful dancing or at least some gestures, beautiful dress they wear, including glittering Kimono and Obi, and even wigs they wear which are similar to those worn by Edo-Era women. Even some Enka songs with more complicated melodies may be sung by Japanese fans because the basic tone of the melody is so much in blood of a Japanese person, so very often having overheard similar songs from his/her childhood days. A minor change of the melody and rhythm, he can always maneuver.
3. Because of the easiness and familiarity of Enka songs for the general public, they are also very often sung in Karaoke parties among business people, without much of daily practice but with a whim at the drinking occasions.
These particular elements I have listed above (1/2/3) are the very reason foreign people find it difficult to acclimatize him-/herself to “Enka world”, and choose to rather stay away from it. Perhaps the only exception here is Korean people. Korean people and Japanese people have a common ground in accepting and loving Enka songs. The two peoples seem to have similar sentiments on song-life relationship. A theory has it that Japanese Enka (Performance Songs or Drama Songs, literally) comes from Korea where they seem to have similar style of songs, and some critics call the Korean version, “Enka”, too, but literally, “Grievance Songs”.
Incidentally, one stark difference in Japanese Enka and Korean Enka, and thus the sentiments of the two peoples on the hardships of life, could be that the Japanese songs are based on a subdued undertone coming from the resignation in their fate of life, while Korean songs are more grievance, or protest (either public or self-murmured ) on the fate of life. This difference even becomes apparent in the social and political inclination of the both peoples.
Whether it is Drama Songs of Japan or Grievance Songs of Korea, Enka describes a more somber aspect of life of people. Moreover, Japanese Enka songs very often involve place names, especially, names of ports, capes, bays, mountains, forests, hills where the hero spent his/her childhood years, or lost his/her loved ones due to storms, or had to part from the other, or was jilted by his/her lover, and the hero sings out his/her deep emotion related to the place(s). English translation of those place names and the related stories would become rather cumbersome, and not really of interest to foreigners.
So, I would say that Enka is the farthest area of songs which may be translated into English and sung that way. Enka songs would better be sung as they are in original Japanese lyrics. Having said that, I might try to comply with the demand, if demand be, but I bet the world transpiring from it will be a distinctly different, or even strange, one.
“Mood Songs” – (Code MS)
Another genre of Japanese songs very popular in Japan is “Mood Songs”. Mood songs are best suited to the sentiment and mindset of Japanese people and the great many hit songs here may belong to this genre of songs along with Enka songs. Here again, majority of the Mood songs are written with a minor key, though a percentage of the major keys is considerably larger here than in Enka. One particular phenomenon in this genre is that, especially in 1960’s ~ 1980’s, group singers were very popular, singing romantic songs featuring love, love lost, love regained in the backdrop of Tokyo by night, particularly in such vibrant districts as Ginza, Akasaka, Roppongi. A standard singing group consists of two or three vocals, perhaps one female and two male singers who often take up instruments like guitar. Instruments in the group may be guitar(s), sometimes Hawaiian steel guitar, plus keyboard and percussion. The male and female singers sing duets, in the way one speak-sings to the other who responds, speak-singing. The heroine of the song may sometimes be a bar hostess, but mostly a working woman, working in office. Many songs sing about the joy of love, but perhaps followed by the anguish caused by the change of heart, or sometimes, or even very often, caused by the relationship being that of an extra-marital affair. In the recent decades, Mood Songs are sung mostly solo, by both men and women, and as duet at the most, not much in group any more. Mood songs tend to be much more acceptable to foreign people for singing, because the songs tend to be more modern, and thus more of European/American taste. The songs may be called the hybrid of Oriental and Occidental cultures. The rhythm and atmosphere of the songs tend to be more of Jazz, Blues, Latin, chanson, and yet, the lyrics still strongly emotional in Japanese way, and melodies retaining the touches of old Japanese music.
Popular Songs – (Code PS)
A vast majority of Japanese songs may be categorized into this genre, as many songs are made as the result of efforts by the songwriters for expressing their own musical style and at the same time conforming to the trend and the demand of the time, and that is exactly “popular” songs. So, “popular song” may be a comprehensive expression of songs coming from all these genres.
Folk Songs – (Code FS)
In the U.S., a bunch of folk singers mushroomed up, prominent ones being Joan Baez, Brothers Four, and, trying to ride on opportunity and following suit on the trend, many young singers popped up in Japan, writing and singing modern folk songs. Most of these singers wore jeans, long hair, and checkered shirts. They held field concerts, such as Woodstock-style gatherings, and many sang protest songs in addition to “first-person” novel-like songs with a narrow retreated world. In my view, most of the songs were rather of uncultivated, naïve tunes, and it gave people in general that “these songs belonged to kids”. True, they were naturally very popular with young people, but not really among more demanding adults. This, I’m talking about the Japanese Folk Songs, and not about the American, especially now that Bob Dylan got the Nobel Prize Literature Award!
“New Music” songs – (Code NM)
After the Folk Song boom subsided both in the U.S. and in Japan, with music fans growing a bit more sophisticated as the peace movements all over toned down and Japan’s economy on the other hand kept growing in a remarkable speed, overtaking other advanced economies in Europe, closing in on, and catching up with, the U.S., people now wanted a change for something new, something more creative. Then came Yosui Inoue, Takuro Yoshida, Koji Tamaki, Mariko Takahashi, Mayumi Itsuwa – all having come through struggles with blandness of Folk Songs, and molted into the adult-oriented music area. Yosui’s album entitled “Koori-no-Sekai” (literal transl. “The World of Ice”) became the first ever million-seller album in Japan’s music industry. These new singers came up with one hit after another with their own song-writing, not really relying on third-party songwriters and lyricists. They could thus express their own deep feelings and explosions of inner selves, challenges on something unique and extravagant.
J-POP (Code: JP)
The updated and advanced, and yet less adult-oriented version of NM is this genre, J-POP. It looks as though the whole Japanese music scene these days is captured by J-POP. The songs in this genre mostly very similar to the American scene with Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Madonna, Lady GAGA, and notable group singers. Japanese counter-parts are Ayumi Hamazaki, Aya, Exile, Aarashi, SMAP, Southern All-Stars (the last four are groups), Carrie-Pamyu-Pamyu, Momoiro Clover Zett, etc. etc. I said the J-POPs are similar to American pops of these days, but J-POPs are characterized by less adult-oriented inclination with female voices and appearances of teenagers or even pre-teens (see Carrie and Clover). Pursuing the ongoing taste by the recent computer-nerd fans, the singing voices (especially of female singers) are often computer-assisted and sound out-of-this-world and even “space-worldly”. There are even computer-driven singing voices being created (e.g.: Hatsune Miku). For me, an old-timer, this is getting a bit too far out from that most humane and analogic world of singing. It looks as though the young generation in Japan love to sing these J-POPs, in spite of the relative complicatedness of the J-POP songs’ pitch and rhythm. Incidentally, these J-POP songs are sung with Japanese lyrics, but very often bring in English or quasi-English phrases wherever the songwriters find possible. These English or quasi-English phrases appear a number of times between Japanese phrases, as though they were merely “catch-phrases” or “logo marks”. All-English-lyrics J-POP songs are simply non-existent, but only partially English-phrased songs. Songwriters and fans alike simply love that “borrowed atmosphere” of songs and not the precise meanings of verses and lyrics. After all, it is only natural that Japanese songs are written and sung “mostly” in Japanese language, for Japanese fans.
Anime Songs (Code: AS)
There is a distinct popularity popping out these days from all corners of the world on Japanese animated films and their soundtrack music and songs. I understand that the shortened form of animation, i.e. Anime in Japanese, is now a common term used in the world. Thanks to those wonderful Anime films created by Ghibli Studio in Japan (headed by the genius Mr. Miyazaki), not only children but also adults all over the world are enchanted by the beauty of the animation which has been created with such precision and artistic sense, plus by the theme song to match with the story. I was impressed by a young French girl joining a Karaoke singing contest on TV, and singing an Anime song with the original Japanese lyrics, ending up turning out a high score and getting a prize. She was so enraptured with the song and other AS’s, that she kept on practicing to sing that way (with the Japanese lyrics) almost to a perfection. Nevertheless, this is an exception, and there must be millions of young people having seen Japanese anime films and wanting to sing the beautiful and romantic theme song, but not capable of mastering the Japanese lyrics. Here, we have the “Atmospheric Translation” of mine in the making!
Imported Songs (Code: IS) –
Of course, Japan is inundated with imported music and songs – classics, jazz, blues, rocks, chansons, fado (Portugese), Latins from South America (mambo, rumba, beguine, bossa, samba, tango). There are many world class orchestras, conductors, pianists, violinists, opera singers, and quite good singers, dancers and performers of American and British musicals.
Decades back, say, soon after the World War II in 1945 onwards, those American pop and jazz music rushed in to fill the keen interest of all Japanese people in “anything American”, together with fashion and hair styles and cars. Since the English proficiency was even lower than today, most of foreign songs, including French and Italian, were translated into Japanese, and every one of them became instant hits, and there were quite a few dedicated singers catering to this demand, such as Chiemi Eri, Izumi Yukimura, Mieko Hirota who were singing Japanese-translated American hit songs like those of Brenda Lee, Niel Sedaka, Paul Anka. These days, there is no such frenzy about the imported music, but rather or much more steady and suave attitude of acceptance on the IS’s, and not so acute demand for the translation, and young people generally accept IS’s as they are, not really minding too much of the precise meaning of the lyrics, just enjoying the exotic flavor of the music and songs, almost like a BGM.
So, what I propose is – why not Exported Songs (Code:ES)? I would come back to this key point later in this booklet.
Chapter-3: Japanese People Love Shedding Tears
Some of foreigners who visited or lived in Japan and joined or at least overheard Japanese people singing songs in a Karaoke party, or Japanese singers singing their repertoire songs on TV, may well have been surprised to find that Japanese sing, yes, do sing, but not necessarily always in such a happy and joyful mood, which is the state of mind that other peoples outside Japan (except Korea?) may well pursue to enjoy when they are in a party-going and singing mode. The popularity of pro singers as they appear on TV or even at live concerts may hinge on how strongly they appeal to the audience about the sentiment they want to offer and share by singing, about life, love affair, heartbreak, or hardships the hero or heroine has come through. So, they may look very sober and grim to you, far from being happy or glad. This goes especially so with the singing of Enka songs and sometimes even Mood songs. Same at Karaoke party. So, you will notice that quite a few Enka singers sing with a suppressed voice, not necessarily a textbook quality, but still quite “involving”. It is changing, though, as young people in Karaoke parties tend to sing, naturally, modern J-POP songs, in a cheerful merry-making mode. Nevertheless, there is still a strong undertone in Japan of a “restrained romanticism”, I may call it, to be a good choice in the public. Many Enka songs are about seafarers (seamen and fishermen), and their base of life, i.e. ships, ports and wharfs and seas. Surfing through titles and lyrics of Enka songs, you will be surprised to see so many words and references related to these environs and men. Being an archipelago in itself, Japan has a big portion of population living in the sectors of shipping and fishing, but the portion these literal references occupy in the Enka songs even outsizes the population.
Chapter-4: Some songs for you to sing
As I said in the end of Chapter-2, while Japan was and still is importing foreign music and songs, ranging from classical pieces to jazz to up-to-date hit songs to even rap music, only a tiny portion of music and songs of Japanese origin was and is being “exported”.
True, several Japanese singers are extremely popular, I hear, in China, and South East Asian countries. A handful of examples may be Shinji Tanimura, Ayumi Hamazaki, Masaharu Fukuyama. Japanese singers make tours in Asia and draw huge audiences, and they sing the songs, mostly of their own make. They sing the songs which have naturally (?) Japanese lyrics, and yet, due to the beautiful melodies of the songs and the appeal the singers have in their singing voices and styles, and their own looks and appearances, Asian fans follow them fervently. Some local fans even manage to sing the songs in Japanese. But what about the U.S. and Europe markets?
True, Japanese TV stations offer these days singing contests inviting mostly amateur, but some professional, singers, form foreign countries and participants sing Japanese songs with original Japanese lyrics just beautifully. But I suspect whether such singing style – singing Japanese songs with Japanese lyrics – is widely accepted by people in the countries where these singers come from? It causes surprise and even adoration to Japanese TV audiences but not to the people back home?
One of only a few exceptions to this observation may be the world famous “Sukiyaki” song originally written by a Japanese composer and a Japanese lyricist and sung by the popular singer, Kyu Sakamoto. The original Japanese title to this song corresponds to “Let’s Walk Looking Up”, in English, and you see that the English title “Sukiyaki” is far from this original song’s world. Nevertheless, the beauty and power that the melody emit did not stop American music fans from loving the piece, perhaps due to the nicely translated lyrics. Obviously, the lyrics was re-written in English without being loyal to the meaning and the atmosphere of the original Japanese lyrics. If the lyrics had not been translated into English anyway, I’m afraid that the song would not have invited such big popularity in the U.S. and other countries.
Another example may be Hikaru Utada, but in this case, her music is much more American pops than anything about Japan, except that she sings with both American and Japanese lyrics, and she may be defined as an America-born singer, rather than one exported from Japan.
I believe that Japanese music and songs are truly beautiful and charming, thanks to so many genius songwriters, composers and lyricists pouring in such a lot of vibrant ideas, and develop artistic skills and spirits to their work. I wanted to let people overseas come to know more about Japanese songs and realize their quality, and that is the motive with which I started writing English lyrics for such beautiful Japanese songs. I tried to see to it that I convey the atmosphere of the song that the songwriter created, although I intentionally avoided the word-to-word literal translation. If you are familiar with singing, you would realize that it is only a reasonable intention. I even tried to re-create “the world” (as described in English language) which the original songwriter had initially envisioned, rather than staying loyal to a mechanical translation.
Japanese language, when written, has vowels in each syllable unlike English (a bit similar to Italian and Spanish, though) and each word almost always ends with a vowel (except “n”, with which quite many Japanese words end) unlike English whose words almost always end with consonants.
I saw to it, nevertheless, that my translated lyrics ride on the melody, and on almost every single note, of the original song, and the lyrics even have rhymes like English poems and song lyrics.
Now, I have the following 6 songs: (I have given each song my idea of song category, as explained earlier, but I must admit that many songs cannot simply be put into one single category, but could well be a hybrid. So the categorization is just for reference)
(1)“Arigato – Thank You (For Your Love)” (English title and lyrics by Hidekazu
Morishima) (Code: PS)
The original song with a Japanese title “Aiwo Arigato” was composed by the late Hiroyuki Nakagawa, arranged by Shin-ichiro Mizobuchi, with lyrics written by Junko Takahata. This song is sung by several singers.
(2) “Shards Of A Dream” (English title and lyrics by Hidekazu Morishima) (Code: FS/MS/PS)
The original song with a Japanese title “Yume Hitoyo” was composed by Kosetsu Minami, with lyrics written by Yoko Aki, sung by Kosetsu Minami.
(3) “One Love” (English title and lyrics by Hidekazu Morishima) (Code: PS)
The original song with a Japanese title “Aino Mamade” was written and composed by Yuhei Hanaoka, sung by Junko Akimoto.
(4) “Evening Breeze” (English title and lyrics by Hidekazu Morishima) (Code: PS)
The original song with a Japanese title “Yunagi – Watashino Jikan” was composed by Yuhei Hanaoka and lyrics written by Tetsuya Chiaki, sung by Junko Akimoto.
(5) “Rhapsody Now” (English title and lyrics by Hidekazu Morishima) (Code: NM/PS)
The original song was written and composed by Yosui Inoue, sung by him.
(6) ‘TOKYO” (English title and lyrics by Hidekazu Morishima) (Code: NM/PS)
The original song was composed by Yosui Inoue and Natsumi Hirai and lyrics written by Yosui Inoue. Sung by Yosui Inoue.
(Next one coming is the theme song from the Ghibli Studio’s animation film “Laputa, the Zenithian Castle”. The song is titled in Japanese “Kimi-wo-nosete” (Let’s Ride On), a beautiful song, and named by me anew in the English version, “Pursuing Laputa”.)
In the Exhibits attached in the following pages, the lyrics of each of these songs are shown, one song on one page, plus the score for the song, with lyrics written down running along each of the notes, on the next page so that you may copy and/or print the pages for your handy singing.
I have a plan for creating English lyrics to other Japanese songs, now covering other genre of songs like AS/LS/FS. You can perhaps post me a message as to what kind of songs, what names of songs particularly, that you want me to write, since you like the original song, and you want your friends to listen to you singing it in English, and to “understand” the “meaning” and the “atmosphere” of the song.
Musically Yours from Tokyo !