Translations of Japanese Songs into English.

Hosono House to Hochono House and a Translation of Boku Wa Chotto

Hosono Haruomi’s debut solo record is all about being at home. So much so that he called it “Hosono House”. It was recorded shortly after he returned from a West Coast Tour of the United States,  a country which was as much his spiritual home as the one listed in his passport.

Indeed, his home in Japan at the time, barely qualified as being really in Japan. He was in the “American Village” of the suburban Sayama area, about an hour’s drive north west of Tokyo. American Village, is the remnants of the Johnson Air Base, established by the U.S. occupation after the war, on the site of an earlier Japanese air base from the 1930s. The Johnson Town – American Village is a chunk of America plonked down in the far East. I guess you could say it’s a more militarised version of the Disneylands that you can find utterly unchanged, uncustomized and unrepentantly celebrating The Tales of Tom Sawyer and the Wild West from Hong Kong to Shanghai, except with with more of an emphasis on aerial bombardment than nighttime “Celebrate Imagination” firework displays. It’s a case of soft toys for soft power and hard toys for hard power.

The America that American Village celebrates is that of the suburbs. It consists of white weatherboard homes, replete with porches, lawns and picket fences, that huddle along a single bitumen road. You can almost see the American officers lingering around the hot dog stands as they return to their abodes after a long day coordinating fire-raids of Pyongyang in the Korean War. The American Village of Sayama is a glob of burger cheese that has dripped out and stuck to the Kimono sleeve of Tokyo.

It might seem strange that a young, long haired, social drop-out hippy like Haruomi would choose to settle down in such a historic seat of military activity. But it was cheap. After all, which self respecting Japanese would want to live in such strange abodes, devoid of Tatami mats, sliding doors and genkans. There wasn’t even a space to remove your footwear. The previous residents hadn’t bothered with taking their shoes off. So the area attracted the bohemian types, and a little community of artsy weirdos came to occupy the surreal mickey-meets-military, mini-homesteads on Tokyo’s fringe.

Pictures of Hosono House Recording Session

It suited Haruomi. He had spent most of his life obsessing over American music in a way that those around him found unhealthy. His band Happy End had become the progenitor of a rock that was able to fully meld the rhythms of American beats and the Japanese language for the first time.  In many ways, he too was a piece of American cheese gunk sullying up Tokyo’s svelte look.

Retreating to the Sayama hills, by a patch of idyllic greenery that the Americans had, without a touch of self awareness, referred to as Hyde Park, made sense to Haruomi. He was retreating in more ways than one. The band he led, Happy End, not able to sustain the upbeat promise of its name, was breaking up. He said at the time that he felt like the captain of a ship that had weathered a great storm, but was now stranded in a windless ocean. Listening to anything with a rock beat set him on edge. 

In his troubled state, he found solace in the soothing sounds of the country revival taking hold in early 70s U.S.A. In his recent tour of the motherland, he had sat in with some production sessions with Van Dyke Parks. He could almost see the musicians sitting on the porches when he put on records by Tom Rush, Gordon Lightfoot, John Hartford. Most of all, he was impressed by the big down-home sounds of The Band on Music From The Big Pink.

So what is a wounded hippie rocker to do with a broken dream and a crate full of country? Head to the hills in search of the Yamato Appalachia.

At the same time, recording technology was getting smaller. Well, still huge really, but small enough that you could, with the help of a few stout buddies, put it in the back of a light truck. This opened up possibilities. The possibility to get away from the pay-by-the hour pressures of a commercial studio. The possibility to record somewhere where you can spend the afternoon getting the right sound, then sit down to a meal with your bandmates, maybe play some cards. The possibility to combine art-life and home-life.

So that’s what Hosono and his buddies did (he even gave them band a name “Caramel Mama”, so the album is perhaps not strictly a “solo album” at all). On the 15th of February 1973, they set up in the bedroom of Hosono’s house, because the living room was too boomy. They recorded from roughly 1-6pm, three days on, two days off for the period of around a month, celebrating the end of the process with a party on the 12th of March 1973.

The music sounds warm and real, with an immediately recognisable similarity to Music From The Big Pink. In the mix down, they had to struggle with bringing the sound of the vibrating floor under control. The drums were in the bass mic, so if you tried to turn up the bass, you turned up the snare, toms and cymbals too. You could hear the room. It was as if the strange old American air force officer’s dwelling had become an instrument.

The tracks themselves, though very much in the American-country folk style of the time, and exulting in the domestic, also already hint at some of the vagabond eclecticism of his later work, both solo and with legendary electronic-pop-prog band Yellow Magic Orchestra. There are elements of exoticism, adventure, strange references thrown in here and there.

Haruomi has said it takes a lot of effort to be devoted to a genre. It’s like being an athlete.  You work away at one discipline, a certain movement, a certain routine, over and over until you achieve tiny incremental gains that put you ahead of the competition.

Haruomi has no stomach for it. He’s not an athlete. He’s a tourist. In the years since Hosono House, his wanderlust has taken him to the kingdoms of rock, country, exotica, electro-pop, ambient and, most recently, pre-rock boogie woogie. He would rather ride his bike through the countryside than grind it out on the cycle-machine. Life is like a box set of Hosono albums, you never know what you’re going to get.

The lyrics  on Hosono House deal mostly with Haruomi’s immediate surroundings. He wanders through the hills, the houses, the environment, and melds it with the feelings, the hopes and dreams of the time.

By way of illustration, today I’ve done a translation of track two on the album “Boku wa chotto”. The title itself is prosaic, matter-of-fact, maybe almost akin to the “it’s so boring it’s good” aesthetic of late teens Melbourne dole-wave. It means “I’m a little…” or “Maybe, for me…”. It’s equivocal, an unfinished thought. It seems to reflect the uncertainty that Haruomi was feeling in this period in his life, in his art, in his sense of place.

But mostly, Boku wa chotto is an attempt to banish these uncertainties in a sun-drenched ode to the quiet life. The singer is sun-bathing, chatting over tea, going out for strolls, listening to country music, and ultimately deciding to keep quiet. It even has a reference to the white houses of the American Village he was living in at the time.

The only line that jolts us out of this at-home bliss is the refrain, as many good refrains do. The line appears three times and refers to the nation of Japan, another home reference, but this time at much more bird’s eye level. He uses an archaic name for the country 日の出ずる国, “the country where the sun rises”. Our term “Land of the Rising Sun” is a translation of this phrase. The modern Japanese name for Japan is a variation on this theme ”日本”, meaning literally the “The origin of the sun”. At first glance this sounds kind of conceited, like the Japanese had come up with a name for their own country that made it so central that it was where the sun itself originates. But in reality, the name was bestowed by China, who were the ultimate superpower in the region of the time, much as America is now. Japan is roughly East of China, so it made sense to refer to the country as “the place where the sun rises”.

Either way, the sun has a central place in Japanese culture. Their striking flag has a sun on a white background. Their Emperor is meant to be descended from the Amaterasu, the ancient Goddess of the sun. So Haruomi’s numerous references to sunshine, rays of light, glistening and shimmering is rich in deep cultural reverberations. 

The other cultural context we can’t ignore is that of the massive riots that raged through the 1960’s Japan, which were only just beginning to quiet down in the early 70s. Amongst the many issues that had brought people onto the streets, the most universally mobilising was that of the Japan-America Security Treaty which placed American army and air bases throughout Japan, in return for protection. Many viewed, and still view, this mafioso-like arrangement as an infringement on Japanese sovereignty and an act of American imperialism. Perhaps the ironic thing about this movement and the security bases themselves, was that the U.S. bases often became places of congregation for radicals, partly because of the anti-war publications that were distributed from US activists themselves.


So, though Boku wa chotto is not an overtly political song, and Haruomi has never shown a particular proclivity towards activism, I think that it is safe to say the songs has references to the political climate of the time and to the dueling urges of nationalism, anti-imperialism, pacifism and the love-hate relationship between the United States and the 日の出ずる国.

That’s a lot to bite off. No wonder the upshot of Haruomi’s domestic, sun-soaked, Japanese-Americana riffing is that he’s going to take a quiet moment.


Maybe you should take a quiet moment too?

僕は一寸 Boku Wa Chotto In Translation

This is rough translation of the song. It’s translated more for rhyme and to capture the general feel than as complete word-for-word translation.



そこにまあ すわって

お茶でも飲んで お話を




散歩がてらに 歩きませんか

そこから 立ちあがって

服のすそでも はらって




道のぬかるみ 入り日が映り

だまりこくる 夕焼けの午後

僕は一寸 笑うつもりです―



あそこを ひきはらって





外の日溜り 枯木に埋まり

だまりこくる 家の中の午後

僕は一寸 だまるつもりです―

Don’t be shy

We could just sit here in this sunshine

We could put the kettle on

Talk about whatever we want

 Shall we talk about

What’s over the horizon

For me and you and everyone

And the land of the rising sun

Why don’t we go

Out, go for a stroll

Climb up over the hill

Just like Jack and Jill

Which path should we go down. we could go left or right, I don’t mind

Or follow that glistening one

On the road to the rising sun


And the mud on the path

Is shining just like glass

As the afternoon keeps quiet

And the sun just keeps on shining

I’m gonna let that time pass

The only plan I’ve got is to laugh


Why don’t we live around here

Mov outta that old place

Listen to the people play their country music, every day


find a house that’s white

Paint it any colour we might  like

Maybe we could find one

On the hill beneath the rising sun

Splashes of sunlight

Cover up the trees all dying

The afternoon’s still silent

Maybe we could stay inside

Sometimes it’s alright

To stay quiet

Japan’s Most Famous Anti-War Folk Song? Wataru Takada’s Jieitai Ni Hairo

You probably know something about the anti-war folk music of the United States in the 1960s. But do you know much about the parallel movements in Japan?
Today I’m taking a look at one of the most representative songs of the time, Wataru Takada’s 自衛隊に入ろう Jietai in hairou or, as I’ve translated it, “Why don’t you join the army?”

Read More »

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Ponponpon Lyrics in English and Japanese

Ever wondered what the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu & Yasutaka Nakata’s PonPonPon lyrics are all about? I did too. So I’ve done translated the song into English. While I was at it I did a thorough research into the background of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Yasutaka Nakata, and the history of the song.

First of all here’s my translation, then you’ll find all the background info below.

Japanese Reading Difficulty

6/12 Could be read by 6th grade level student in Japan



Text Type

Song Lyrics


Ponponpon Japanese Lyrics

あの交差点で みんながもしスキップをして
もしあの町の真ん中で 手をつないで空を見上げたら
もしもあの町のどこかで チャーンスが掴みたいのなら
まだ泣くのには早いよね ただ前に進むしかないは イヤ イヤ




ポンポン出して しまえばいいの
全然しないの つまらないでしょ?
ヘッドフォーンかけて リズムに乗せて
ウェイウェイ明けて 私の道を



ポンポン進む 色々のこと
どんどん聞いてる あなたの気持ち
ポイポイ捨てる 悪い子はだれ?
そうそういい子 アアYOU MAKE ME HAPPY!


多分、そんなんじゃ だめでしょ・・・

ポンポン出して しまえばいいの
全然しないの つまらないでしょ?
ヘッドフォーンかけて リズムに乗せて
ウェイウェイ明けて 私の道を


Ponponpon English Lyrics

Tell me what it would be like
If everyone just started skipping round at the street lights
And won’t you tell me
Would it just be alright
If we all held hands and looked up at the sky
Right here in the middle of the busy city
Maybe there’s a chance right here for you and me
And don’t you think that maybe it’s too soon to cry
All we really can do is keep moving, you and I

Go go, oh my love, let it out, let it out
Don’t don’t keep it in, sing it loud, sing it loud
Put on those headphones and let the rhythm carry you
Clear clear the way, we’re coming through, we’re coming through

Keep, keep going on, whatever it is you want
Hear hear, hear that song, feel it coming on so strong
Throw throw it all away, if you’re the bad guy who’s to say?
The whole damn world is sad maybe
But you make me happy

Every day you’re gone
Every time you’re gone
riding on that merry go round
Every day I’m gone
Every time I’m gone
But listen out, can you hear that sound?

Keep, keep going on, whatever it is you want
Hear hear, hear that song, feel it coming on so strong

The Story of PonPonPon

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, PonPonPon and The Simpsons

Recently, I’ve come to use the Simpsons as a tool to measure fame. I needed to find a way of measuring notoriety when my son reached the age of 11 and became suddenly obsessed with wanting to know exactly how famous each musician he heard was. Let’s call it a “streaming media generation problem”. 

Concert attendance, youtube plays, Spotify monthly streams, there are a lot of ways you could measure something like that. But, I’ve found it’s simplest to use the metric of “They’re famous, but are they appear-on-The-Simpsons-famous”.

Though it is obviously a western-culture centric measure, one artist that qualifies as “appear on The Simpsons famous” is Japan’s Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Indeed, she was famous enough to soundtrack a love-montage scene of the character of comic book store owner geek Jeff, in a Simpsons episode from 2014. 

Now let’s contextualise this by saying Japanese musicians don’t have a strong history of crossing over to America. It has been more than half a century since a Japanese song has been number one on an American music chart. You have to go back to 1963’s ue wo muite aruko (bizarrely released under the title of Sukiyaki in the States) by Sakamoto Kyu. 


So the Simpsons nod to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is significant.

So how did Kyary make her way to the animated streets of Springfield from the anime saturated streets of Tokyo?


Early Years of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

In many ways, Kyary is one of those “plucked from the streets and catapulted to fame” stories we love to fetishise. Through the naughties, magazines featuring photos of people snapped on the streets, especially around the Harajuku district in Tokyo, were huge. The shots captured the outlandish outfits of the socially hoi paloi but fashionably ooh la la types. These glossies are testament to the explosion of color, creativity and kawaii cutesiness that spilt out like rainbow coloured acrylics across Japan at the time. 

Harajuku Cuteness

Cuteness has been a thing in Japan for a long long while, but in the naughties it was as if someone took all the pink, all the pouting, all the high pitch and cranked it, in the immortal words of Spinal Tap, up to 11. 

But it wasn’t just straight-out cuteness. It was cuteness put through a sausage grinder, twisted, manipulated, mixed with the grotesque, the aesthetic of the street, the plain ridiculous. It was pretty cute, but the cute wasn’t always pretty.

In some ways, there are even parallels with the Flower Power hippy movement of the 60s, which has sadly come to be thought of in retrospect as somewhat vacuous, naive, even facile, but which at the time was counter-cultural, courageous and deeply confronting. 

Though kawaii and Japanese decora is not as overtly political or heart-on-your sleeve let’s-change-the-world as the summer of love, there is something about a massively oversized glowing polka dot bow ribbon matched with, say a torn skull themed top and a riot of colour too-too below, which issues an aesthetic challenge all of its own. Cuteness was elevated to an artform.

Akamoji-kei 赤文字系 and Aomoji-Kei 青文字系 Japanese fashion

Kyaray Pamyu Pamyu is considered representative of the fashion style of Aomoji-kei.

Emoji-kei means “red letter style”. It refers to the magazines that are popular with female office workers that often had red lettering on their covers. Titles have included “JJ”, “CanCam”, “Vivi”, “Ray” and “JJ”. They are characterised by fashions that are more “aware of the male gaze” and more traditionally “feminine or cute in the eyes of men”.

To differentiate the fashion styles that were happening in Harajuku, the term “Aomoji-kei”, “blue letter style”, started to be used to refer to fashions that were less overly playing up to this male concept of female beauty. These fashions often introduced more boyish elements, such as street wear or trousers. They were less afraid to be “off-the-wall”, and brazenly colorful. 

It is ironic that Kyary, who in many ways is the poster child of “cuteness”, is also the poster child of a fashion movement that is actually associated with being less feminine or “cute”. Although Kyaray is undeniably interested in the idea of cuteness, it is not the sort of pure, male centric, cuteness that is characterised by Akamoji-kei.

There is a Japanese article with pictures here

Kyary Pamyu "Street Snaps"

The first key moment for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu personally was when she had her photo taken on the streets of Shinjuku in 2009 by the magazine Kera. From there, she would go on to appear regularly in street photos, in increasingly adventurous clothing, and later in more staged pics in magazines such as Zipper and HR. Her Cinderella story from street to weirdoid bubblegum idol, to full blown music-fashion monster had begun.


But in other ways, the street Cinderella narrative isn’t quite right. From the start, Kyary was also an auteur, a net based omni creator with a blog and a suite of social media channels. She was an influencer before that was even a thing. In 2010, while still in high school, her blog on the popular Ameblog platform had 2 million hits a day. This is the equivalent of your niece appearing at the academy awards every day after coming home from school.


When Kyary Pamyu Pamyu talked about, say, a certain lotion, or beauty cream, the manufacturers would notice a rise in sales. In 2012, her twitter account was ranked the number one celebrity account in Japan. She had her own online channel to publish her self produced videos. She even wrote a manifesto outlining her world view. She may have been a Cinderella with a glass shoe, but she was also a Cinderella with a self made online production apparatus.



Kyary Pamyu Pamyu meets Yasutaka Nakata

The 2nd key moment for Kyary came at a nightclub in 2010. She was still in her final year of high school but had already started DJing at clubs. It was there that she had a chance meeting with Yasutaka Nakata.


In her own words,  “I working as a DJ at the TAKENOKO, a club event for minors, and the organizers got Nakata Yasutaka to handle the production. I talked to him a number of times and in no time he started to handle my production. I first met him at the “Harajuku Style Collection”, and at that time he had black hair for some reason, so I didn’t recognize him. He often keeps me up to date with gourmet news. He is very knowledgeable and always has an answer for my questions. He is like a fun big brother to talk to. “

Yasutaka is perhaps the ultimate Faceless Man hitmaker of the Japanese music world. There are obvious parallels with a figure like Phil Spector in the sixties guiding a revolving door of mostly female singers to stardom, backed by signature walls of sound that tended to dwarf the sculpted pretty young things toplining the tunes out front.  

If anything, Nakata is more of a one-man-show than was Spector. Nakata generally does absolutely everything involved in the creation of a piece of music, he writes the song,  he writes the words, and then does all the engineering and production. 

Where Spector worked with the songwriting factory of the Brill building of New York, Yasutaka’s 1619 Broadway is in his own small personal studio consisting of a computer, a keyboard, and an embarrassingly small vocal booth around the size of a broom closet. Considering the sounds that come out of there, it is the musical equivalent of a Tardis. And rather than a revolving door, it’s probably more accurate to say that camp Nakata is more like an ever growing tent with a flap in a constant state of unzipping. 


The Tardis
Yasutaka Nakata's Studio

Many artists never leave the tent. His relationship working with the trio Perfume has seen him steer the group to hits across two decades. His production relationship with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has lasted several olympic game cycles. To mash up metaphors, Nakata’s tent is a tardis, and the Tardis is a Hotel California from which you can check out but never leave.


This is also testament to the fact that, in contrast to Spector, Yasutaka understands the first fundamental rule of showbiz, don’t shoot the talent.


About PonPonPon Lyrics

The song that we’re looking particularly at today, Pon Pon Pon, is a Nakata masterpiece. Or perhaps an abomination, depending on which way you look at. But that’s probably true of most things that make a bold statement. Visually, the video clip and aesthetic that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu brings is equally masterful.

The first thing that personally  struck me when I heard the song was the nonsensical refrain. Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom may be one kind of genius, but it takes another kind altogether to craft pop gold out of two monosyllables, pon and wei. Though neither of these sounds strictly has any meaning, they are both rich in association. The sound “pon” in Japan is often used as an onomatopoeic word to describe something that is bursting or being struck and is actually similar enough in both sound and meaning to be something of a distant cousin of our own English word “pop”, separated as it is by a single alphabetic flick of the fingers. I smell a linguistic conspiracy. 

The other sound, “wei”, is related to the English word way, but is also close to the exclamatory sound “yay”, which has been incorporated into the Japanese vernacular sounding more like “iei” .This lends the wei a care-free fun vibe. 

The song lyrics themselves are a somewhat garbled take on the need for a person to find their own “way” in life. If only Frank Sinatra had lived long enough to put a version of this song into his set as a medley with “I did it my way”.  Surely, there’s a mash up waiting to happen. 


The lyrics certainly can’t be described as deep, but they can’t be written off as shallow either. Yes, the main protagonist in the song wants to skip through the streets, and ride on the merry-go-round, and get lost in whatever rhythms are drumming out of the headphones. But she is doing so to keep from crying, as a way of moving on. It is a song of radical defiance, a refusal of depression and a challenge to the listener to find a way to live with meaning in a meaningless world. A wei-pon wei-pon way.

In crafting my translation, I’ve reimagined the words somewhat in places, while trying to remain as true in spirit as I could.

There were some sections I just couldn’t bring myself not to mess with a little. Namely the somewhat ridiculous snippets of cultural appropriation that are the English sections , sections that you so often get in Japanese pop music. Probably the main offender is:

“Everyday is pon, every time is pon, I want to ride a Merry-go-round”.

These I’ve changed to more of a love related motif with, 

“every day you’re gone, every time you’re gone, riding on that merry-go-round”. 

In this context the merry-go-round becomes more of a metaphor for the hurl and burl of life.

Generally though, I’ve tried to keep things pretty close, whilst allowing for a singable, rhyming translation.

My Arrangement of PonPonPon

Musical arrangement-wise, I’ve aimed at a shadow image opposite of the original. Mine is dark. It’s acoustic. I tried to resist using anything electronic as much as I could, but I did allow myself the liberty of a little electric guitar. Creation process wise-it’s not dissimilar to Nakata’s original, in that it’s just me tinkering away from wo to go. Although, in a little suburban tin shed in albion, rather than in a high rise apartment in Tokyo.

I guess you could say I was trying to find my own way to wei pon wei.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu & Fashion Books

Japanoscope uses affiliate links. Which means we may receive commisions when you click on some product links. We only link to products we believe in, use ourselves or think are genuinely good. This helps us keep all of the content on the site free of charge. As Monty Python once said, “We’re selling records in the foyer. Some of us have gotta eat too you know”.

Japan’s Most Famous Anti-War Folk Song? Wataru Takada’s Jieitai Ni Hairo

You probably know something about the anti-war folk music of the United States in the 1960s. But do you know much about the parallel movements in Japan?
Today I’m taking a look at one of the most representative songs of the time, Wataru Takada’s 自衛隊に入ろう Jietai in hairou or, as I’ve translated it, “Why don’t you join the army?”

Read More »

Language Learning Program Reviews


Japanese Games

I list my favorite all-time Japanese games for families and friends. Includes Japanese games that need nothing at all, as well as Japanese card games, Japanese board games and Japanese learning games.

Read More »

Top Japanese Gift Ideas For 2020

I’ve put together a big ol’ list of my favorite Japanese Gifts and presents available now. If you have a loved one who loves Japan, then this is your one-stop-shop for Japanese gift ideas.

Read More »

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).


Midnight Diner Theme Song Omoide by Tsunekichi Suzuki Translated and Explained

Today I present a translation into English of the opening theme song from Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories (Shinya Shokudo) soundtrack, Omoide, by Tsunekichi Suzuki. I give a background on the songwriter, translate the lyrics, present the song in Japanese and English, and give a commentary on the translation.

But first thing’s first…

Who sings the theme song on Netflix Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories?

The opening song for Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories (深夜食堂 Shinya Shokudo) is the song Omoide 思ひで by Tsunekichi Suzuki. It was first released on his 2006 album ぜいご Zeigo.

Zeigo Tsunekichi Suzuki Album

Japanese Reading Difficulty

9/12 Could be read by 10th grade level student in Japan



Text Type

Folk Song

Background To Midnight Diner Song Omoide and Tsunekichi Suzuki

In 2015, Japanese singer-songwriter Tsunekichi Suzuki wrote on his blog about how he left his home country at the age of 61 to go on an adventure to China. The trip was one of a handful of international music tours he made in his life, a life which would end just five years later in 2020. 

Tsunekichi’s blog describes how, after a soundcheck for one of his Chinese tour dates he went to have a cigarette on the street and a youth waiting outside asked him “is this where Tsunekichi Suzuki is playing tonight?”

Tsunekichi told him it was. The young person asked “is Tsunekichi Suzuki famous in Japan, like he is in China?”

Tsunekichi just mumbled ineffectually. He didn’t really know what to say.

Later, on his blog, Tsunekichi said “I should have just told the young man straight out, no Tsunekichi Suzuki is not famous in Japan…None of the people waiting outside the gig knew it was me they had come to see. I thought it had been suspicious when people told me I was popular in China”.

Tsunekichi Suzuki and Midnight Diner

But the truth is, he had become kind of big in China, and in Korea, and in several other countries to boot. He had achieved this level of international notoriety because of a TV show called Shinya Shokudo in Japan but you may know the show by it’s Netflix international release name “Midnight Diner”. 

Midnight Diner uses several of his songs in its soundtrack . If you don’t know the show, it’s set in a wood-paneled Tokyo bar, that caters to a midnight to morning clientele of colourful fringe dwellers. 

Midnight Diner Soundtrack

The show opens with a long sequence of the bright downtown lights of Tokyo, sans street noise. The footage is strikingly off-set to Tsunekichi’s gentle acoustic Irish Folk influenced song “Omoide” or Remembrance. 

This was the proverbial 2nd wind for the singer. A significant time had passed since Tsunekichi had first experienced a fairly short, but intense, few weeks in the national spotlight in 1989. His band, Cement Mixers, had appeared on the TV show “Ikasu Bando Tengoku”. They sounded like this:

Tsunekichi Suzuki & Cement Mixers on Ikaten (いかすバンド天国)

The TV show’s title Ikasu Bando Tengoku いかすバンド天国 translates as “Cool Band Heaven”, and it was kind of like bandstand meets battle of the bands meets eurovision, but read right to left, Japanese style. 

This show was a phenomenon in Japan and coincided with what came to be known as the バンドブーム “Band Boom”, where young groups playing guitars wrested prominence for a time from the studio manufactured “idols” that dominated the charts of the second biggest music market in the world. 

The Ikasu Bando Tengoku show even got it’s own shortened nickname いかてん“Ikaten”, which had particular out of left field resonance with the word “Ikaten” also meaning “Deep fried Tempura Squid”. Many of the bands grew out of the 歩行者天国Hokosha Tengoku “pedestrian paradice” scene of Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku district where 100s of bands would perform on the street on the weekends. This scene had its own nickname too, the “Hoten”. The two “tens” Ikaten and Hoten became inexorably entwined. Now all the record indie execs had to do to scout their next big thing was to take a trip down to the swinging parklands of Tokyo and literally pick a band off the street.

The whole thing didn’t last though, because the good residents of Harajuku didn’t take so well to their neighbourhood becoming a default outdoor live band arena where the music and wacky fashion raged 24/7. The Ikaten program was taken off the air at the end of 1990 and the bands were largely turfed out of the streets of Harajuku. In 1991, the bubble of the Japanese economic post war miracle came to an end and ushered in what is now known as the 失われた10年 “Ushinawareta 10 nen”, or the lost decade.

You can watch a 2007 television program looking back at the Ikaten program here:

Post-Ikaten Tsunekichi 

It seems Tsunekichi’s hopes of superstardom were also lost somewhere along with those ten years, after his band released one album on a major label, to some critical acclaim, and promptly broke up. He formed another band つれれこ社中Tsurereko Shachu, which managed to release one album later that decade, in 1997. Tsunekichi wasn’t to reappear greatly in the public consciousness again until his 2006 solo album ぜいご Zeigo, which was lauded by one of the songwriters I’ve translated here in the past 高田渡 Wataru Takada. The album was ultimately picked up to form the raw materials of the soundtrack to the Midnight Diner tv show many have now watched on Netflix around the world.

Omoide’s 18th Century Irish Folk Origins

One of the strange circularities of this story is that the song Omoide, featured in the opening scenes, is itself based on an 18th century folk song from another island people half way across the world. It is essentially a re-working of the catchily, and perhaps pastorally racily, titled  Irish folk song “A pretty girl milking her cow”. Judy Garland made the song world famous by singing it in the 1940 movie “Little Nellie”.

A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow Lyrics

The English version is attributed to Thomas Moore (1779–1852)

It was on a fine summer’s morning

The birds sweetly tune on each bough

And as I walked out for my pleasure

I saw a maid milking a cow

Her voice was so enchanting, melodious

Left me quite unable to go

My heart, it was loaded with sorrow

For the pretty maid milking her cow

Then to her I made my advances

“Good morrow most beautiful maid

Your beauty my heart so entrances”

“Pray sir do not banter,” she said

“I’m not such a rare precious jewel

That I should enamour you so

I am but a poor little milk girl,”

Says the pretty maid milking her cow

The Indies afford no such jewel

So bright, so transparently clear

I do not add things to my funeral

Consent but to know me my dear

Oh, had I the Lamp of Aladdin

Or the wealth that gold mines can bestow

I’d rather be poor in a cottage

With the pretty girl milking her cow.

An interesting aside about this song for Australians is that this song was apparently sung by Jack Jones,  teenage son of Anne Jones the publican of the Glenrowan Inn (Victoria, Australia) while it was under siege by the famous Ned Kelly Gang bushrangers.

Tsunekichi’s reworking of the Irish tune

Tsunekichi gives the song about girls milking cows a much more ethereal feel, and an ephemeral theme. Here it becomes a Japanese musing on the impermanent nature of things, as the song’s protagonist muses on such questions as what becomes of a breath once it is exhaled, and if you pierce through the sky and the clouds, do you find another sky and clouds waiting there beyond?

I’ll let you ponder those questions as you listen to these Japanese and English versions of the song Omoide, or “Remembrance”.

Omoide Lyrics and Translation

kimiga ha i ta shiroi i kiga
ima yuku ri kazo notte
sorani ukabu kumo no nakani
sugo shi zuttsu kiete yuku

tōku takai sorono naka de
tewo no ba su shiroi kumo
kimiga ha i ta ikio sute
pok karito ukan deru

zutto mukashino kotono yō da ne
kawa mono u e o kumo ga naga re ru
teri kae su hizashi o sa ke te
noki shita ni memoru i nu
思い出もあの 空の中に
omo i de mo a no sora no nakani

sugo shi zuttsu kiete yuku
ko no sorano mukō-gawa ni wa
mō hitotsu no aoi sora
daremo i na i sorano nakate
pok karito ukanbu kumo
zutto mukashino kotono yō da ne
kawa mono u e o kumo ga naga re ru



kimiga ha i ta shiroi i kiga
ima yuku ri kazo notte
sorani u ka bu kumo no nakani
sugo shi zuttsu kiete yuku
sugo shi zuttsu kiete yuku

See your pale breath floating over there

As it slowly drifts off in the air

See it billow into the clouds in the sky

And vanish before your eyes

See the white clouds reaching out there hands

In the sky so far above the land

Breathing in the air you breathed out

Rolling on, Rolling On, Rolling On

And do you remember

The clouds streaming by ‘bove the river?

And didn’t they look just like this?

Or maybe my mind plays tricks

And do you remember the glaring sun

And the dog sleeping there ‘neath the eaves

And all of these memories

Fade into the sky as they leave

On the other side of the sky

There’s another sky there so blue

There’s not a single soul or a sound

But there’s a rolling, rolling cloud

And do you remember

The clouds streaming by ‘bove the river?

And didn’t they look just like this?

Or maybe my mind plays tricks

See your pale breath floating over there

As it slowly drifts off in the air

See it billow into the clouds in the sky

And vanish before your eyes

And vanish before your eyes

What is Midnight Diner Shinya Shokudo?

Shinya Shokudo is originally a Manga. It has appeared in the Big Comic Original in serialized form since 2006. It was later turned into serialised and movie screen adaptations.

Where Can I Read Shinya Shokudo in English?

Many editions of the comic have been translated here on the Internet Archive.

Where can you buy shinya Shokudo Comics?

Shinya Shokudo are available in the original Japanese from Amazon Japan here.

Where Can You Watch Midnight Diner Shinya Shokudo?

You can watch Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories on Netflix, or you can buy it out right on Bluray here:

Are there Midnight Diner Cook Books?

There’s not an official Midnight Diner Cook Book available at the moment, but there are several books that feature similar recipes:

Or if you can read Japanese you could try these:

Hungry for Midnight Diner Merch?

Cool, a t-shirt of the sign on the Midnight Diner restaurant ”めしや” “Meshiya”, which is a colloquial term for “restaurant”. Simple & understated. Nice.

Or give the Midnight Master some love.

Language Learning Program Reviews


Japanese Games

I list my favorite all-time Japanese games for families and friends. Includes Japanese games that need nothing at all, as well as Japanese card games, Japanese board games and Japanese learning games.

Read More »

Top Japanese Gift Ideas For 2020

I’ve put together a big ol’ list of my favorite Japanese Gifts and presents available now. If you have a loved one who loves Japan, then this is your one-stop-shop for Japanese gift ideas.

Read More »

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).


Translating Kiyoshiro Imawano’s Slow Ballad

Kiyoshiro Imawano, King of Japanese Rock

Many musicians have been appointed as rulers of a given musical domain. Sinatra was the chairman, Elvis was the King, Bowie was the Duke, Springteen the boss, and there have been many more fathers and godfathers than there have been mothers and godmothers similarly anointed to go around.

Well, other countries have their own musical monarchs too. Japan may be lorded over by an Emperor, but realm of rhythm is ruled by a King of Rock. His name is Kiyoshiro Imawano and he inhabits are persona somewhere between Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Van Morrison.


Today I’ve translated his song “Slow Ballad”, which was released as the 6th single for Kiyoshiro’s band RC Succession.

Japanese Language Difficulty

5/12 Could be easily understood by 5th grade level student in Japan



Text Type

Songs In Translation

About RC Succession's "Slow Ballad"

The song is a meta-power ballad about a young man hearing a slow song on the radio while he’s sleeping in the car with his girlfriend. Slow Ballad has a soul feel that would not sound out of place sung by, say, Otis Redding, replete with horns provided by American group Tower Of Power, who happened to be touring in Japan around the time the song was recorded. But the song is made by Kiyoshiro’s passionately, impained, rasp of a vocal that is on the edge, often over the edge, of losing control. 

Nicholson Baker once wrote that to write a poem all you have to do is describe the most significant moment of your day. Slow Ballad is right on cue. Kiyoshiro’s moment is of two people on a frigid night, in a municipal car park, in a sedan, wrapped in a blanket sleeping while the tunes play. The strength of the song is in the fact that it never tries to break out of the instant. And yet, you still get the sense that the moment is part of some larger inexorable, and most probably darker, pulse of time. 

Released six years after the band’s first single, Slow Ballad appeared at a time when few people were buying the band’s music or coming to shows. And it would not be until the release of their 9th single another four years later that the band would see large-scale success. Kiyoshiro himself would ultimately go on to eclipse the band and have cross-over mainstream success another two years later after collaborating with Ryuichi Sakomoto on the track Ikenai Rouge Magic.



But the song Slow Ballad has lodged itself in the popular consciousness of Japan, as a record of the humbler and leaner days of the man who would go on to become rock royalty. From the municipal ground car park, kiyoshiro would claim his own country’s mantle of the King of Rock, and take his own throne at the table of the international council of dionysian lords of song.



ほんとさ 確かに聞いたんだ

Last night I slept in a car
Hand in hand with a girl neath the stars
In the carpark at the municipal ground
With a warm warm blanket wrapped around us

And the radio played a balad so slow
As the night dew shimmered on the wind screen window
And I didn’t have a single bad feeling no no

And I tell you I heard her talk in her sleep
But what she said is a secret I’m gonna take with me
And the radio played a balad so slow
As the night dew shimmered on the wind screen window
And I didn’t have a single bad feeling no no
And the two of us dreamed a dream
So alike, that just one it may well have been


Japanese Games

I list my favorite all-time Japanese games for families and friends. Includes Japanese games that need nothing at all, as well as Japanese card games, Japanese board games and Japanese learning games.

Read More »

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).


Imjin River by the Folk Crusaders In Japanese and English

Japanese Reading Difficulty

4/12 Could be read and understood by 4th grade level student in Japan


Partitioning of Korea

Text Type

Songs In Translation


イムジン河水清く とうとうと流る
水鳥自由にむらがり 飛び交うよ
我が祖国南の地 想いははるか
イムジン河水清く とうとうと流る

北の大地から 南の空へ
飛び行く鳥よ 自由の使者よ
誰が祖国を二つに 分けてしまったの
誰が祖国を 分けてしまったの


イムジン河空遠く 虹よかかっておくれ
河よ 想いを伝えておくれ
ふるさとをいつまでも 忘れはしない
イムジン河水清く とうとうと流る

The imjin river flows so clear

It flows so strong, it flows so deep oh yes my dear

And the water fowl form flocks and fly

To and fro to and fro

My heart lies in the south

My hope lays at rivers mouth

And the imjin river flows so clear

It flows so strong it flows so deep oh yes my dear


From the northern continental planes

The birds they fly in flocks they fly in waves

And Like messengers from freedoms shore

make their way make their way

Who was it that cut our land in two

Gave half to me and half to you

And do they even know just what they’ve done

And do they watch the same great imjin river run


Down the imjin river way off far

Theres a rainbow forming in the air

Oh Imjin river tell my love

Look above look above

And tell them that I still know the road

That leads back to my home

Cause the imjin river flows so clear


It flows so strong it flows so deep oh yes my dear

Today for we’re looking at a song called イムジン河 Imjin River.

Imjin River runs between North and South Korea, through the ironically named demilitarised zone, where two armies eyeball eachother off across one of the most heavily armed borders on earth. The song about the river was original called Rimjingang and was composed in Korea in 1957 by Ko Jonghan to a poem by Pak Se-yong song. Rimjingang is banned in North Korea, as it uses the Imjin River as a symbol of freedom, flowing with the river north to south. 

The song found its way to Japan in the 1960s, with the Korean diaspora, where it was heard by a young writer in Kyoto names Takeshi Matsuyama. With the help of his Korean friends, Matsuyama translated some of the original lyrics and added two verses of his own. Late 60s Japan was heavily influenced by the folk music movement that was happening in America. A large number of folk acts, mixing Japanese and western folk elements were born, including a group called the Folk Crusaders in Kyoto. The group has some similarities with folk groups such as Peter, Paul and Mary. 

Matsuyama taught his version of the Korean song to group member Kazuhiko Kato. Both thought it was a long-standing Korean “traditional” song, rather than a fairly recently composed song with definite authors. The group arranged it into something quite new and attempted to launch it as their follow up song to the break out, and extremely odd, novelty single 帰ってきたよっぱらい Kaete Kaete Kita Yopparai.

Nagsa Oshima later made a somewhat experimental film of the same name, which you can see here.

Unfortunately, Imjin River was deemed too political by the Japanese government and was effectively banned in that country too.

The song, however, remains popular both in its original Korean form, and its modified Japanese form. It is a powerful statement of the pain felt by the partitioned people of the Koreas. The Japanese version also functions as a symbolic gesture by Japanese youths of the 1960s trying to break down the barriers that were often, and continue to be, placed around Korean communities in that country. Here is the Japanese version of the Folk Crusaders singing Imujin-Gawa.


Check out some more Japanese songs in translation here.

This song was translated as part of the Songs in Translation segment on RRR radio program Vital Bits.

Language Learning Program Reviews


Japanese Games

I list my favorite all-time Japanese games for families and friends. Includes Japanese games that need nothing at all, as well as Japanese card games, Japanese board games and Japanese learning games.

Read More »

Top Japanese Gift Ideas For 2020

I’ve put together a big ol’ list of my favorite Japanese Gifts and presents available now. If you have a loved one who loves Japan, then this is your one-stop-shop for Japanese gift ideas.

Read More »

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).


Japan’s Most Famous Anti-War Folk Song? Wataru Takada’s Jieitai Ni Hairo

Japanese Reading Difficulty

6/12 Could be read by 6th grade level student in Japan


War, Japanese folk music, Japanese anti-war songs

Text Type

Song Lyrics

First let me give you a short background to the song. 

In the late 1960s Western countries weren’t the only ones protesting. There was strong resistance to the Vietnam War in Japan also. A lot of American folk musicians travelled to Japan including Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte. Japan experienced its own golden age of American folk influenced music, with its own distinct flavour. Dylan’s music was huge, but he didn’t get to the country until 1978, when he played the famous budokan hall with a capacity of 10,000 people and sold it out for a record breaking (for foreign artists) eight nights.

One of the central native folk musicians was Wataru Takada. I first heard Wataru when I went to see him play live in Kyoto in 2004, shortly before his death in 2005. He left a big impression, not least by falling asleep half way through his set – which was not uncommon in his later years. Although he was only 56 when he passed away, he looked like a man who’s life had not left him much fuel in the tank.


Born in gifu, mother died at 8, father took him to Tokyo without a plan, they lived in a series of unstable situations, including charity housing. His father died by the time he was in middle school.

He was introduced to American folk music in the mid 60s  and was soon so devoted to the music that he had his English teacher write a letter to Pete Seeger saying he wanted to learn from him. A reply from Pete came a couple of months later giving him some word of general encouragement:


Dear Wataru Takada: 


Thank youfor your long letters ー I’m sorry that my answer must be so brief. 


1) You can learn most from me by my writings in Sing Out magazine, and other Oak Publicaitions ー song book, etc, and from my recordings. 

2) But you can learn more from you own neighbors and friends and from your own successes and failures in your activities. 

3) When you learn English, I would be glad to hear from you again.

4)  Meanwhile, learn to make such good music that people will ask to hear you again and again.


Best of luck


PS – I’m sorry that I cannot write in Japanese.

When Pete toured to Japan a year later, he gave the young Wataru Takada a front row ticket to his show.

In 1968 he took part in the Kansai Folk Camp in Kyoto, and he moved there the next year to be part of what had become the main folk movement in Japan. He became a central part of the scene along with figures such as Tomoya Takaishi and Nobuyasu Okabayashi. He later returned to Tokyo and again became a major force in the folk scene that would come to be known as Kichijyoji-ha Folk 吉祥寺派フォーク.


Origins of the song


The song 自衛隊に入ろう Jieitai Ni Hairo is based on a song written by Malvina Reynolds and Pete Seeger:


I want to go to Andorra, Andorra, Andorra,
I want to go to Andorra, it’s a place I adore,
They spent four dollars and ninety cents
On armaments and their defense,
Did you ever hear of such confidence?
Andorra, hip hurrah!


Here’s the song as sung by Pete Seeger.

Malvina Reynolds is probably most well known for this her song Little House. Check out this documentary about this amazing woman and songwriter here.

Wataru took the basic chord structure and melody and made a satirical song about joining the self defence force, using the force’s own sales slogans. It’s pretty clear that the song is sarcastic, but apparently he got called up not long after first performing the song by the Japanese self defence force to ask if they could use the song. Clearly, they hadn’t gotten the joke. Later the song was considered for official banning by the Japanese government. It was never officially banned, because they felt it would never be popular anyway, but the song has long been “unofficially” banned by official media for all intents and purposes.

Takada stopped performing the song not long into his career. He has said that performing songs about everyday experience is a more potent form of anti war protest. But the song continues to live on and has been adapted for modern protests such as the anti-nuclear protests in Japan where it the song became “Why don’t you join Tokyo Electricity”:





自衛隊じゃ 人材もとめてます


自衛隊に入ろう 入ろう 入ろう

自衛隊に入れば この世は天国


自衛隊に入って 花と散る



いつでも 自衛隊におこし下さい

槍でも鉄砲でも 何でもありますよ

とにかく 体が資本です


鉄砲や戦車や ひこうきに



手とり 足とり おしえます





悪い ソ連や中国をやっつけましょう


自衛隊じゃ 人材もとめてます

年令 学歴は問いません

祖国のためなら どこまでも


Hello my friends, are there any there amongst you
Who want to join the army, who want to learn to shoot
If there’s any there amongst you who want to make a name
Well the army is recruiting, come and join today

Why don’t you join the army
The army’s where it’s at
For all of you men’s men
The army is your best bet
Why don’t you join the army
And fall with the blossom

If there’s any there amongst you, who want to be a sportsman
Just say yes sir, and I’ll say now you’re really talking
We’ve got the spears, and yes we’ve got the guns
But really it’s your body, that makes the best weapon

If there any there amongst you
Who take an interest in
Guns and tanks and aeroplanes
Well well, well then
The armys always right here waiting
From the top down to the bottom, well teach you everything

To keep the peace, protect the people of Japan
We need the guns and rockets, we need the boys, we need the men
Mr America he needs a helping hand
To get the baddies there in Russia and beat the China Man

The armys on the lookout
For new personal
Age and education
Can both go straight to hell
The only qualifications that you’re going to need
Are a will to fight for fatherland and an appetite for beans

Language Learning Program Reviews


Japanese Games

I list my favorite all-time Japanese games for families and friends. Includes Japanese games that need nothing at all, as well as Japanese card games, Japanese board games and Japanese learning games.

Read More »

Top Japanese Gift Ideas For 2020

I’ve put together a big ol’ list of my favorite Japanese Gifts and presents available now. If you have a loved one who loves Japan, then this is your one-stop-shop for Japanese gift ideas.

Read More »

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).


Ii Yu Da Na いい湯だな-英語訳-In English Translation



湯気が天井から ポタリと背中に



ここは北国 登別の湯



誰が唄うか 八木節が



ここは上州 草津の湯



湯気にかすんだ 白い人影



ここは紀州の 白浜の湯



日本人なら 浪花節でも



ここは南国 別府の湯

The water feels so good

Oh it feels so good

I feel a cold drop on my back

As the steam falls from the roof

And it feels so cool

Yes it feels so cool

I’m in the north country

Noboribetsu And it’s gonna gonna get you


The water feels so good

Yes it feels so good

Who is that singing that

Yagibushi, they make it sound so easy

It sounds so sweet

Yeah it sounds so sweet

Here in jyoshu, kusatsu

Getting my body warm through


The water feels so good

Oh it feels so good

Who is that hazy figure

Coming through the white mist

It could be her, it could be yes

It could be her

Oh it could be her

Right here in old Kishu

Hamatsu, maybe there’s someone loves you


But it feels so good

Yes it feels so good

I feel so Japanese

Feels like I should be

Singing naniwa bushi yeah

In a low low groan

In a low low groan

Now I’m in the south country

In beppu in my birthday suit

Forgetting me, forgetting you

Interview about the song & Ken Shimura on RRR Radio


Here’s an interview I did on Melbourne’s RRR radio, Vital Bits Program as part of the Songs In Translation project.

The Drifters Versus Monty Python



彼らはそれぞれどれくらい持続しましたか? 1969年から1974年にBBCで放映されたオリジナルの「モンティパイソンフライングサーカス」テレビ番組に対してザドリフターの番組「8時だョ!全員集合」1985年にTBSでなんと16年間(1971年に6か月の休止期間含む)。どちらのグループも、現在に至るまで何らかの形で継続しており、個々のメンバーが独立してプ番組とコンテンツを作成して、断続的に一緒になって作品を共同制作したりしてきました。それは、半世紀以上にわたる、二つの文化を渡る、二つの笑い組が作る天才的な漫才になります。



In the U.K. there was Monty Python. In Japan there was The Drifters. Such was the influence of the comic group in Japan. Both were skit based comic troupes. Both had a music focus as well as a comic focus. Both became long running cultural institutions that continued to create content, off and on, across not years but decades.

How long did they each last? The original Monty Python’s Flying Circus program aired from 1969 – 1974 on the BBC, and The Drifter’s program 8時だョ!全員集合 (hachi ji da yo! Zenin Shugo – Everyone Roll Up, It’s Eight O’Clock) ran from 1969 – 1985 for a whopping sixteen years (with a six month hiatus in 1971) on TBS. Both groups have continued in some form or other up to the present day, with individual members creating programs and content independently before coming back to create together intermittently. That’s more than half a century of parallel comic genius.

The main difference between Monty Python and The Drifters? The Drifters are funnier.

Ken Shimura teaching English skit

ジョンクリース性教育を教える Jon Clease teaching sex education skit

Notes about the Drifters


The first thing you should know about the Drifters is that they opened for the Beatles on their 1966 tour of Japan. True, their set went for a total of one minute and 15 seconds, but it still counts. How a comic-music act came to be one of the representative bands of Japan to open for The Beatles is less than intuitive. It was a different time. The line between entertainers of all stripes was more porous than it is now. It was twilight years of the variety show where a singer performs beside a magic act who performs before a dancer who performed someone doing tricks with dogs. The main requirement was that you entertained. If you can do all of the above, all the better.

The Drifters opening for the Beatles

Beatles 1966 Japan Performance


In many ways, the Beatles and guitar bands were the ones that changed all that. But the Beatles themselves very much had foot on both stages. This recording of the Beatles playing Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport with Ralph Harris is evidence of that 

ビートルズとロルフハリス共演 The Beatles riffing with Rolf Harris

ドリフターズはこの頃までにほぼ10年の間何らかの形で活動続けて来ていたが、ビートルズの前座をしたことで彼らを本格的に日本全国的に有名になりました。 1956年、マウンテンボーイズと東京ウエスタンボーイズの2つのグループが合併して、The Driftersの原始版を形成しました。彼らは笑い中心というよりは音楽グループとして始めました。


この時代の風習は芸能グループしばしばメンバーが変わったりして回転ドアのようなものでした。初期のドリフターズは例外ではありませんでした。ドリフターズの初期版の1つでは坂本九が含まれており、坂本九は後に「向いて歩こう」、日本国外で「すき焼き」というわけがわからない題名で、で初の本格的海外でクロスオーバーヒット果たしました。この曲は、ヨーロッパ以外の言語で、米国のBillboard Hot 100チャートをトップになった最初の曲です。



The Drifters had been going in some shape or form for nearly ten years by this time, but opening for the Beatles was what really brought them to national prominence. In 1956 two groups, the Mountain Boys and the Tokyo Western Boys joined forces to form the primordial version of The Drifters. They started out as more of a music group than playing for laughs. 

Acts in this era often featured something of a revolving door of members coming and going, and the early Drifters was no different. One version of the group included Kyu Sakamoto, who would later have the true Japan-Western cross-over hit of all time with 上を向いて歩こう, strangely marketed under the name Sukiyaki outside of Japan. The song was the first song from a non-European language to top the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the United States.

Early drifters were known for doing music ranging from kayo 歌謡 songs, to Minyo 民謡 traditional folk songs, comic songs and even military songs. There first big hit was Zundoko-Bushi, which is a somehow-potent mix of Japanese pentatonic melody and Pink-Panther style who-done-it-jazz, tells the story of several stages of love from across a man’s life, several of which seem to hint at an overlap between lover-wife-lover. Here’s them performing it in 1970:

ドリフターズズンドク節 The Drifters Zundoku-Bushi


The group went on to have several top 10 hits in Japan, but turned more towards comedy as time went on. Each of the individual members would continue to produce music outside of the group for much of their careers.

志村けん Ken Shimura

Ken Shimura was the latest Drifter to join the group at the age of 24. He became well known for doing the festive Higashimurayama Ondo. Anyone who has been to a Bon Odori will recognise the hypnotic, thudding rhythmic style of this one.




彼の死でさえ日本人の最後の奉仕となりました。 2020年3月20日に彼は肺炎で入院しました。 3月23日、けんさんCovid-19陽性であることが世界に発表されました。彼は3月29日までにこの世を去ってしまいました。


それはMonty Pythonが受け取ったがない不幸な賞ではあります。

After a world beating, okay, maybe Japan-beating, period doing live performances and TV with the drifters, he went on to create highly successful alter-ego characters including バカ殿様 (Baka Dono Sama – Sir Idiot) and 変なおじさん (Henna Ojisan – Weird Old Guy). He went on to create other popular shows such as 志村けんのだいじょうぶだぁ (Shimura Ken no daijyoubudaa – Ken Shimura’s It’s Okay).

Ken Shimura, along with his Drifters companions, was truly a people’s hero in the same way that many members of Monty Python went on to be in the U.K. 

Even his death served as a final service to the Japanese people. On the 20th of March 2020 he went to hospital with lung inflammation. On the 23rd of March, it was announced to the world that he had Covid-19. He was dead by the 29th of March. 

In a Japan that was seeing steadily rising, but relatively low numbers of Covid infections, Ken Shimura’s death came as a major shock to the Japanese people. Ken Shimura was the funny guy  that three generations of Japanese had grown up with. Now the sickness had taken someone they knew. Now the sickness was real. Ken Shimura’s death represented a major turning point in Japan’s awareness of the coming crisis. On the writing of this article, it is the 8th of April and Japan has just announced a state of emergency. Ken Shimura’s final act was to be the canary in the coal mine of the Japanese psyche. 

There’s one credit no Monty Python member has ever had the misfortune to claim.


いい湯だな Ii Yu Da Na

60年代初頭、ラジオのアナウンサーであり作家である永六輔と作曲家の泉拓はかなり野心的で、ひょっとして楽しいアイデアがありました。彼らは日本中を旅し、あらゆる地域についての歌を書くことしました。その半世紀後ぐらいに、インディーのソングライターであるSufjan Stevensは、彼と似たようなプロジェクトに着手していることを世界に発表しました。それはアメリカのすべての州をうたったアルバムを書くことです。 前述と後述の2つのプロジェクトの主な違いは、スフジャンは50枚の州のアルバムを執筆するというの中でミシガン州とイリノイ州の経った2枚のディスクでやる気がなくなり、エイとタクのプロジェクトでは、日本の47都道府県ごとに1曲ずつ、さらに5曲追加して、見事に完成しました。






「いい湯だな」は、ご当地ソングのシリーズから生まれました。この曲は、19年回の紅白歌合戦に演奏されました。 「日本の歌」サイクルの他の曲も、17、20、22回目の紅白に登場しました。それはかなりの偉業です。






In the early 60s radio announcer and writer Rokuseke Ei and composer Izumi Taku had  a pretty ambitious, and potentially very fun idea. They would travel all over Japan and write a song about every area. Half a century later, indie-orchestral songwriter Sufjan Stevens would announce to the world he was embarking on a similar project – to write an album for every state in America. The main difference between the two projects was that Sufjan’s motivation to write 50 state albums lasted for two discs, Michigan and Illinois, and that Ei and Taku’s project produced 42 songs, one for each prefecture of the 47 prefectures in Japan, plus a few for good measure. 

They weren’t pulling the idea out of nowhere. There is a whole genre of songs in Japan called ご当地ソング (gotochi song), which are songs about different local regions. Of course, writing about your home and the places you know is pretty much a no brainer. Woody Guthrie struck the string in the right place when he urged people to just “write what you see”. And what you see is where you live. Yet, Japan is a place with particularly pronounced differences between towns, areas and regions, for language, food and culture.  You can see how it could easily sustain a whole subsection of popular and folk music devoted to paying homage to the local. America has Homeland Rock, Japan has hometown folk. 

Japanese culture also has a penchant for creating series in their arts -think Hokusai’s 36 views of Mount Fuji or Hiroshige’s Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō.

Ii Yu Da Na started out its life as one of these songs. This song featured at the iconic 紅白歌合戦 kohaku uta gasen, song competition, in it’s 19th year.  Other songs from the “Songs of Japan” cycle also appeared at the 17th, 20th and 22nd song competition. That’s quite a feat.

Originally, the song was sung by the Duke Aces.

Later the Drifters took it on, and would close their “Roll Up It’s 8 o’clock” show with a modified version of the song every week. The song infiltrated the lounge rooms of 100 million Japanese, weekly for a decade and half. There’s not many songs that get that kind of opportunity to commune with the masses.


Japan was also producing some very strange and wonderful guitars during this period of history. We’ve written about some of them here.

Japan was making pretty cools guitars like this one around this time

翻訳ノート Notes On Translation

表面的には「当地」に焦点を当てている曲の割に、いい湯だなのメッセージは普遍的なものです。リフレインの「いい湯だな」とは単純に「お湯が気持ちいい」という意味です。温かいお風呂のぬくもりを味わう感覚とは無縁の人は世界でも少ないでしょう。しかし、この歌の表現は明らかに日本的です。日本語には英語で2つの単語が必要となる一言はあります。「湯」です。元の日本語は単純であるためこそ、英語に翻訳するのが難しくなります。私は「お湯」の「暖かい」意味を放棄することを選択し、「waterはとても気持ちがいい」にしました。お風呂で「the water feels so good」といった時に、事情からwaterの温度はどんな感じか言わなくても分かるでしょう。

言語の翻訳で最も楽しくてやりがいのあるところは、日本語の地名を英語で韻を踏むことでした。 2つの言語の韻を踏むことは、いやらしい感じしました。いい意味で。寝室でいたずらにするような感覚で。


Yet, for a song that ostensibly focuses on the local, it’s message is simultaneously parochial and universal. The refrain いい湯だな means something like “the hot water feels so good”. There are few people in the world that cannot relate to the simple sensation enjoying the warmth of a hot bath. Indeed, here at Japanoscope, we are big bath people and have given our opinions about how to get a Japanese bath into your home. But the way it is expressed here in song is distinctly Japanese. It is telling that the Japanese language has a word that takes two in English. 湯 yu. The simplicity of the original Japanese presents a problem for translating into English. I chose to relinquish the “hot” part of “hot water” and went with just “the water feels so good”. If you’re in a hot bath exclaiming how great the water feels, hot is probably going to be clear from context.

The most fun and challenging part of translating the language was rhyming the Japanese place names with English. Rhyming two languages feels perverse. In a good way. It’s the linguistic equivalent of getting naughty in the bedroom. 

The fact that English has so many fewer syllables than Japanese also gives you opportunity when you translate songs. You can get a lot more information in a shorter time. Which means you’ve got time to play with. In this song, I used this “extra time” to take a few liberties.


ここは北国 登別の湯  

「ベツ」と「Get you」を韻を踏みました。私は登別に行ったことありませんが、居間まで行った日本の温泉のほとんどが僕の心をゲットしました。

I’m in the north country Noboribetsu, And it’s gonna gonna get you

I rhymed betsu with “get you”. I haven’t been romanced by Noboribetsu, but just about every hot spring I’ve been to in Japan hasn’t failed to “get me”.

ここは上州 草津の湯 の湯  

Here in jyoshu, kusatsu

Getting my body warm through

Threw this one, we had the space so why not?

ここは紀州の 白浜の湯

「誰かが愛しているかもしれない」は前の詩の意味を拡張したもので、「湯気にかすんだ 白い人影あの娘かな」の延長です。あの娘は誰なのかわからないがきっと誰かお母さんとかではないでしょう。

Right here in old Kishu

Hamatsu, maybe there’s someone loves you

“Maybe there’s someone loves” extends out the meaning of the previous verse, which has hinted at seeing a “figure in the white mist” and wondering if it is “that girl”. Who that girl is we don’t know. I’m pretty sure it’s not your mum.


ここは南国 別府の湯

元の曲には「Birthday suit」のような言及がないこと認めます。「Birthday suit」とは俗語的な言葉で「生まれつきの服」としての意味で「裸」という意味です。なんとなく「別府」と響きが似ていてついに韻を踏んでしまいました。別府に恐れの気持ちでいっぱいです。
オリジナルには「Forgetting me, forgetting you」、「あなたを忘れて、私も忘れられる」というものもありません。しかし、この曲に、一人でお風呂に行って、次回行った温泉でもやの中でお風呂に入っている女を見て、希望を抱き、恋に失敗して、結局お風呂の温もりに戻ったといった誰かの物語が埋もれているではないかと僕は解釈しました。エイとタクが承認してくれるでしょうか。

In beppu in my birthday suit

Forgetting me, forgetting you

Okay, so the original doesn’t have a reference to “birthday suit” and I guess I owe the whole region of Beppu an apology for rhyming that one with them. Sometimes these things just come out in the process. 

The original doesn’t have the “forgetting me, forgetting you bit” either. But I feel this gives the song a bit more of a story arc of someone that has maybe gone to a bath alone, then seen someone at a bath in the haze, got their hopes up, failed in love, and gone back to the hot bath for solace once again. Hopefully Ei and Taku would approve.


Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday, have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).


Castle In The Sky Laputa: Analysis and Theme Translation

To commemorate the new availability of Hayao Miyazaki & Studio Ghibli films on streaming services, we present an analysis of the movie Castle In The Sky and the theme song Kimi Ni Nosete.

We do a monthly segment on the Vital Bits program on Radio RRR in Melbourne where we present Japanese Songs In Translation.
We’ve also got galleries of Studio Ghibli Posters, Plushies
and socks.

Kimi ni nosete Japanese Version

Kimi Ni Nosete English Translated Version

MP3 Version of song
MP3 version of full radio segment

About the Movie

I’m going to assume you’ve seen the movie already. And that you know that it is about a girl from a mysterious race of people trying to get back to a mysterious world in the sky, Laputa, with the help of a peasant boy, whose father was also looking for the same mysterious land. So much mysterious.
I won’t go into detail recounting the whole adventure and each of the sprawling cast of diabolical, larger than life characters. But let me touch on a few of the things I think are interesting.

Hayao Miyazaki

Image by Thomas:

Movie Themes



Laputa is one of many of writer/director Miyazaki Hayao’s films that deal with flight. There’s probably not a film of his where someone doesn’t take to the sky at some point. If you don’t believe me, watch this cut-up of flying scenes from Miyazaki films put together by Fandor:

In the video, you also see footage of Miyazaki playing with model airplanes. It’s nice to see that this notorious workaholic, who creates fantastic worlds for children, really is a kid at heart. Included in the models is the (in)famous Mitsubishi Zero (a 零戦 Reisen in Japanese). These planes struck fear into the hearts of many allied citizens and soldiers, not least of which when these flying machines were used as Kamikaze suicide bombs. 

Mitshubishi Zero

Martial heland / CC BY-SA (

Hayao Miyazaki’s father was an engineer who worked on the Zero fighters.
You can see how the aeroplane, and flight more generally, has influenced his work and become such a major motif. 
In the Fandor video above, there is an excerpt of Miyazaki talking about his own, his family’s, and indeed humanity at large’s, relationship with the aeroplane. Flying machines were, and are, a symbol of humanity’s ability to transcend its surroundings. Bill Bryson vividly describes in his fantastic book One Sumer: America 1927 how, when Charles Lindbergh completed the first transatlantic flight from New York to Paris, he was greeted by no less than 100,000 parisians. It was as if an alien hand touched down from Mars.
In the Fandor video, Miyazaki also talks about how the technology of flight, developed by those with noble intent, inevitably gets swept up in the prevailing winds of the time and ends up being used for evil. Evil, like the aeroplanes that his dad worked on were used for. 

For the Miyazaki, the struggle between innate human ingenuity and human depravity is personal. 

This yin-yang style dark and light human coexistence is perhaps even parralled by the darker, Nazi sympathising tendencies of global aviation hero Lindbergh himself.

So in Castle In The Sky Laputa, as in many of his films, flight becomes a symbol both of man’s ability to transcend his mortal surroundings, and of technology’s shocking abilities to unleash man’s basest violent instincts.

Filial Piety

Image of Filiel Piety by Kan no buntei

This family connection leads into another major theme in Castle In The Sky, the relationship between child and parent. The idea of filial piety, which wikipedia defines as a virtue of respect for one’s parents, elders, and ancestors is seen in the loving affection that main characters Pazu and Sheeta hold for their deceased parents. Indeed, Pazu is driven by the desire to vindicate his father’s life mission, to prove the existence of the mythical land of Laputa. Pazu is out to redeem his father’s honour in the eyes of the world. 
Sheeta’s memories revolve strongly around the teachings of her mother and the desire to do right in her eyes. The idea of a mythic people who are guardians of a magical other world is connected to the Confusian ideals of respect, even deification, of ancestors. The ancestors even have a magical stone that they pass down through the generations that functions as a special ticket to their exclusive world. How does it get you there? Through the medium of flight of course, this time pure and unadulterated by the need for mechanical devices, technology or gadgetry.
The ticket only works if you have the right blood though. Ancestors, families, look after their own.


Motherly figure of Nausicaa, inspiration for Miyazaki’s first film

By Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton – Art Renewal Center – description, Public Domain,

Castle in the Sky Laputa was released around two years after the death of Miyazaki’s mother. Maternal themes and mother figures permeate the film. It is hard to imagine that Miyazaki wasn’t using his art to work through his own personal loss at this time.
Take a look at the character of the boss-mother of the pirate gange in Castle in the Sky. How much of Miyazaki’s own mother’s character can be found here? Captain Dola, is strong and commanding, but also compassionate and warm. 
Miyazaki’s mother is said to have been of weak constitution, and had spinal tuberculosis in the post-war years 1947-55. This means Hayao’s mother was gravely ill for much of his formative childhood years. Perhaps it is not surprising that orphan characters feature prominently in this and other of his films. Hayao has first-hand experience of the fear of being a motherless child from a young age.
Through this prism, we can perhaps start to see Castle In The Sky as being something of an elegy to his long suffering and recently departed mother. 


The environmental themes that feature strongly in this film and other Miyazaki themes also delve into the concept of Mother-Earth. Miyazaki seems to be mourning not just for his own mother’s loss, but for the loss of the innocence of the world. I’m reminded of the sentiment in songs such as Bill Callahan’s “Oh do I feel like the mother of the world, with two children fighting”. Would Miyazaki agree with Bill when he drops “God is a word, and the argument ends there”?

There is a not-so-subtle reference to the ultimate symbol of man’s unhealthy obsession with technology, the nuclear bomb. Towards the end of the film we see a mushroom cloud that has tremendous cultural and historic resonance and power for a people the victim of two atomic bomb attacks. In this way, Miyazaki continues a strong tradition of referencing, unpacking and analysing nuclear and apocalyptic themes in Japanese films and storytelling. Godzilla was created by nuclear testing in the oceans, Akira features an apocalyptic explosion destroying Tokyo and Tezuka Osamu returned to themes of war and technology throughout his career.

About the song Kimi wo nosete 君をのせて 


Original Lyrics Literal Translation Singing Translation
あの地平線 輝くのは
The reason the horizon shines is that it hides you out there somewhere. Out on the horizon
There’s something shining bright
In the place you try to hide
In someplace and in sometime
あのどれかひとつに 君がいるから
The reason the lights are nostalgic is that you are there There are so many lights
And the warmth I feel inside
Is there because there’s one
Out there that’s yours alone
さあ でかけよう ひときれのパン
ナイフ ランプ かばんにつめこんで
Put a piece of bread, a knife and a lamp in your bag and let’s depart. Put into your bag
A knife and put a lamp
A piece of bread, I’ll meet you there
It’s time for us to go

父さんが残した 熱い想い
母さんがくれた あのまなざし

The burning thought left by the father.
The look the mother gave.

The burning love
That your father left
That gentle gaze, shows your mother is not dead

地球はまわる 君をかくして
輝く瞳 きらめく灯

The Earth turns and hides you
The shining eye, the twinkling light

The world it turns around
It hides you from me now
The shining of your eyes
In the sparkling of the lights

地球はまわる 君をのせて
いつかきっと出会う ぼくらをのせて

The Earth turns around and carries you.
It will carry us, who will one day certainly be united.

The world it turns around
You ride it through the night
Sometime we’ll meet again
And we’ll ride together

さあ でかけよう ひときれのパン
ナイフ ランプ かばんにつめこんで

Put a piece of bread, a knife and a lamp in your bag and let’s depart. Put into your bag
A knife and put a lamp
A piece of bread, I’ll meet you there
It’s time for us to go

父さんが残した 熱い想い
母さんがくれた あのまなざし

The burning thought left by the father.
The look the mother gave.

The burning love
That your father left
That gentle gaze, shows your mother is not dead

地球はまわる 君をかくして
輝く瞳 きらめく灯
地球はまわる 君をのせて
いつかきっと出会う ぼくらをのせて

The Earth turns and hides you
The shining eye, the twinkling light
The turns around and carrys you.
It will carry us, who will one day certainly be united.

The world it turns around
It hides you from me now
The shining of your eyes
In the sparkling of the lights

The world it turns around
You ride it through the night
Sometime we’ll meet again
And we’ll ride together

Castle In The Sky Producer Isao Takahata

Boungawa / CC BY-SA (

So if we are going to see the film Castle In The Sky as ode to a dearly departed mother, it makes sense to analyse the song Kimi Wo Nosete through the same prism.
Producer of the film and long time Miyazaki collaborator Isao Takahata has said that the song lyrics were made when he and composer Joe Hisaishi asked Miyazaki to give them some rough notes on what the song was about:
“When we looked over the scrawled notes, we were amazed to find the words seemed to just fit with the music we had”. And even though the composer and producer did some nipping and tucking of the words here and there, the lyric credit goes to Miyazaki himself. We can assume that the words are something of a personal, direct expression of what Miyazaki wanted to express in the film overall.

Ambiguity of language

One of the challenges of deciphering the words to the song is the ambiguous nature of Japanese expression. The Japanese language, as a matter of everyday usage, leaves out subjects and objects, vital bits of information, in a way that is inconceivable in English. Usually, this is information that is obvious from context. To give a simple everyday example:
熱いね Atsui ne would be translated as It’s hot.
More literally though, this sentence would be translated as “Hot, eh?”
What’s hot? You, me, that thing over there, this thing here? No, the weather is hot. Which is obvious from the context. 
Yet this same inherent ambiguity can be exploited for artistic means. How many times have you heard a songwriter say “it’s open to interpretation”?  The phrase is a cliche. 
Kimi Ni Nosete leaves plenty of room for interpretation.
First of all, it’s not clear whose perspective the song is written from and two, who are the singer and singee in songwriting parlance. 

The chorus is impossible to translate into English exactly as it is written in Japanese.

Fathers and Mothers

父さんが残した 熱い想い
母さんがくれた あのまなざし

Even a rendering such as this:

The burning thought left by the father.
The look the mother gave.

Says too much. We don’t know if it’s Your father, my father, our father, their father, the father or a father. The Japanese language doesn’t force us to specify, and the lyric chooses not to. Ditto the mother.

Given the context of the song with the film, I think it is safe to say that the main suggested perspective for the song is of Pazu singing to Sheeta. Which still leaves open possibilities for interpreting the father and mother of the chorus being those of either of the two main characters. Or perhaps one of each? Given the highlighted relationships in the film, it would seem valid to say that the “burning thought” in question is Pazu’s father dream of proving the existence of Laputa and that the “look the mother gave” is the watchful gaze of Sheeta’s mother looking down from the heavens.
Yet there are other interpretations. If we are saying that the film is Miyazaki’s ode to his parents, and especially his mother, then we could take it that the father and mother of the chorus are his own. Or we could go more universal and link in with the environmental message of the film. Perhaps the father and mother are the elemental father and mother of the world?
I like to think that it is a combination of all these things rolled into one. Even if the songwriters didn’t write it that way, it is possible for songs to take on extra layers of meanings as they unfold, especially as they intertwine and interact with the melody and harmony of the music.


There is a strong Light motif running through the song. That’s “Light motif” rather than “leitmotif” for you music boffins. Kanji with fire radicals appear in the song seven times. We’ve got the loan word for “Lamp” in there. We’ve got words meaning shining, sparkling and burning. 
The light theme in the song highlights similar, perhaps less prominent, themes in the movie. We have the shining flight stone, beams of light crossing the sky showing the way to the promised land, the devastating beams of light let forth by the fallen robot of Laputa, the fires caused by the battle between the robot and the forces of humanity. The film itself is drawn in bright, summery tones. But the song seems to be all the more luminescent in its imagery. Was Miyazaki trying to bring out the brightness of the film using music? Perhaps he felt it wasn’t shining enough? It is interesting to note how bright the mise-en-scene is really, considering some of the themes of loss and lonesomeness the film addresses.
We’ve written more about Japanese lighting here

Castle In The Sky Laputa Robot. Image: Peter Head

Image: Peter Head

The song takes a bird’s eye, perhaps god’s eye view, of the film. Whoever is singing the song is looking at the horizon, the turning of the earth, the lights of the world. What better perspective is there to bring to a conclusion a film with such universal themes. 

Who wrote and sang Castle In The Sky Laputa’s theme song Kimi Ni Nosete?

Joe Hisaishi

Hayao Miyasaki

Azumi inoue

The music for Kimi Ni Nosete was written by Hisaishi Joe to words by Hayao Miyazaki and was sung by Azumi Inoue. Azumi also sang classic Ghibli songs such as the theme and walking songs from the My Neighbour Totoro and Meguru Kisetsu from Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Hisaishi Joe is a classically trained composer, conductor and producer. Watch this video of him playing the Kimi Ni Nosete with a choir of 800 voices and try not to feel a lump in your throat:


Castle In The Sky Merch

There’s some pretty cool Ghibli stuff around the place. Here’s a few that the dedicated fan might need…
We’ve also got a whole page devoted to our favourite Studio Ghibli Posters here.


Studio Ghibli Socks

Massive gallery of Studio Ghibli Socks with links to merchants. Life’s too short for boring lower legs. So get some anime on your ankle already.

Read More »

Studio Ghibli Posters

Welcome to our gallery of Studio Ghibli posters! These posters have been put together after scouring the web and online stores for the best selections available.
To make all of this a bit easier to navigate, we’ve searched across outlets and arranged what we’ve found by movie catogories, store. They are also generally arranged from higher end to lower end items.

Read More »

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts doing a Masters Degree, have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1). I’ve written songs in Japanese and have released several albums through Tokyo label Majikick Records.


Tenniscoats Korin in translation

 And musings on art, party tricks, volleyball, trains, rivers and nothingness in Japan

Korin Lyrics by Takashi Ueno. Translation by Peter Joseph Head


あぁもう ぜんぶやめたいな






ねぇ このままずっと


あぁもう すべてはきっと



I, I wanna give it all up

Let’s, let’s go home together

If if we get on the last train

Then no-nothing will be the same

The dirty river

Sparkles in the night

Hey, hey let’s stay stay this way

Hey, hey no matter how times change

I’m sure, I’m sure that we can say

There’s no-nothing that matters anyway

The Party Tricks of Takashi Ueno

Takashi Ueno from Tenniscoats
Ueno-san demonstrating advanced Japanese T-Shirt wearing techniques to my son.

My children talk about Takashi Ueno, Halo songwriter, as the guy that breaks chopsticks in half and shoves them up his nose. Levered between his mouth and his nostrils, and combined with a too-much-biiru flushed red face, he makes a convincing demon. 

Here’s a few of the party tricks that I’ve seen Ueno do.

  • Peeling back his eyelids and flaring his nostrils to make a goblin face. 
  • Flicking a ten yen coin with the index finger to set it impossibly spinning.
  • Magically “bumping” said coin from one fist to the other.
  • Twisting a waribashi chopsticks in fists so that it goes from the top of the hands to the bottom without ever being released.

He’s got more than that, but that’s what I noted down in my Japan-travel diaries playing shows with Tenniscoats over the last few years. 

Art & Stunts 

These party tricks are called “Gei” 芸 in Japanese. You already know the word gei. It’s the first half of the word “geisha”. I first looked up gei in the metal-coloured, electronic dictionary brickette I carried proudly with me everywhere as a student, and Japan-newb, at the Kyoto City University of the Arts in the early 2000s. I got something like this:

  • 芸 【ゲイ】 art, craft, accomplishment, artistic skill, technique, performance

But don’t be fooled like I was. 

The Art of Volleyball

The Kyoto City University of the Arts Volleyball Club I had joined was organising it’s bi-yearly camp. I had been informed that I should prepare a gei for performance to the rest of the group. 

I knew how to play and sing a few things on the guitar. I had written some stuff. The logical thing seemed to be to play them one of my original, predominantly introspective, plaintive folk numbers. I tentatively pitched this to a couple of my club mates. They were upbeat, but suggested a couple of small tweaks to my act to make it more impactful and fit for purpose. The song would be better, apparently, if I performed it dressed in a Japanese school-girl uniform. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but deferred to their native advice. 

My actual performance at the event has mercifully almost entirely been expunged from my memory. I do remember the penny-drop that I had completely misjudged the request that had been made of me for a display of “art”. I should have read on to the second listed dictionary meaning of gei, namely, trick or stunt.


BEFORE: The traditional runway of an Enkai gathering
AFTER: Better bring a mop

Image: Josh Berglund from Richardson

My volleyball gei performance was part of the unique situation that is the Enkai. Enkai means party, but once again, beware the dictionary translation. An enkai has its own unique rhythms and mores. Most representatively, you’re in a large, spartanly furnished tatami mat room with several lines of shin-high tables stretching down it’s length, like raised lacquer runways. 

The pristine clean lines of the tatami edge brocade and the tables are punctuated by bubbling hot pots on propane gas burners, a boggling quantity of small plates, soup bowls, bottles of booze – the universal social lubricant. The group is soon busily engaged in a warmly ritualised dance of angled glass holding and “I’ll pour you, no, no let me you, no, no I’ll pour you”.

There is only so long a group of people can be in such close proximity, exhibiting such politeness on their knees, in such minimal environs before entertainment becomes a necessity. 

In the hallowed tea houses of high society Japan, I picture the geisha with her, shamisen, refined dance moves, or wistful season-referencing poetry. But that’s not what I’ve seen cross-legging it with the hoi polloi. The enkai-gei of my experience is more in the realm of the sung burp than the recited haiku. 

In my university volley-ball club camp context, I remember a group of students painted white, in singlets and underpants, with beer cans stuck to their crotches. The cans were hotted-up with tubes so that they could be squirted out like piss. They chose members of the audience to get on their knees and drink the quasi-urine. Delicate gaijin-flower me was shocked. 

Kyoto City Univeristy of Arts Volleyball Team Performing Gei in Japan
Kyoto City University of the Arts Volleyball Club Camp

Other than forced wee drinking, there were people with various oddball abilities, double jointed limbs and the like, cultivated who-knows-when, and offered up as fun-fodder for the group. This was not the realm of the reflective singer songwriter. Art ain’t Art. If you’re going to sing a song, it better be upbeat, zainy, a humorous spoof on a song people already know. Failing that, you are going to have to be a genuinely Edith Piaf-level singer to make the gei-grade. By any honest assessment, I met none of the requisite criteria.

Tenniscoats Takashi Ueno would, however, have been in his element. Not in his capacity as an astute observer of the human condition, keenly expressed in plaintive ballads such as Korin, but as a master of the bawdy, an enkai gei blackbelt. His moves utilise all the relevant props of the wafu beer hall; the toothpick and the chopstick, the napkin and the warm shibori hand wipe, the togarashi spice shaker, the 1000 yen note and the 10 yen piece. 

It’s hard to reconcile this side of Ueno with his artistic side. There’s the grandstanding, disheveled, mop-haired, folk strumming, guitar hero, half of Tenniscoats, alt-art-folk Ueno, and the light-your-fart Ueno. But, aw shucks, it’s a loveable duality.


Ueno & Saya from Tenniscoats in Hokkaido うえの さや テニスコーツ
Ueno & Saya at festival in Hokkaido. In korin the person delivering the message is not author Ueno, but Saya.

Contrast the above catalogue of skills with Halo. Halo is, I think, a plaintive, melancholy reminiscence on being, blending the achingly mundane & the human with the grandly, terrifyingly existential. It juxtaposes the everyday and the numinous. It contrasts an abject state of mind, and a flare of the heart, in an intensely personal, possibly romantic, moment of reaching out to another human. It’s about looking for mutual solace in a physical world. That’s not something you hear sung so often. I find it totally recognisable, real. 

Notes on the lyrics 

Here’s my line-by-line take on the song.

あぁもう ぜんぶやめたいな

I want to give it all up


That’s a heavy dump of a way to start. Right at the moment you’re trying to get the audience in. It’s unapologetically bleak.

Saya has said in an interview that she still doesn’t really understand the song that she sings. She suggests that maybe it’s easier to sing a song that way. No need to be embarrassed by your own personal revealings. Each phrase is its own artefact. It’s karaoke, where people skim over the heartbreak, the existential howl, and the unbreakable rock of humans sadness, as easily as they might skip a pebble across a lake. 

“I wanna give it all up” starts the listener at rock bottom. 

But it immediately gives a sliver of hope and a little drama in the next line;


Let’s go home together

Well, now that’s something a little more saucy to go with the existential angst. Where are we going with this? 


If we get on the last train, then nothing will be the same

Isn’t that beautiful? Aren’t those decisions in life something? The ones where there’s no going back. The finality and fatalism of choice is often symbolised by rail in songs. Think Tom Waits’ “It’s a train took may away from here, but a train can’t bring me home”.

The last train looms large in Japanese culture, especially in the mega-cities of Tokyo and Osaka. Many people’s lives run to the tight schedule of the metropolitan train line. I once went to the opening ceremony for my son’s Japanese saturday-school in Melbourne, a hemisphere away from Japan. A Japanese consular official came to do a speech. Unexpectedly jovial, he related how as a school boy in Japan his teacher had made his class memorise every stop on the Yamanote line, the central circular loop of the inner tokyo area. 50 years later, he was able to stand before a crowd of children and parents on the other side of the earth, hold a picture of the rail network map above his head and recite every station with eyes closed. 

The mighty Yamanote line.

Image: Brancacube [CC BY (]

The train timetable likewise governs the rhythms of musical events, partying and nightlife. If I had a 100 yen coin for every sprint I have taken through an underground train station complex, running through kilometres of corridors that feel like they are growing longer with each desperate stride in your effort to make it through the staut plastic hands of the entrance gate, down the steps, and through the sliding metal door of the unstoppable Last Train. This train will be around midnight, sometimes later, sometimes earlier, so the majority of Japanese merry-making happens pre the Cinderella hour. 

As a standard gig start time will be about 7pm, and usually a fairly punctual 7 as opposed to the loping, skulking, must-we-really-start-the-show of, say, a Melbourne pub. You may not have long to make that decision about whether you’re going to go home alone or with a companion. Maybe you will have to make the decision in a split second on a train platform, with the sound of the hissing air, the rumbling engine and the beeping door signalling time’s up. Ah, the mechanised, hurtling deadline of the city has no mercy.

“If we get on the last train” hints at the small moments and decisions we make that have huge effects on our lives. I think here also of the  Billy Bragg line, “The most important decisions in life are made by two people in bed”. Sometimes, the most important decisions in life happen between two people on the subway platform. 


“The dirty river sparkles in the night”

There’s a dirty river flowing through your central business district. It could be the magnificent historic Kamo river in Kyoto, or the Yodo in Osaka, perhaps Sumida in Tokyo. But it’s there somewhere.

Sumida translates as Black Ink Rice Field. It doesn’t get much more murky than that.

Like the train lines of the modern age, the importance of the river in an earlier time can be seen in the pre-modern name of Japan’s capital, “Edo”, which means “River Door”. The modern name “Tokyo” reflects a more pragmatic sensibility meaning “Eastern capital”. But it could be any modern river in any modern city. As Paul Kelly says “Every fucking city feels the same”.The rivers are all dirty these days. And they all still shine in the night. Perhaps you’ve noticed your own city’s polluted tributaries twinkling in the city lights? There’s hope for us mucky sinners yet. It’s a message from above.

ねぇ このままずっと ねぇ時間がきても

“Hey, let’s stay this way. No matter how times change”

The word “Hey” doesn’t quite capture the familiar, softly feminine inflection of “Ne” in the Japanese original, especially as delivered by Tenniscoats’ Saya. “Ne” is more endearing, like a gentle hand touching your arm, beseeching. 

Who hasn’t felt the desire to hold on to a beautiful moment? To cast it in stone so that it can’t get worn away by time, the elements, the shifting ground and the changing of the seasons. This is a heartbreaking and universal. It is also an enduring mainstay, to the point of cliche, of Japanese aesthetics. 

The most famous symbol of the transitory is the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossom. The blossom season is the target of millions of tourists  to Japan from around the world. The irony of this is that the flower of any fruiting tree anywhere in the world is no less or more beautiful than the cherry blossoms of Japan. In a way, the real source of this tourist phenomenon is the Japanese appreciation of the Cherry blossom, rather than the blossom itself. Did you know they announce the percentage of flowers in blossom in different locations across the Japanese archipelago as part of the weather segment on the news? 

 “Hey let’s stay this way” is also made more poignant, I think, by the context of when & where the song was made. Halo first appears in recorded form on disk one of Tenniscoats’ 5 disk magnum opus “Music Exists”, track two. This set of music was recorded in the years after the 20th anniversary of the existence of Tenniscoats as a duo.  Around this time, they were also involved in intensively collaborating with different artists from around the world to make albums such as Yaki-Laki (2013) with Estonian folk artist Pastacas, and far left of centre albums with  Maquiladora 2015 and Jad-Fair & Norman Blake (2017). With “Music Exists” It seems as if they went to the opposite extreme; going inwards instead of playing with people from around the globe, tackling the extremes of genres from Eastern European trad music to Glaswegian power pop, improvising, responding to foreign inputs, giving, looking outwards. The Music Exists albums were recorded mostly just the two of Saya and Ueno in their home in the suburbs of Tokyo. The press release for the album plays up the at-home-ness of the recording style, highlighting the 10 tatami mat size of the room that it was recorded in, how Saya did the mixing herself, how they used analogue equipment, kept it simple. Music Exists is deeply personal, its Tenniscoats as a unit, partners in music, partners in life. 

I visited Tenniscoats house around the time they were making the Music Exists albums to record a song I had written with Saya on one of my annual Japan tours. The house certainly wasn’t glamorous, but it seemed homely, if fairly remote from downtown Tokyo city. I picture the two of them hunkering down and getting creative during this period, out in the burbs, amidst the little market garden plots and dirty concrete primary schools.  It must have been intense. Did they get cabin fever amidst the tatami and the XLR cables?

A year or so later, I was confused when Saya told me at a gig we played together at Kyoto’s Urbanguild, that she had gotten married since I had seen her last. But not to Ueno from Tenniscoats. Instead, to a young artist I hadn’t yet met from Osaka. 

I wonder if the creation of the five album music Exists contributed to the breakdown in Ueno and Saya’s non-musical relationship? This is speculation on my part, but it does add perhaps a certain poignancy to the lyrics of Halo.

But the kicker in the “Halo” comes at the end, and compared to what has come before, it is existential and totally impersonal, and presents no evidence for our perception of a wistful universe:

あぁもう すべてはきっとなんの価値もないんだよ

“I’m sure that we can say, there’s nothing of value anyway”

Not relationships, not love, not running for the last train, not nature’s beauty, not pollution, not the sparkling reflections of city lights.

Last Word

This is a real downer of a song to sing live. I can attest to that. I’ve sung this song, usually as a duet, many times with several different people. It works as a duet, I think, because I see it as essentially a love song with existential intentions. Two of the people I have sung this song with have felt the need to negate the last line of the song by saying something like “well, there could be value too”.

I can understand this need. I also feel the last line doesn’t necessarily have to be taken as nihilistic. If nothing has value, then everything has value. Existence is a glass half full, half empty. There is something of a buddhist/hindu world view of meaningful/meaninglessness. Yin & Yang, Ah and Un, Alpha & Omega, they’re all false dualisms. Outline and silhouette. Inseparable. Just vocab. Bill Callahan sings it best, “God is a word and argument ends there”. Some strains of buddhism also describe six levels of existence: God, Demon, Human, Animal, Hungry Ghost, Hell, as being representative of six states of mind. I definitely feel like I’ve felt a fair selection of them. On the more simple system of the judo-Christian heaven/hell duopoly, I wonder whether this is just another way of describing a half full half empty mindset. People often interpret an atheistic universe as an inescapable abyss of existential terror. Which it is. As well as an unending paradise of substance and wonder. Only a mind can choose between these two worlds at any given moment. Over and over again. For ever and ever. We live on an eternal life’s edge. 

It also tells us that chance plays a role, along with the mind. Indeed, perhaps the mind is only a result of chance. Heaven and Hell can be the difference between one minute before and after the last train departs.

Here’s Tenniscoats and I playing Korin 2018 at Iyoyaka Onsen:

This song was translated as part of the Songs In Translation project. There are some other videos of translated songs here on Youtube here: