Young, Reckless and Kandagawa: Spring in your Step

南こうせつとかぐや姫、歌詞(Lyrics)『神田川』(English Translation)

Lyrics stand out when they convey the feel of a certain generation. Kandagawa (1973) by Minami Kosetsu & Kaguyahime is one of the best songs of that kind. The imagery throughout the song is nothing but a young couple spending a certain period of time together, leading a humble, intimate life that simplicity and frugality made possible and eventually breaking up. All the details of lifestyle depicted in this song could be relatable to people of a certain age group as well as modern listeners who know of what it used to be like.

One of the mysteries this song left is the meaning of its lines from the chorus: I was young and reckless, full of conceit/But when you were simply nice and sweet/It felt too mellow/I got cold feet. To put it simply, you feel intimidated when your partner is simply nice and sweet. To explore this meaning, let’s get back to the days when this song was written, days when people always had something to question, challenge and stand up to.


Tadashi Kitajo, a writer of this song, started wading into social activism when he was young. He got home, exhausted after one long day and saw his partner cooking at the kitchen in a calm, homely manner, which struck him alarming because it was something that could pull him out of furious, frantic and frenzied activism and lure him into a rustic, safeguarded and peaceful nest. He was intimidated at what seemed to be too mellow, or a simple way of life, contrary to what he devoted himself to..


Is this because of youth or because of devotion to a great cause at the expense of simple, if not naïve, happiness one could enjoy? The change of seasons never withers the luminosity of a truly relatable song that arouses particular images the moment a certain word comes out. That is why this song really stands the test of time.



Do you remember
With a red towel instead of a scarf to wear
Going to a bath around the corner
Saying you wouldn’t come out any later
But all too often it was me to wait outside
And got a chill with my hair undried
A small piece of soap clattering in the pail
Holding close my shoulder that turned pale
And you said “Don’t you feel cold?”

I was young and reckless, full of conceit
But when you were simply nice and sweet
It felt too mellow and I got cold feet

Do you remember
Crayons in 24 colors you got somewhere
My portraits you promised to draw perfect
Never as good as I could expect
Under the window ran the Kandagawa
My place small as a sheltered bower
With only one single room to equip
Turning your gaze at my fingertip
And you said “Are you feeling sad?”

I was young and reckless, full of conceit
But when you were simply nice and sweet
It felt too mellow and I got cold feet


Days That Used To Be: Spring in Your Step

山口百恵、歌詞(Lyrics)『いい日旅立ち』(English Translation)

Released in 1978, written by Shinji Tanimura and sung by Momoe Yamaguchi, Days That Used To Be has soon reached lyrical milestone by its imagery and lyricism in depicting the arrival of spring and emotional landscape of leaving for another place. The main character gets to find some kind of closure about the past and make a step forward.

Winter passes and spring is on its way when you look up the sky and throw your past plans and anticipations away. You used to have people around, with whom you shared your dreams and memories. You are alone now and determined to step forward on your own.


It feels like you have lost your home. Well then, you just can leave the past behind and start to make memories. Though your outlook seems as fickle as going somewhere else, you still have some confidence in what future will bring. You just seek something that would warm you heart.


It’s no easy translating these sentiments, or nostalgia, in a way that the lyricism speaks to readers of another language. It’s still a universal human tendency to use songs to think of days that used to be.


Days That Used To Be

When snow starts to melt
With spring thaw on its way
I call out for the northern sky
To bring back all dreams lost in time
I feel warm inside
With all those gone crossing my mind
All I can do is just set out all by myself

Ah, somewhere on this land, not across the sea,
There must be someone ready to meet me

No better day for leaving
For a sunset I saw
On the back of my dear mom
All those songs will stay in my mind

Fishing at the rocky beach is a small boy
Going home through the green plume grassland
From here my memories are to made
Leaving a good bye message on the sand

Ah, somewhere on this land, not across the sea,
There must be someone ready to meet me

No better day for leaving
For cotton-wool clouds I saw
What I learned from my dad
All those songs will stay in my mind

Ah, somewhere on this land, not across the sea,
There must be someone ready to meet me

No better day for leaving
For happiness
What I loved to sing
All those songs will stay in my mind

Zwei Welten and Thomas Mann: In The Attempt

Thomas Mannトーマス・マン『トニオ・クルーガー』日本語訳(Japanische Übersetzung)

Do you ever get bewildered by the conflicting aspirations pulling yourself in opposing directions? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by contradicting ideas of conforming to the wider society while hoping to keep tied to where you are so that you feel secure and authentic? Thomas Mann(1875-1955), famous for his novel Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice), explored this theme strenuously in his less known short novels.

Ich stehe zwischen zwei Welten, bin in keiner daheim und habe es infolge dessen ein wenig schwer. (…) Sehnsucht ist darin und schwermütiger Neid und ein klein wenig Verachtung und eine ganze keusche Seligkeit. Tonio Kröger by Thomas Mann


Our existence is an amalgamation of contradicting beliefs, realities and aspirations. What Thomas Mann tried to do in his short stories was to step further in his attempt to illustrate heartbreaking inner conflict of young artists: The nature of artistic self-consciousness and inner suspicion that the artist must be an outsider relative to respectable society.


He examined these issues through a series of dichotomies. He explored the youthful disillusionment by contrasting it with the happiness and blithe naïveté found in many of people. The protagonists are envious of innocent vitality their counterpart enjoy but proud of his insights, philosophical profundity and aesthetic sensitivity.


We sometimes find ourselves craving for, if not envious of, what we don’t possess but our counterpart does while taking pride in what you have and who you are. Deep down you are wishing to live a more laid-back life while energized by intensity of your professional pursuit. To the contrary, you might be interested in throwing yourself into more challenging, vibrant business while hoping to stay around with a relaxed, intimate and like-minded circle of people. There is a dash of contempt for those on the other side, which keeps you from leaving behind what is comfortable and familiar for you.


Creating dichotomy between art and life as well as intellect and nature, he explored the ramifications of this separation and portrayed protagonists as the agent of reconciliation between these facets of existence. In one of his short stories, a young man reaffirms his faith in humanity and love for life as his alienation is surmounted at last by his love for humanity. It was ultimately a quest for some kind of balance and wholeness for human values that would be personally sustained.


Incompleteness: In The Attempt


Many songs and literary works have been made in any corners on the planet in history by human longing for home. Home is not just tangible but more psychological and the notion of home is conceivably tied to reminiscences, the act of reaching out, and a restless feeling of incompleteness. We’re going to figure out how to describe these attempts by examining their value and meaning.

Home often takes shape with nostalgia or on being away from it, associated with homeland. Home doesn’t necessarily refer to a physical environment but to feeling anchored and feeling right within your own skin and mind. Home is not a certain existence as people come and go. It is some space for you to fit in in this world where something is always missing. Home can be remembered in relationship to others and can be found in the vision and the process to achieve it. As our existence is constantly exposed to uncertainty, home emerges in the loneliness and in the attempt.


Pilgrimage in Japan is centered on its process and experiences and thoughts you get along the way rather than its goals. You put yourself in the balance between comfortable, pleasant memories and expectations of achievement.


Some points in our life, we all get stuck in the middle of this state of incompleteness between having left something behind and having yet to do. Quitting your job, breakups. It is, however, these experiences that make a big difference in your life. When learning something new, you get excited about broadening your horizons but, at the same time, you feel desperate about your goals in a good distance. In relationship with others, we often get bogged down. We feel hopeless when our love, thoughts or care are all like a question without an answer. However, there are still hope and significance in the attempt at understanding between human beings in a narrow sense and between cultures broadly.


Significance of the attempt lies in the state of this dear “incompleteness” of ours, where both the past and the future are in sight rather than focusing just on this moment or on things withing your arm length. It’s like a jump up into the air. With your feet off the ground and your hands holding nothing. Does it sound too romantic? We’re going to look at examples illustrating this in the next posts.


Pilgrim: In Search of Home


Bokusui Wakayama (1885-1928) made lots of songs about and on traveling. Many of his waka reflect the underlying notion about traveling: “あくがる (akugaru)”. This verb originally refers to letting your soul leaving your body, your feeling attracted to something, and your leaving a place you are supposed to be at and starting to roam. Let’s see what he says.

けふもまた こころの鉦をうち鳴らし うち鳴らしつつ あくがれていく

Another mile to go today
Let this pilgrim’s handbell ring
Resonant in my mind
Yearning, roaming

今日も 巡礼者のごとく 鉦(かね)を心に響かせ 道を求めて行こう

What is striking here is a pilgrimage metaphor. Let’s examine here pilgrimage and then its link to the concept of “Home”. Pilgrimage entails the notion of leaving and touring. Many of the people go on a pilgrimage by leaving their normal lives to find new meanings because everyday circumstances and social contexts seem to some people so restrictive that they feel propelled to break away from what is familiar to them.


Pilgrimage in Japan is usually called junrei, which combines “touring (jun)” and “worshipping (rei)”. Pilgrimage routes are not always designed to visiting a single sacred site but contain several spots religiously linked together in a wider area. More importantly, pilgrimage is not necessarily centered on visiting sacred sites or performing the rituals but on journeying on the pilgrimage path. It is viewed as a journey on a spiritual path towards enlightenment.


The items along with pilgrim’s handbell mentioned in the song are useful to think about pilgrimage as a spiritual journey from one point to the other. To mark them out as pilgrims, people travel in particular clothing. They wear white pilgrimage shroud that indicates purity and death. The handbell to pilgrims in Japan is what the scallop shell to those to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrimage shroud and its death symbolism are accompanied by the notion of spiritual rebirth and renewal into this world.


Going on a pilgrimage reflects human condition of restlessness at the root. Pilgrims leave their normal lives and tour around but they are never aimless. They have somewhere specific to get. It will be a physical place or spiritual destination.


The concept of pilgrimage as a life journey helps us understand the concept of “Home”. At some point of your life you might have to leave your home, not knowing if there is any other place like home. You might move out, move abroad. You might not be able to continue to live where you have lived for years. You might leave your family behind. Oftentimes you feel that your body has moved out of your familiar circle but your heart won’t leave and stays there. Practically, however, you need to construct your life at a new location physically and psychologically. You need to move on dragging your anchor.


When you go on a travel, you leave your home, leaving behind what you feel secure, comfortable and attached with. Anticipations of being in a foreign land will cause a contradiction. You are probably excited about new experiences, but at the same time, you expect a dash of familiarity. You often see people stopping at Starbucks or McDonald’s during their trip or Japanese people searching for an authentic Japanese restaurant. You are pulled into two different directions of leaving and staying home all the time.


These inner conflicts are reflected in Bokusui’s works. Despite his love of his homeland, he always wants to see new places. In warmth and comfort you are savoring, you are in throes of seeking new horizons. “Akugaru (leaving and yearning)” can be viewed as shuttling between these two different dimensions, and then being in the attempt.


We have looked into the concept of “Home” so far by several different perspectives and reached the point of seeing another concept “In The Attempt”, which is going to be the topic we discuss in the next series.

ここまで「Home」という概念について様々な視点から考えてきました。そして今、「In The Attempt」という別の概念に辿り着きました。それを次に考えていきましょう。


Series: In Search of Home

Pilgrim: In Search of Home

Prepared: In Search of Home

Away: In Search of Home

Coco: In Search of Home

Moon Palace: In Search of Home

Rappelle-moi: In Search of Home

Fear: In Search of Home

Who Knows: In Search of Home

Anchor: In Search of Home

Home: In Search of Home

Prepared: In Search of Home


Bokusui Wakayama (1885-1928) is one of the most popular modern poets. Many of his waka (short poems) were made during his trip around Japan. He knew there is no end in his spiritual journey but he was determined to go on another journey every day. In that sense he was a modern vagabond.



How many mountains and rivers I need to cross
Before I get to a land where loneliness never prevails?
I’m prepared for this journey just as I was yesterday.

幾つの山や河を越えていけば 寂しさの無い国に辿り着くのだろうか いや無理だろう だとしても今日も旅に出よう

There is an undertone of the loss of or absence of “Home” in his songs too. There is no end in the search of a place where you feel no loneliness, no worries or no frustrations. Samishisa usually refers to loneliness. But here it could mean something different. What feeling this could be?  When do you feel like you reach out only to grab hold of nothing? What do you sigh about? When do you feel helplessness?


When you have some concern over relationships, it might be difficulty in finding people near you with whom you would share anything important to you, in spending quality time with your loved ones, or in stepping further in your relationship. Socially, it might be difficulty in confirming to the crowd, in letting go of mean reactions from thoughtless people, or in getting people to understand what you really mean. When you think about aging, it might be difficulty in accepting the fact that you get old or that your body gets weaker, or in leaving anything meaningful to the next generation. When you think about personal growth, it might be difficulty in curving out time for activities that matter to you, in seeing positive outcome of your efforts, or in finding a balance between benefiting others and nourishing yourself. When you are going through hardships, it might be difficulty in showing resilience or integrity in hard times, or in getting support to your day-to-day survival.


We live our life, entangled in these feelings between sadness, frustrations and helplessness. And we all know well that once you get over one frustrating situation, you will face another very soon. Bokusui sings about the same theme in another song.



I must leave
And I’m sure I’ll find another mountain to cross where I get
Are you really prepared for this hopelessness?

さあ行くぞ 辿り着いたところでまた知らぬ山が現れる そんな寂しさに 君は耐えられるか

It’s like a journey during which you need to cross one mountain after another, one river after another. Right on arrival, something new comes up and breaks your heart. That’s our day-to-day journey. There is no end. This song asks us how prepared we are to take on this journey every day.


Series: In Search of Home

Pilgrim: In Search of Home

Prepared: In Search of Home

Away: In Search of Home

Coco: In Search of Home

Moon Palace: In Search of Home

Rappelle-moi: In Search of Home

Fear: In Search of Home

Who Knows: In Search of Home

Anchor: In Search of Home

Home: In Search of Home

Moon Palace: In Search of Home

Paul Austerポール・オースター『ムーン・パレス』日本語訳(Japanese translation)

This post is going to examine something different from literary pieces I have introduced so far. For one thing, its’s not a Japanese one. Secondly, it’s a modern work of literature. It’s called “Moon Place” by Paul Auster and tells much about the concept of “Home”, which we have long discussed in this series. The story is about a young man, in search of the key facts about his past, whose journey through life encompasses living wild as a vagrant in Central park, then as a live-in helper to an eccentric old man and eventually a quest into the deserts of Utah, for his identity. It starts with:


It was the summer that men first walked on the moon. I was very young back then, but I did not believe there would ever be a future. I wanted to live dangerously, to push myself as far as I could go, and then see what happened to me when I got there.Moon Palace by Paul Auster


The story is characterized by the underlying mystery of serendipity. His life propelled by coincidence and chance meeting with characters more or less on the verge of aloneness. It’s a description of life that is far from linear. The moment a clue of existence comes into sight, even tragedy and loss stepped in, which leave you feel unsettled and desolate. Your attempt to take control of your life is betrayed by misfortune and a subsequent survival situation. Despite the desire for orderliness in our everyday modern lives, we are increasingly and inevitably exposed to randomness as we encounter a wide range of values and ideas.


This potentially disorienting experience doesn’t make much sense to you if you are too uptight about rationality. But the riddle of your fate is too elusive to solve. With more and more plural viewpoints and diverse interpretations of social reality available, we are open to more sources of identity. All the days and years we have spent, all the people and events we have come across are the source of our life story. One thing we can do is to piece together our pasts so that we can see the possibility of a future.


Strongly Related
Vagabond: Lyricism of Kokinshu


Vagabond: Lyricism of Kokinshu

『古今集(古今和歌集)』和歌「よのなかは いづれかさして わがならむ いきとまるをぞ やどとさだむる」英語訳

Here is an extra post adding one more look into Kokinshu to the “Lyricism of Kokinshu” series. Some unique poems from the anthology are distinctive in their choice of subjects and their techniques, but this one is absolutely different from the other 1110 poems. It’s a modern (or post-modern) perspective on a sense of home and a state of being a modern vagabond that makes this waka exceptional.

よのなかは いづれかさして わがならむ いきとまるをぞ やどとさだむる
yononaka wa idureka sashite waganaran ikitomaruwozo yadoto sadamuru

We all try to find a place like home
In this world, into which we were all thrown,
Wherever I am, wherever I roam,
I will ground myself in a world that I call my own

Is there any place in this world that I can call home? Well, I’ll make a home wherever I get.
この世の中の一体いずこも 自分の居場所と定められようか 行き着いた先どこをも居場所としよう

A modern vagabond. The One who won’t stay at one place but stray. The one who won’t seek a perfect location but establish themselves anywhere they get. Though many people still try to secure a physical environment where they could settle down, seek for a community they would thoroughly conform to, we live in a time where institutionalized certainties no longer guide us, or everything has arguably become questionable and questioned. General mobility and frequent travel mark our time. Think about our career, our position and our role to play in society. People are always on the move. We are, in a sense, all wanderers.


Criticized for bringing about fragmentation of interests and distractions, alienation and disillusionment, and fragmentation of society and individuals, the modernized world is still getting smaller and smaller. The speed with which communication takes place allows our identities to be more multidimensional. Whatever self you believe you are supposed to be, you undergo constant exposure to different ideas and experiences, and your sense of self also undergoes constant revision. Take on an ever-changing world, and you learn to choose your own fate. Having a “home” is now something never to be taken for granted.


This anonymous poem, written more than 1000 years ago, sings out that kind of determination. Why not wrap up the Kokinshu series here and in the next series of posts take a further look at the theme: Home.


Strongly Related
Moon Palace: In Search of Home

For All Eternity: Basho’s Poetics


Here is the opening part of his most popular travel prose, “Oku no Hosomichi (The Back-country Trails)”. Aesthetic sensitivity here is a little different from other conventional Japanese attitude toward life and beauty.



The Months and days. They’re on a journey for all eternity. The years that come and go. They’re also wayfarers. Transporters grow old making a living on ships or leading workhorses. They are travelers for ever. They find their homes wherever their travels take them.


The common attitude toward the fact that life is too short is to regretfully lament over and find sentimental beauty in its frailty or to focus on the present and be determined to make the best of what you have now. Basho, however, jumps into the gushing current of life. He tries to ride the life’s mane, not knowing where the journey takes him.