This is a ‘traditional Japanese’ lullaby that many people around the world are familiar with, especially played by some high school bands in the United States and Europe.
This is a lullaby my mother used to sing to me. My mother and I have talked about our memories of this song. Nowadays she doesn’t want to think about it. It is a lament, in the days when little girls were sold to others by their families. The song is believed to be originating from the Heian period of Japan, where the people of the Heike were made extremely poor after the Genji-Heike War (1180-1185).
Because these lullabies are steeped in cultural histories, and because they are about legacies, and leaving emotional legacies as they are sung, my personal feelings when singing this or listening to this, is one of comfort because of its ties to being safe with my mother before memory, along with sadness as we realize the continued suffering of gendered violence in our world, either through its actions, or its memories which have gone un-mourned and are relegated to the private. Also, it is a song of loneliness and longing, knowing that our child or sibling is torn away from us through necessity.
I will be here (with you) until the Bon Festival.
After the Bon Festival, I shall not be here.
If the Bon Festival were to come earlier,
I could return home earlier.
I am from the poor families
They are from the rich families.
The rich people wear good belts,
and wear good clothes.
The song originates from the Kyushu Islands of what is now Japan. Here, Ikue Asazaki 朝崎郁恵, an elder and famous traditional singer from the Kagoshima islands, which has had a long history with the Ryukyu (Okinawa) islands, sings in the traditional language and indigenous style of delivery/expression. The Kyushu region of what is called ‘Japan’ today, has traditionally birthed singers that sing the Amami style Okinawan songs. Accompanied by piano, she renders it in mournful and hopeful beauty, as it was intended.
The photo accompanying the song, is from the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” and entitled “Sayuri’s Dance.” Of course, that movie was a creation steeped in what our teacher and friend Edward Said has called “orientalism.” that discussion we can have later. For now, the song.