Monday, February 3, 2014

"Yuyake Koyake" Song

Mt. Fuji in full sight
and verdant air over mulberry capital
once crossing the Asakawa River

- by Rev. Saigyo, Samurai priest and poet (1118-1190)

"Hachioji", meaning "eight princes*", is a commuter city of over half a million people, the majority of them working in the greater urban Tokyo area. It is located 40 km west of Tokyo. I had quite a few friends in Hachioji, when I was living in Hino, bordering Hachioji. Haruo Toda, a good photographer, is among them. Another, the Armour family resided in Hachioji in 1960s.

A few years ago when I traveled as Kyushuan, Haruo drove me to the so-called "Yuyake-Koyake Fureai no sato" (the friendly village of Ongata), now merged with Hachioji, where Miyakichi Takei, aka Uko Nakamura (1897-1972), the poet who wrote the famous children lyrics "Yuyake-Koyake", was born. Ongata Village sits on Jinba Kaido (heading for Mt. Jinba), known as the back road of Koshu Kaido (heading for Kofu, Yamanashi).

Uko was also a commuter when he started to teach at an elementary school in Nippori, Arakawa Ward in Tokyo. There was no bus like there is today between Kami-Ongata Village and Hachoijo Station, so he walked 16 km everyday one way and then took the train to Tokyo.

Uko recalled the day he wrote the lyrics. "One fine afternoon I was returning home for summer vacation, freed from school duty. The time I was approaching Ongata I saw clouds and the mountain ranges turning color, flocks of crows heading for nests on Mt. Takao, Mt. Jinba and Hachioji Castle Mountain, and then all of a sudden temple bells of local Kokeiji, Jofukuji, Shingenin rang out in chorus for curfew. The tinged sky with dusk gathering and the evening bells produced a grand spectacle, baffling all descriptions, and induced in me sadness as well."

Uko posted his lyrics in the Poem Magazine in 1919. Five years later in 1923, Shin Kusakawa (1893-1948), a music major born in Nagano (in a country-side similar to Uko), wrote music to Uko's lyrics, using quarter note patterns. His simple repeating melody makes the song pleasurable to the ear.

I remember a visiting foreigner said to me, "After some time living in Japan I realized everyday at 5PM in many places you could hear a 30 second catchy chime melody "Yuyake Koyake". You can usually hear it near schools and city hall over powerful speakers and if you are walking around Tokyo at 5PM, you will most likely hear it." Yes, I had the same experience, but have almost forgotten it.

Now I have quoted the Rev. Saigyo poem above. Perhaps Rev. Saigyo was heading west either from Kamakura, or on his way back from Hiraizumi, Iwate, where the northern Fujiwara clan prospered. I was happy to find the familiar name "Asakawa River" in the 12th century. It must have been a big river then and the area Hachioji was already known as the capital of mulberries and silk production.

My old house in Hino City is close to the Asakawa River. There was a nostalgic river ferryboat and a citizen swimming pool where I used to take my children. I traced the source of Asakawa back to Hachioji and found the River Ange running through the Ongata village is another name for Asakawa. I'm excited that Ongata and Hino are connected through the Asakawa River, upstream and downstream.

I just wish to add lastly that Hino where I once lived is getting highlighted as the urban waterfront space for irrigation and greeneries as environmentally advanced city in the Greater Tokyo Blueprint.


1. Eight princes appeared in the dream of ascetic scholar monk "Myoko" as a sign of his revelation at Mt. Fukazawa where Ujiteru Hojo built his castle during the Warring Nation Period (1482-1558) and named it after eight princes. The castle was short lived, leaving the ruins of the castle.

2. youtube "Yuyake-Koyake" song

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