On the railroad

Foreign songs with completely different Japanese lyrics are relatively common in Japan, especially when it comes to songs for kids. The Meiji composers and lyricists tasked with coming up with a localized singing curriculum often resorted to this tactic. This is why in Japan everyone knows "Auld lang syne" as "By firefly light" (a reference to these guys, as it happens).

"I've been working on the railroad" was also relyricized, although much later. According to Wikipedia, the first translation was made in 1955, by TSUGAWA Shuichi 津川主一. This one was relatively faithful to the original, and starts with the line Senro no shigoto wa itsu made mo (basically, "Working on the railroad, for [what seems like] forever"). But the version everyone knows was translated in 1962 for the TV program Minna no uta ("Songs for everyone") by the director of the program GOTŌDA Sumio 後藤田純生, with help from friends and other staff. It goes like this:

Senro wa tsuzuku yo, doko made mo
No o koe, yama koe, tani koete
Haruka na machi made, bokutachi no
Tanoshii tabi no yume tsunaideru...

The railroad goes on, ever on
Through fields, over mountains, through valleys
Reaching distant towns, our
Pleasant dream of travel...

John Henry must really be rolling in that sand right about now.

Popularity factor: 10

Sgt Tanuki:

And Tolkien, too...

J. Grybowski:

From memory, the translation of "My Grandfather's Clock" -- "Ooki na furudokei" -- is also quite faithful, though it leaves out the third verse and only alludes to the fact that the grandfather died. It overuses the word "sa" though, which is kind of annoying.


I just had to hear the lyrics Grybowski described, but they were hard to find... here's one version:


It's disappointing that with the exception of 桜 and 上を向いて歩こう the United States never imported Japanese songs in the same way. Of course, the same one-direction adoption holds true for fairy tales, children's literature, etc.


Hirai Ken made that song a big hit a few years ago, too.

Maybe in a generation or so the Sailor Moon and Pokemon themes will become "folk" songs? Anime is probably the closest equivalent right now to the Meiji cultural-importation program...

Sgt Tanuki: He'd mostly be mad that I only translated one verse, instead of both + 14 newly written ones.


Another extreme lyric mismatch is "Musunde, hiraite" and "Go tell Aunt Rhody" early in the Suzuki violin canon. I was surprised to hear the tune had English lyrics!

BTW, I've belatedly just discovered Heita, the vegetable music man.


"Musunde, hiraite" is more of a complete rewrite, along the lines of "pai-no-pai-no-pai" and "Kamata koushinkyoku". (Yes, like the latter two songs it must have been rewritten to fit the Japanese political situation. The politics of nursery rhymes are well known on this blog!)


Absolutely. Many historians believe that people telling their aunts about dead livestock were a major catalyst for the Satsuma rebellion. The original rebel slogan was "New government, untroubled aunts."


Musunde, hiraite certainly seems to have political overtones, too. "Squeeze the peasants, then give them the back of your hand ..."


"Then raise that fist [in triumph as they grovel]."

J. Grybowski:

Oh, and how about "Hanyuu no Yado" (Home, Sweet Home) ?

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