After the last post, I’d been considering doing an introduction to Japanese music, but if that ever happens – even if it’s only a very brief overview – it’ll be quite a while from now, as really, I’m not up to speed on the subject myself.

But in my efforts to become more informed, I’ve been digging around in YouTube, and I thought I’d share some songs I found.  Or rather, a song.

Hibari Misora was a very popular singer, from the time of her 1949 recording debut at age 12 to her death in 1989.  She sang enka, a genre of Japanese music that was born around World War II and is characterized by melodramatic ballads sung in a particular vibrato-heavy style, with orchestral accompaniment that includes rock and roll and jazz influences and flourishes of traditional Japanese sounds.

This is Hibari Misora singing “Kurumaya-san.”  The title means “Mr. Rickshaw Man” (as in someone who pulls rickshaws for a living).  She released the song in 1958, but I would guess that this video is from the ’80s.  I should also add that this song has much more of an early rock and roll bent than most enka.

My attempt at a translation:

Wait just a moment, Mr. Rickshaw Man
I have a favor to ask of you
This letter
Deliver it secretly
Get the reply secretly
And bring that back secretly
Could you do that for me?

Listen, as for the recipient’s name
It would be boorish to even ask
There’s a line from a song, isn’t there?
A cad who gets in the way of other people’s love
Finds even the moon through the window hateful
Do you understand, Mr. Rickshaw Man?

What happened, Mr. Rickshaw Man?
You are of absolutely no use
What a person
You delivered the letter secretly
Got the reply secretly
And brought that back secretly
But where did you deliver the letter?

I’m leaving out the last verse, because I’m uncertain about some phrases, but the gist is that the woman calls the rickshaw man a fool for delivering the letter to the wrong person (or maybe she’s saying that the unintended recipient has been made a fool), but then says that she herself is the greater fool for writing the letter in the first place.

So that’s the original version.  This is a  live cover from 2005, by a band called Tokyo Jihen.

Quit a contrast, eh?

Tokyo Jihen – or “Tokyo Incidents,” as the official translation goes – was formed in 2004 by its vocalist, Ringo Shiina, who started as a solo act in 1998.   “Ringo” means “apple” in Japanese, and isn’t Shiina’s actual given name.

I like how the vocals still use the enka style but are delivered with very un-enka-like aggression.   It’s like Shiina’s woman is a yakuza moll instead of Misora’s old-fashioned, well-to-do housewife.


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3 Responses to “Kurumaya-san”

  1. Tokyo Jihen Thursday: Kuramaya-san (車屋さん) « Found Connections Says:

    […] a couple of different versions of this song, but the blogosphere went ahead and did it for me. Try Kevin James’ blog for the original by Misora and a killer live rendition from Tokyo Jihen, as well as an unofficial […]

  2. Niniko Says:

    Love Tokyo Jihen! And my love actually started with this song :) Thank you very much for the post and for the translation.

  3. kujirakira Says:

    The character in the original isn’t a housewife, but a Geisha.
    Geisha were forbidden from engaging in love affairs, so this one is trying to get her “driver” to act as a confidant and go-between.
    However, he betrays her.

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