Really, Really REALLY Lost in Translation

A confession of sorts:  I’ve grown to love, well, appreciate some, Enka.  Well, some of it I dig very much, but certainly not all.  It took quite some time for it to grow on me as I first saw, and heard, this Japanese “folk music” as so much kitsch.  So much maudlin or otherwise hokey, elevator-esque, saccharine-infused,  cringe-making, “lounge lizard,” karaoke pap.  Well, I still sort of think of it that way, but I’ve come to appreciate much of it, too.  I should note that Enka was and remains the foundation of Japan’s karaoke culture.  Well, Enka and “My Way.” (“Unchained Melody” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” are favorite Enka-esque and karaoke tunes, too).  I’ve been writing about Enka lately.  More to come.  For now, though, here’s a snippet of favorite of mine, one I really  do  like,   男の花火 (“Otoko no Hanabi“), “The Fireworks of a Man” . . .

Here are the lyrics for Otoko no Hanabi in Japanese (courtesy of this site):

夢をふくらませ 託してみても
心には傷あとが 数えきれない
生きているかぎり 晴れのちくもり
悲しみも苦しみも わかる齢になる
あきらめないさ 男の花火
涙を希望で ふきとれば
おまえがいるだけで 春のあけぼの

愛のまわり道 してきたけれど
人生は鈍行が ちょうどいいのか
花は寡黙でも 咲くときゃ咲いて
うろたえることもなく 終るいさぎよさ
あきらめないさ 男の花火
琥珀のグラスを ゆらしたら
おまえがいるだけで 秋の十五夜

あきらめないさ 男の花火
心に尺玉 えがいたら
おまえがいるだけで 夏の明星

And here are the lyrics using the laughable Google Translate (hang on…):

We also try to inflate your dreams entrusted
And countless scars in my heart
Mori fine as long as they live cattle
Age-related pain and sadness as you can see
Fireworks will not give up man
If you want to cry in Fukitore
Spring is just dawn on you

But love has detour
Is life just a slow train I
Blooming flowers in bloom but reticent armpits
The end Isagiyo Monaku fluster
Fireworks will not give up man
Amber glass Yurashitara
You just have a full moon night of autumn

Fireworks will not give up man
Shaku Ball Egaitara heart
You just have a summer star

I so very much hope you enjoyed that, gentle reader.  Very reminiscent of FOTC’s Brett’s Korean karaoke gig, eh?

.         .         .

Here’s my translation.  Quite pretty, in its way.  Please note that (a) I’m not a professional translator, and (b) there are some real nuances and difficult-to-translate concepts here, so…  I take ample liberty to make the feeling right, and not go word-for-word.  Also, it’s still rather sappy, but, well, it’s a love-lost song so that comes with the territory:

My dreams expand outwards . . .  I tried to trust in you. . .

And then my heart was wounded, I couldn’t even think

And as long as I live the clear sky will weep

Grief and anguish, too,  I oh-so-understand. . .

It’s all come to this day, these days, I live in

I just can’t give up, though . . . Oh! the fireworks inside this man I am . . .

If I can wipe away the tears that lay atop my hopes . . .

Ah, when only you are here a springtime dawn comes through…

I’ve come down this winding road of love,

Or is it just a slow train that’s just right for me to travel on. . .

Flowers are silent, shy, but they bloom when they bloom

That eats at me, too, but I won’t let it take me down,

It’s over and I’ll take it like a man.

I just can’t give up, though . . . Oh! the fireworks inside this man I am . . .

When the amber-filled glass sways, you’ve got an autumn moon

When the fireworks in the sky are painted on my heart. . .

You’re my morning star in the summer . . .

.       .       .

Cherry Blossoms. Hitachi, Japan. April 2008. Often part of Enka lyrics.

.        .        .

Post Script:  There’s other Japanese music, too, like this:

See more examples of J-Pop, J-Rock, J-Gae  here.

.        .        .

Post Post Script:  
A true “My Way” story:  Years ago as I and a former sweetie of mine rode the Shinkansen (“Bullet Train”) between Kyoto and Tokyo we heard two people in the seats behind us speaking in Japanese and English, back and forth, peppering one language with the other.  I could catch words here and there, but couldn’t really make out what they were talking about in either language.  I could tell, though, that it was a Japanese man and woman.  In order to steal a glimpse or two of what was going on I stood up to stretch my legs.  Their they were, a well-suited businessman and just as professional-looking businesswoman with Very Serious Business Meeting Looks on their faces, studying and discussing an important document in preparation for a meeting to which they were obviously on their way to.  That document was the lyrics for “My Way.”  It was obvious what was going on:  they were, indeed, on their way to a meeting, to either pitch a product or service to a prospective client’s management team, or some such thing.  The meeting would go on for hours.  Decisions would likely not be made at the meeting.  Rather, evaluations and follow-up negotiations would ensue.  But that would wait for another day.  No, after a long and tedious meeting they would all go out for dinner and to relax.  Then they’ve go to a lounge or karaoke bar.  And as drinks were poured and tensions fell away and “business talk” was suspended for the evening the karaoke (カラオケ) would begin.  It was, then, essential that these two businesspersons had “My Way” down pat.  If either or both of them could sing my way, and sing it well, in English, it would impress their potential customer and could be part of that mix of positive intangibles that would make the deal go forward.  This was important.  The company’s annual projections, not to mention honor, was at stake.

As “My Way” versions go, I still gotta go with Sid Vicious

    • enamouredslave
    • April 16th, 2011


      • letsjapan
      • April 16th, 2011

      Enka (演歌) actually go back to old military ballads, back to the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. I’m going to work up some close-to-definitive history (well, good enough for a blog post) sometime this year. That’s not what this was about, of course.

      Thanks for stopping by and glad you found it 面白い!


    • Lois
    • April 18th, 2011

    Yes, but what about the cattle??

      • letsjapan
      • April 18th, 2011

      Heh heh, it’s even funnier when you then watch the Flight of the Conchords vid (link provided in the post) with Brett singing the Korean karaoke song (Oh Happy Dance!) and when he comes to the now-classic lines:

      “Sometimes the taste [of love] is likened to a cow who has done nothing wrong.”

      Art imitates life.


    • enamouredslave
    • April 18th, 2011

    Brown Sugar のビデオを見てびっくりした!大好きよ!

      • letsjapan
      • April 18th, 2011


      In fact, that’s why I included it in this post: while I like Otoko no Hanabi, I’m the first to admit that (for younger and Western tastes) Enka is an “acquired taste” (shall we say). But Brown Sugar’s ありがとう (Arigatou) is simply great and infectiously happy-making by so very many standards, seems to me. And it’s a real cross-cultural treat, too.


  1. April 16th, 2011

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