The pinwheel is a lie

More from KURATA Yoshihiro's Archaeology of popular song:

In December of Meiji 10 [1877], TSUJI Shinji 辻新次 [who was vice-Minister of Education at the time], thinking that the Shōka shū 唱歌集 anthology [of songs for use in schools, with Western-style music and Japanese words] should not only "cultivate the students' moral character" but also "clear away the outdated conventions of folk song," ordered the revision of such songs as "Nemureyo ko" ("Sleep, child"). Here I give just the second verse:

  Sleep, child/ Children who sleep soundly/ get a pinwheel/ drums, and/ a flute/ Sleep, child
  ねむれよ子 よくねるこには 風車 つゞみに太鼓 ふえやるぞ ねむれよ子

These lyrics, Tsuji said [...] would be fine if you gave the child these gifts when they woke. But if you did not, you would have tricked the child into sleeping, and what kind of adult would a child habitually deceived by their mother grow up to be? In short, the lyrics would "damage their moral character." Remarks like this afford us considerable insight into the educational ideology of the Meiji period.

And, lo and behold, the official version has verses like this instead:

Sleep, child/ Children who sleep soundly are sure to obey their fathers/ Sleep, child
ねむれよ子 よくねるちごは ちゝのみの 父のおほせや まもるらん ねむれよ子

The more you read about the Meiji government's clumsy, knitting-with-cabers attempts at social engineering via musical education, the more you understand the success of the dōyō 童謡 movement: (relatively) non-goody-goody, non-lame songs for children, and no governmental interference. Because the government that is big enough to give you a pinwheel and a flute when you wake up is also big enough to take it away and make you obey instead.

Popularity factor: 12


I wonder what Tsuji would have made of "All the pretty horses":



So bizarre. I've read about the moral brainwashing (for lack of a gentler term) of children in public schools in the Meiji era, but this is really out-there. Kind of hilarious too though.

g frank:

can ia gi's a link ta sumfink boot yis dōyō?

Leonardo Boiko:

The revised version is very true, in a tautological way. I’m ordering you to sleep, so if you sleep, you’re clearly an obedient kid. “Sleep now so you become someone who sleep when told to!

I always liked – and sing to my kids – the most traditional Brazilian lullaby, with its absurd, sad, frightening lyrics, which I could perhaps translate as:

Sleep, my baby,
Or the Cuca comes for you;
Your daddy is out ploughing
And Mommy is out working.

In fact, almost all folkloric children’s songs I can think of are sad, violent, or both....


Yah, a lot of countries have traditions of violent/threatening cradle songs ("down will come baby, cradle and all" -- you could get arrested for saying that to the wrong adult). Someone once told me that it was because taking care of upper-class babies was usually farmed out to poor young women who would rather have been at home with their OWN babies, but needed the money, and dealt with their resentment via song. That might be totally half-baked though.

g-dawg: Wikipedia that shit, yo.


Considering the state of (pre-Freudian) Western psychology at the time, I'd say Tsuji was rather forward-thinking...


By the way, are you writing a book about dōyō, or is it just a curiosity? Your posts about it are building into a quality MetaFilter post.


Just casual reading. Such a huge amount of stuff happened between the beginning of the Meiji period and the end of the war, and so much of it has been forgotten (or intentionally disappeared since). I feel like an archaeologist painstakingly digging up tiny fragmentary fossils, waiting for the T-rex...

g arse:

argh, ye be right, matt, me old hearty. I was mighty lazy not searching the old Japanese wikipedia. Thankee for the link!


First a citation from Wikipedia's (ja) article on 子守唄:


I first learned of this phenomenon in "Under the Shadow of Nationalism - Politics and Poetics of Rural Japanese Women" (Asano Tamanoi, M., 1998). This anthropology of women's associations in rural Nagano, has a very good chapter on the hardships of girls sent to watch others' children, and the songs they sang to vent their frustrations.

Reading it enabled me to understand som of the darker twist in the lyrics of 竹田の子守唄, a lullaby carrying such explosive memories of poverty that it was forced off the air for 40 years.

Children's songs are apparently no kids' stuff!

(both links lead to youtube)


If the gentle proprietor would fix those broken tags I would me most grateful.


Fixed! And thanks for the info!

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