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Let’s sing Japanese songs in English –September 2017
“Red Dragonfly” (Original – “AKATOMBO” )

This month’s song is called “Aka-Tombo”, meaning “Red Dragonfly”. This song may well be a song every Japanese, young and old, is familiar with from his/her school days. The song depicts the memory of tender loving days from one’s childhood, especially for those who were brought up and taught in local districts, before those places, too, became urbanized with concrete buildings and highways as the economy developed and advanced. There were rivers and dells, and hills and dunes, and woods and trees, all untouched by industries, and all those little animals and flowers and fruits were near around, not like today when you can have a chance of getting access to them only at zoos, man-made gardens and supermarkets. “Akatombo”, or red dragonfly, was particularly near at hand when you were small and growing up in the countryside, and Mr. Rofu Miki, a poet from a small town, Tatsuno, in Hyogo Pref., in western Japan, wrote a poem which incites kind nostalgia of bygone days, and Mr. Kosaku Yamada, impressed by the heart-warming lyrics, gave a tune to it. The song was born in the early part of 20th century, and it is still taught at school and sung by many children and adults alike. I gave the song English lyrics in my hope of relaying even a faint atmosphere of old Japan in its simplest and purest environments that existed - relaying to people living overseas, but having curiosity of seeing a true and traditional Japan that it was. In the third stanza of the song in its original Japanese lyrics, such a phrase appears as “juugode neeyawa yomeniyuki…” which literally translates and depicts broadly to “our maid quit the job and went back to her home village at the age of fifteen to marry a marriage arranged by her family”. The Japanese phrase “juugode…” is a very short one, but contains that much of meaning which has to be said to explain the historical social background of that time. I hear that the government (education ministry) at the time did not like this part appearing publicly, and they ordered it to be cut out from the song. Well, that was Japan at the time, but the song, with its beautiful melody, evokes a lot of tender feeling in your heart, I think.

“Red Dragonfly”

  • Original lyrics by Rofu Miki (1922)
  • Composed by Kosaku Yamada (1927)
  • English lyrics by Hidekazu Morishima (2017)

When was it I saw a dragonfly hoverin’ at dusk?
The sun was down, and the sky was red, I was carried by a lass.

Red mulberries on the hillside, red dragonflies there.
Remains of the day were all red, was it all a dream that passed?

When was it I heard her lullaby mixing with the caws?
Since she went home to marry o’er there,I heard not a word for me .

The sun is down, and the sky is red, dragonflies come down,
On the tip of a bamboo branch – “Share the olden days with me!”