Friday, September 7, 2012

"Hymn To Friendship" = "Battle Hymn"?!?

Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. This one is from August 29, 1996.

Last week my 5 year old daughter sang her first American folk song. However, it was not in English; it was in Japanese. In Japan there are many (US and other foreign) songs with lyrics that were changed into Japanese. She sang a song called "Hymn To Friendship" but in America this folk song is called "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," aka "Glory." It is an anti-slavery song from the US Civil War era.

The US Civil War started in 1860. The slavery of black Americans was a main reason for the war. Eleven Southern States with large populations of black people seceded from the United States to form The Confederate States. The northern states fought to protect the union.

During this war a woman lyricist wrote, "Glory." The main lyric in English translates as "We are fighting on God's side. We are not going to lose to Evil. If we do lose we will be taken up in God's glory (ie escorted to Heaven). So let's fight with all our might!" It became a huge hit at the time. It was revised in the Fifties during the Civil Rights movement, becoming famous all over again. In my country, it is a song with a very deep meaning.

It is okay to change the lyrics to songs, but isn't it more interesting to know the original meanings, too? Let's always look at things by asking "Why?" or "How?"

First of all, my wife (editor) threw that last bit on there to soften up the overall tone. I had forgotten it was there until I re-read it. Obviously, Japanese people don't care that their treasured kids' songs are actually anti-slavery folk songs. So I had to placate them somewhat with that.

I will never forget hearing my daughter Anna sing this song to me. I was shocked. Incredulous. Bowled over.  Here are the Japanese words (loosely translated). If you don't think this is the dumbest song you've ever read, let me know. It just galls that it's actually sung to the tune of "Glory Glory Halleluiah." 

Hymn to Friendship 
Japanese lyrics by Takao Sakata 
One by one with elbows locked
All together all of us are friends
Hey there everybody hello! 
Let's all shake hands
In the sky is Mr. Sun
Underfoot is the Earth
Everybody get together
Everybody sing

Robin Hood and Tom Sawyer
They are all our friends
The old guy with the long whiskers
Used to be a child, too
In the sky is Mr. Sun
Underfoot is the Earth
Everybody get together 
Everybody sing

If all the friends on Earth got together
There wouldn't be any troubles or strife
Let's go to Africa and Polynesia
The green forests
In the sky is Mr. Sun
Underfoot is the Earth
Everybody get together
Everybody sing  
(then counting in Japanese, English, German, and Spanish before a big finish)
Everybody SING! 

No comments:

Post a Comment