峰の 嵐か 松風か
Sake wa nome nome nomu naraba
Hi no moto ichi no kono yari wo
Nomitoru hodo ni nomu naraba
Kore zo makoto no kuroda bushi
Mine no arashi ka matsukaze ka
Tazunuru hito no koto no ke ka
Koma o todomete kiku hodo ni
Tsumaoto shiruki soufuren
Drink, drink sake!
If you drink enough, this one spear of Japan will be yours.
If you drink enough, you’re a true Kuroda warrior.
Is it the mountain wind? Or the wind of the pine tree?
Or the sound of the koto from the person I’m searching for?
Pulling up his horse, drawing near, he could hear
The high sound of a plectrum;1 she is yearning for her husband.
Hello! I’m Zoe, and your illustrious blogger B asked if I’d be willing to guest post at some point, and being foolishly confident in my skills, I of course happily accepted. Little did I know he would actually take me up on it…
I’ve studied Japanese at the University of Queensland some time ago, and lived in a small city south of Kobe for just under two years until April 2009, so while I am very proficient at ordering beers and paying phone bills, translating a well-known drinking song, Kuroda Bushi, proved much harder. I retrieved the lyrics from this webpage, as transliterating from a youtube video – given the vocal styling involved – is heinously difficult. That said, the third line of the second verse is slightly different to the text in the above webpage, so I spent about half an hour trying to tease out the actual words from the video, and I’m fairly certain it’s accurate.
I originally learnt about this song when I read “Geisha” by Liza Dalby, an American anthropologist who in the 1970s actually practiced a geisha as a part of her thesis. It’s a fascinating read, and for anyone interested in true history and practice of geisha (as opposed to the very problematic “Memoirs of Geisha” novel by Arthur Golden), it’s well worth picking up. Dalby mentions the song briefly in an aside where she is describing a geisha party in the hot-spring town of Atami, and a drunken businessman decided he is going to sing the “dirge-like drinking song.”2 It was the first thing to come to mind when considering something to translate for this blog.
Translating Japanese is challenging for me because so often the nuances are implied (one of the things I struggle with constantly is how often Japanese omits grammatical subjects). As a result, there’s often wide variety of ways something can be rendered in English. For example, the phrase 日の本 (Hi no moto), which I’ve rendered as “Japan” can be more directly translated as “Origin of the Sun”, which is aesthetically lovely, but a little unwieldy!
The website for the International Shakuhachi Society (one of the few websites I could find with information about said song in English), notes that the Kuroda clan were based in northern part of the island of Kyushu, and that the first verse commemorates a supposedly true event from around 1590. The second verse is from a 12th century story or folktale:
The emperor’s concubine had, through court intrigue, been banished to a hidden hut in the woods. The monarch sent a servant to find her. From a distance, he heard her playing on her koto a tune that confirmed she still loved her man.3
I’ve no doubt there’s a multitude of mistakes or possible better translations out there, so have at in the comments.
Although I don’t run a blog of my own, I do post as a part of the Australian body acceptance group blog Axis of Fat (though content from me has been very light of late). I can also be found twittering inanely about Top Gear and the vagaries of living in Brisbane at http://twitter.com/cutselvage