Creepy kid's song corner

If you've crossed many roads in a major Japanese city, you've probably heard Tooryanse. It's a song that plays when the little man goes green at many major intersections, and sounds like this. It's originally a kid's song, with a related London Bridge-style game, and like most great old children's songs, it sounds alright at first but gets more cryptic and ominous the more closely you examine it.* As near as I can tell, it translates to something like this. (The "gatekeepers" are the two children forming the arch, and the "parents" are the kids passing underneath it in a circle.)

ALL: Go on through now, go on through.
PARENTS: This narrow road here, where does it lead?
GATEKEEPERS: This narrow road leads to Tenjin Shrine
PARENTS: Let us through, then, let us go through.
GATEKEEPERS: People with no business there cannot go through.
PARENTS: This little child is seven years old:
   Time now to make our offering to the shrine.
GATEKEEPERS: Go, then, go, but dread the return.
   Dread the return but go on through!
ALL: Go on through, now, go on through!

The gatekeepers will drop the gate at one of the final "through!"s, and whoever gets caught takes one of the gatekeepers' place. Repeat forever. (There's a video of the general idea here.)

But what the hell does it mean? The most common theory (which doesn't at all make it the correct one) is that it's about Miyoshino Shrine in what is now Kawagoe city, in Saitama. The story is that back in the day that shrine was closely linked to the shogunate, and so commoners couldn't get in except for major festivals; and even then, there were guards there watching everyone closely and questioning people on the way out (hence the "dread the return").

My favorite theory, though, is that it's about the fact that after a child turns seven and makes that final visit to the shrine, they're officially on their own as human beings, no longer automatically under the kami's protection, and even going back home becomes dangerous.

In closing, if you would like to hear a different translation sung by an eerie man, the internet has what you need.

* Not least because, in my case, the very title phrase tooryanse is nothing like modern Japanese and difficult to parse. But I'm pretty sure it's toori (go through, go past) + yanse (imperative form of yansu, "do", which (in Standard Japanese, at least) is most common now as part of high-falutin' copula substitute de yansu and, in slightly modified form, yakuza -masu substitute -yasu.

Popularity factor: 3


For pure creep value, though, you can't beat kagome kagome. I mean, "Who-who-who's that behind me?" Shudder!

Anyway, a bird in the kago is worth two...in your casket?

As for tooryanse, the 日本語文法大辞典 would seem to agree with your analysis. Edo Period polite jodoshi -yansu from -yashansu (or -yarinsu), possibly originally from Kamikata sashansu .

Odd, but I've always associated -yasu with Kyo-onna. ("Oide-yasu!") Guess I don't know enough yakuza. (Or watch enough of those movies or TV shows!)


Thanks for the etymology! I actually looked it up in the kodansha Edo dictionary (I forget what it's called, 江戸語辞典?) and their theory was arimasu -> ansu (very rarely seen) -> yansu. But that seems weird to me in every context except the "de yansu" one, though (because you don't say "toori-aru").

Kagome kagome is also definitely on my list of "songs I don't want to heard sung at a slow tempo in the dark".

All my knowledge of yakuza comes from TV shows too, sadly. Clearly I need to watch some Oo-oku...for comparative linguistic purposes.


I talked with a friend about these songs this morning and he said there are a lot of spooky urban legends surrounding them.

A grim alternative explanation of Tooryanse is that the parent is actually taking the child to the shrine to abandon it, explaining some of the concern about being stopped on the way out. ("Hey, didn't you go in with a kid?") And some people think the bird in the basket in kagome refers to a mizugo. ?!?

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