Sunday, 9 January 2011

The toilet god

Kana Uemura  Toilet no Kamisama

During my sojourn in Odate, NHK played a song that I have heard many times, but had never paid any attention to the words.....  My ears must have been tuned in to Japanese a bit better than they often are because this time I did.... I nearly choked..... The Toilet God...   I have pasted the words below, but the gist of the ballad is that the woman singing the song develops deep appreciation for her grandmother who encouraged her to clean the toilet to sparkling clean; there was a beautiful goddess in the toilet and if she cleaned the toilet well, she would become beautiful like the toilet goddess.

There was a bit of culture clash happening...  While Hiro's sister in law was moved almost to tears by the song, I felt immensely grateful that my grandparents had never used such wilful manipulation to get me to do anything.  And actually, I suspect my grandmother (and certainly my grandfather) would have suggested to be wary of anyone spinning such stories to get me to do something unpalatable.

The song is full of Japanese nostalgia, embedded with the paradoxes that often accompany nostalgia.  A theme that comes up in many Japanese songs is the hometown 'furusato' - old village I guess is the literal translation. A yearning for the innocence and familiarity of the countryside where one either grew up or visited ones grandparents.  The people are kind, the food tasty, a stark contrast to the cold calculating city.  Tokyo in particular is a city of domestic migrants, and while the nostalgia runs deep, the reality is rather different.   People are quick to lose their local accents and have disparaging terms for people from the countryside.  People from Tokyo pride themselves on not understanding Kagoshima, Tsugaru ben (dialect) etc. There is still a lingering sense that the countryside is where peasants and day labourers are from.  
I can't imagine a nostalgic song about the toilet in English...

The lyrics come from.

Translation Toire No Kamisama

About the time I was in 3rd grade
I lived with my grandmother
My parent's house was next door but
I lived with my grandmother

Everyday I helped out
I even played gobang
But my grandmother said this to me
because I couldn't clean the toilet

My goodness, there's
a goddess at the toilet
that's why if you clean the toilet
You can become beautiful like the goddess

From that day on
I started making the toilet shine
I'll definitely become a beautiful woman
Every day I polished it

When we went out to go shopping
We both had roasted duck
My grandmother missed her new comedy show
and cried and blamed me

My goodness, there's
a goddess at the toilet
that's why if you clean the toilet
You can become beautiful like the goddess

I became an adult
and I bumped heads with grandma
I couldn't make a family
and I had no place to stay

I didn't return home on days off
I was out with my boyfriend
Both of us stopped playing
gobang and eating roasted duck

I wonder why people hurt others
and we lose things close to us
she was always by my side and I left her alone

It's been two years since I left for Tokyo
grandma is in the hospital
She's losing weight and got thin
I went to go see her

I said, "granny, I'm back!"
just like I used to
Even though we spoke a little bit
I said I'll come back and left the room

The next morning grandma
quietly fell asleep
it was just as if
she was waiting for me to come back
Even though she raised me properly
Even though I could repay her back
Even though I wasn't a good grandchild
She waited for me

My goodness, there's
a goddess at the toilet
that's why if you clean the toilet
You can become beautiful like the goddess

I had a dream to become
a wife in a good dispostion
today I'm going to
make the toilet shine alone

Thank you
Thank you
from the bottom of my heart

This lyric was added by:

1 comment:

Bryn said...

Wow. That is bizarre. Of all the things she could thank her grandmother for "Thanks for teaching me how to shine a toilet" is all she could come up with?