Friday, March 22, 2013

Ken-Bun-Ki "About Auld Lang Syne"

 Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996-97. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. This one is from March 19, 1997. 
This is graduation season (in Japan). And when you think of graduation ceremonies, you think of "The Light of the Fireflies." (This is the Japanese title for "Auld Lang Syne.") My daughter is going to sing this song at her kindergarten's graduation ceremony, so she has been practicing it a lot recently.

In America this is not a graduation song; it is a song sung to welcome in The New Year. We all sing it together at midnight on Dec 31. So when I firt came to Japan and started hearing this "The Light of the Fireflies" every March I always wondered, "Why?" It was a mystery to me. So last week I finally did the research and found out WHY. 

The melody is an old Scottish folk song. The writer is unknown. However, the lyricist is Scotland's most famous poet, Robert Burns. He used this folk song's tune and wrote the words to make "Auld Land Syne" in 1794. These lyrics are a mixture of Scottish and English, so the average American does not know the actual meaning to the song! I asked one of my British friends. he told me that in England, this song is not just sung at New Year; it's also sung at the end of parties with friends. Everyone locks arms together and sings it as a group. 

The first publication of the Japanese version was in the November, 1881 first edition of the Ministry of Education Musical Selections for Elementary Schools' Choirs book. The title was "Fireflies." The lyrics at the time symbolized young men leaving their country, going off to battle to help protect it. Nowadays, of course, it is sung at graduation ceremonies by the underclassmen, bidding the graduating class good-bye. Scotland's "Auld Lang Syne" is simply about friends saying good-bye to each other. 

If you research this song on the internet you will find that there are reports that the Japanese lyrics were written by lyricist Chikai Inagaki, whose pseudonym was "Shinjiro."

Here are the actual lyrics by Robert Burns:
Should old acquaintance be forgot 
And never brought to mind
Should old acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne my dear
For auld lang syne
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne

Here are the Japanese lyrics:
(first verse only)

Hotaru no hikari 
Mado no yuki
Fumiyomu tuki hi kasanetsutsu
Itsu shika toshi mo sugi no to wo
Aketezo kesa wa wakare yuku 

The light of the fireflies
The snow on the windows 
Days and months of reading books 
Went on and on 
Hours in to years
Open the door of Japanese cedar
This morning we're parting 

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