Tomokawa Kazuki – Circus

I am sick of happy J-POP! I have have enough from girls in miniskirts jumping around to computer generated music! So I am starting a series on Japanese music which one will not hear in the radio, which one will have a hard time finding people listening too. It is music that carries melancholy, sadness, black humor, sarcasm, deep thoughts. I would compare this music to the one of Fabrizio de André, or Édith Piaf. Music that is alive, that comes from personal feelings.

Today’s song: Tomokawa Kazuki – Circus.

The song Circus by Tomokawa Kazuki (WikiPedia, personal web page) is based on a poem by Nakahara Chuya. Following is the text as used by Tomokawa, which slightly differs from the original text of the poem. The original text can be found on the web page http://www.nakaharachuya.com, which is dedicated to the life and works of this great artist. I also provide a translation further down.

サーカス
幾時代かがありまして
茶色い戦争ありました
幾時代かがありまして
茶色い戦争ありました

サーカス屋は高い梁
そこに一つのブランコだ
サーカス屋は高い梁
見えるともないブランコだ

頭倒(さか)さに手を垂(た)れて
汚れ木綿の屋根のもと
ゆあーん ゆよーん ゆやゆよん
ゆあーん ゆよーん ゆやゆよん

それの近くの白い灯が
安いリボンと息を吐き
観客様は皆鰯(イワシ)
咽喉(のんど)が鳴ります牡蠣(かき)殻(がら)と

屋外は真っ闇(くら) 闇(くら)の闇(くら)
夜は刧々(こうこう)更(ふ)けまする
落下傘奴のノスタルヂアと
ゆあーん ゆよーん ゆやゆよん

幾時代かがありまして
今夜此処(ここ)での一と殷盛り(ひとさかり)
幾時代かがありまして
冬は疾風吹きました

The following translation, partly based on the translation I found on the page of poems by Nakahara, goes as follows:

There have been however many eras
And there has been brown war
There have been however many eras
And there has been brown war

From the circus tent’s lofty beam
a single trapeze swings
From the circus tent’s lofty beam
A barely visible trapeze swings

Hanging from his arms, head upside down
Beneath the dirty cotton canopy
Yuahhn Yuyohhn Yuyayuyon
Yuahhn Yuyohhn Yuyayuyon

A white lamp burning nearby
Exhales its breath of cheap ribbons
The spectators, all of them like sardines,
their throats rattling like the remains of an oyster

Darkness beyond the tent the darkest dark
The evening stretches on endlessly late
Nostalgia (within?) of (having/being in?) this little parachute
Yuahhn Yuyohhn Yuyayuyon

There have been however many eras
But tonight, here, a fleeting richness
There have been however many eras
And in the winter gales have blown

With a metaphorical text like this, every interpretation is bound to be very personal. I was deeply moved by the contrast of the dark and cold outside world with the cheap, temporary, small, but still precious space-time capsule represented by the circus tent. Even back in my childhood circuses were still wandering around, pulling young and old into their colorful shows. The image I see here contains two parts: One is the artist up there on the nearly invisible trapeze, he and the circus. The other are the spectators, squeezed into their seats like sardines. For both the time of the show provides them with a fleeting richness, for the circus a moment of fame, for the spectators a moment of forgetfulness. But it is only a nostalgic moment, and both have to continue in the endless repeating of eras.

The “brown war” might refer to sepia-colored photos of old times, that we carry a long history. The strange “Yuahhn …”, well, my guess it imitates the sound of the ropes of the trapeze while swinging, the only noise between the “Oh-Ah” of the spectators that is to be heard during the stunt. The “white lamp” might be the small, meager hope on a better future, exhaling only cheap, unrealistic light.

We are far from the dark times when this poem was written. But the feeling of many members of our society hasn’t changed. Looking at the young fellows searching for jobs, having their short moment of happiness, in Karaoke, games, wherever, I don’t see them much different then the acrobats in the tent, struggling for survival. And below there I am sitting, like a sardine, forgetting for a moment the hardships – how small the might be compared to others – of my life.

Further reading for Japanese:

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