Travel across the universe… Across the Milky Way…
On a planet… a small island in the east
Snow melts… Pink blossoms
Withstanding the hurricane… Orange blooms
Across time… Across the ages…
On this planet… a verdant island…
…of the sun and the starry sky…
Sing to the sky… Reach to the oceans…
Sing here… Cry out from here…
This song has a very raw, soulful sound that reminds me of Bob Dylan and other rock and folk singers since him. Though the lyrics are sparse, the imagery and emotion are deep.
In typical Japanese fashion, the song progresses from the large to the small, the general to the specific. It evokes a sense of flying through space, watching the earth from above, seeing the seasons pass in time-lapse. The snow of winter melts and the sakura cover the land. A storm strikes, ripping up much in its wake, and after it has passed, the orange of rust blooms. Though everything is destroyed, there is beauty still. This island has stood the test of time, has weathered many a storm, and has stayed green and growing. It is from this place, this small island, that voices sing out, cry out, with rage and sorrow and determination and gratitude.
The last line of the song reads “ここで歌え ここから叫べ” (koko de utae, koko kara sakebe). The verbs “utau” (to sing) and “sakebu” (to cry out) are both in command form, ordering the listeners to make themselves heard. The verb “sakebu” can also be translated as “to scream”, but in Japanese culture a scream is much like the whistle of a teakettle – a focused release after emotions have built to unbearable extremes.
Red Flowers (Akai Hana)
(M’s Japan Orchestra)
You, my lady, looked up into the sky
Sorrow surged up and crashed down upon you
Even so, bloom… Spring flowers
enough to cover the vast ash grey land
Red flowers above the tears
One day, they’ll make our dreams blossom
here, in the wreckage of this land
la la la la la
la la la la la
Children play innocently
Shadow figures sway
One day they’ll bloom… Spring flowers
enough to resurrect the love that was here
Red flowers… rest your cheek gently against them
We will never forget kindness and tenderness
We, the people who live here
Red flowers… resting my cheek gently against them
Your kindness will never be forgotten
Until the day we can meet again
Beyond this vast sadness…
You flowers that bloomed red…
la la la la la
la la la la la
This is a song about a land haunted by loss, and a song about hope and rebirth. The song is personal. It begins with the word “anata” which means “you,” but in this case the characters used specifically indicate that the “you” is female leaving us to wonder who the woman in the first stanza was and what happened to her. Did she die? Did she come home to find everything she loved washed away?
We are immediately confronted with the image of a devastated land bereft of life. Still, the singer believes that there is beauty in the world, and that one day the scars will heal allowing dreamers to dream again.
The innocence of children is shown as both a balm and a reminder of all that was lost. We are shown children at play, their shadows flitting across the rubble. This may recall Japanese ghost stories where we see three children playing and five shadows stretching out behind them. Here the song speaks of a hope that one day the love that once was there will be drawn back into this world.
The song ends in gratitude – for everything that once was and for everything since received. There are promises to never forget and a promise to meet again. And in the midst of this determination, loss, and hope, the song invites people to lay down their burdens for a moment and rest. It says that it will be possible to move beyond the sadness, and, in the final line, it both beseeches the flowers for their help and berates them for blooming.
In Japan, the color red is a color of strong emotion – celebration, danger, protection, victory, loss. The Japanese flag is the red sun on a white background. The red camellia is associated with samurai – camellia flowers fall whole, at the peak of their beauty, just as samurai once fell. The gates that stand at Shinto shrines are red as are cloths placed around the shoulders of jizo and kitsune statues.
Traditionally, at celebrations, sekihan (literally “red rice”) is served, and on a person’s 60th birthday they’re given a red vest and hat to wear. A red thread is thought to connect soul mates, two people who are meant to love each other. In traditional kabuki the hero’s face has red lines to show his passion and courage and fire. And in Japan, instead of saying that “the grass is always greener” they say “the neighbor’s flowers are red” (隣の花は赤い, tonari no hana ha akai).
It is not by chance that the flowers in this song have bloomed red.