It's Only Love: Modern Japanese Love Song Lyrics as Texts
After hearing so many different
kinds of songs in class, I began thinking about the ones I had personally
come across in my travels to Japan. I realized that love--whether new, unrequited,
or lost--is probably the most common topic for songs in just about any country,
and Japan is no exception. I narrowed my field of study to Japanese love
songs, especially the more modern ones, mostly from the last decade.
However, it did not seem
fair to compare Japanese love songs with American ones, at the risk of falling
into the "X is better than Y" trap. As a linguist and Japanese major, too,
I am perhaps most interested in song lyrics--how each song says what it
says. Thus, I chose to zero in on the words of these love songs.
Finally, I wanted to examine
several different styles of love songs, from singer-songwriter material
to pieces from one of the most modern musical media: video games. I chose
two examples of each (usually one male and one female, where applicable)
and proceeded to analyze them both separately and together. I took special
care to consider devices such as structure and meter along with theme and
vocabulary. The full text of all songs used in this paper is available here,
and was translated by me (with professorial fine-tuning) unless otherwise
Male: It's Only Love
Popular in the summer
of 1994, this interesting piece portrays a young man who thought breaking
up with his girlfriend was the best thing that happened to him--until
he realizes he is still overwhelmed by his feelings for her. Japanese
(female) friends of mine were captivated by this song, which shows what
sensitivity can lie beneath the typical Japanese guy's coolly stoic exterior.
(Or maybe it only showed what sensitivity they hoped was there,
and that's why it was so popular.)
The song has some narrative
elements, which include the speaker, alone, being drawn to the sea by
forces beyond his control. In his loneliness, he believes he may be subconsciously
searching for something--or someone. But if "it's only love," as he admits
ironically, why isn't it easier to forget the one you loved?
The personal pronouns
Fukuyama chose for himself and his girlfriend, boku and kimi,
suggest a comfortable familiarity; furthermore, it implies that both of
them are still on equal grounds. By these words, which mean "me" and "you"
respectively, we can also tell that he is addressing this piece to her
personally. He uses many "affection words" (koibito "lover", suki
na "favorite" or "beloved", ai "love", even the English love)
and several that bring to mind deep emotions (mune "chest" or "heart",
omoide "emotions", omoi "feelings", kokoro "heart",
kanjiru "feel"). These, along with the dream motif (yume),
figure largely in most of the eight songs studied here.
These words alone do not
effectively convey the author's sentiments, however; it is more important
to note his repetition of the words wasureru "forget", hakobu
"carry", and sarau "sweep away". Along with images of the ocean
(umi) and wind (kaze), such verbs imply a longed-for obliteration
("I want to forget about you") or a practically literal sensation of being
carried away against one's will ("So why is there still one more / Wave
that sweeps away my feelings?"). It may be noted that sarau, kaze,
and umi show up in a few other of these pieces as well.
The meter is fairly regular,
and the five-line refrains have beautiful V-shaped syllable counts: 12-11-10-11-12.
There are, on average, about 11 syllables per line. Furthermore, if one
assigns letters to each verse and stanza, an overall pattern emerges:
AABC-AABC-BC1. The last BC is centered around the song's one
key change, and the final C1 is actually an embellished refrain
that combines elements of the two previous C portions.
Many of its lines are
neat parallels of one another, such as "suki na yume o miteru"
/ "suki na kimi o miteru" and "kitto jiyuu na n da" / "kitto
shiawase datta". The repetition of "umi e kita no ka" as well
as most of the refrain reinforces the helplessness the singer feels, yet
the new elements in the second refrain and the flourishes in the final
reiteration keep our interest. The title is sung four times, and can be
seen as a kind of mantra for the singer--reminding himself of a reason
to put it all behind him.
Female: Rouge no Dengon
Written and performed
by the star Arai Yuumi, this piece was both the opening theme to Miyazaki
Hayao's charming 1989 anime film Majo no Takkyuubin (translated
as Kiki's Delivery Service) as well as a popular single, although
I do not know which came first. Unlike most animated film themes in the
States, this one had nothing to do with the plot. The heroine simply switches
on a radio, and this song happens to be playing--a unique introduction
which may have helped establish the song as music for the masses.
The narrative is clear:
The singer's boyfriend has been eyeing other women, and she boldly sets
out by train to snitch on him to his mother--but not before scrawling
a message in lipstick on (presumably) the bathroom mirror. Looking out
the window as the town flies past, she imagines how her leaving town must
have shown her boyfriend a thing or two. I found it interesting that we
are never explicitly told what her "lipstick message" is, but from the
context, we can assume it's a warning for her beau to shape up...or she'll
There is a definite emotional
distance between these two besides the physical one. Arai uses watashi
for herself and the roundabout ano hito (literally meaning "that
person" and used metaphorically as "my boyfriend") for her lover. She
is singing mostly to a third person or to herself; there are only two
lines addressed directly to her boyfriend, in which she calls him "my
darling"--probably in teasing jest, as she has just threatened him with
a hostile phone call from his mother.
Like It's Only Love,
this couple is separated, although it was a one-sided decision made on
the spur of the moment. However, this piece differs from It's Only
Love in its complete lack of remorse and emotionally charged words.
It is obvious that this girl feels she has been done wrong; she is proud
of her ability to turn the tables on her unfaithful sweetheart and offer
an effective ultimatum. In fact, she shows the most positive emotion as
she sings about her "uneasy feelings" slipping by the wayside as she travels
farther from home (and her boyfriend) and closer to his mother (and resolution).
Koi "love" is mentioned only once, and negatively--in the context
of her lover's fickle habits.
There are three gairaigo,
loan words, used in this song--four if you count the incongruous ding-dong,
translated as "quickly" here and in other versions. They lend an air of
modernity, certainly in keeping with the image of the singer/narrator
as a girl who is perfectly comfortable taking matters into her own hands.
Yet if we call that masculine behavior (and that's a big "if"), we must
also note her use of traditionally feminine forms of speech such as sentence-final
no, wa, and kashira. She may be reasserting herself
as a woman through her language, but makes clear via her actions that
she is no wishy-washy "hai, anata" ("yes, dear") type. Of course,
the medium in which she chooses to express her bathroom-mirror threat
is also inherently feminine--another duality.
The meter is even, with
the main verses following a 13-14-19-9 pattern fairly regularly. The song
averages about 14 syllables per line. Applying letters to the verses and
refrains, we get AABC-ABC; this final ABC cluster is not, however, heard
in the movie--as it appears when the song is listed under "Arai Yuumi"
in the better karaoke boxes, I assume it is featured in the single release.
Finally, the title appears twice, nestled into the last part of the second
line of two parallel verses.
Male: Kimi ga Inai Natsu
This beautiful song from
1997 was one of a series of ending songs used for the television anime
"Detective Conan" as well as being included on one of Deen's own albums.
Like the previous song, it has no real connection to the show's plot,
which allows it to be in freer distribution and attain a level of popularity
that may not have been possible if it had had too specialized a theme.
It was written by Komatsu Mihou, a singer-songwriter who also wrote and
performed the opening song used in conjunction with this one.
Here, too, is a couple
separated, apparently by mutual consent. Yet the man continues to reminisce
about the summers the two of them spent together, lamenting the way his
memories of her are fading, and painfully enduring summers without her,
year after year. Compare this unwanted loss of memories with the way the
singer in It's Only Love wanted nothing more than to forget his
love, yet was not allowed to do so. In this case, although he realizes
they decided to call it quits, he is still "praying a little" for just
a piece of the happiness he knows he can never have again.
No pronoun is used to
refer to the singer himself, but he uses the familiar kimi for
his estranged girlfriend--an appropriate choice if he is indeed still
pining for her. Yume appears twice, both in the context of dreams
he wants to pursue with his lover as well as brilliant dreams of days
past that, like his memories, are gradually fading away. In that vein,
wasureru and omoide o nakusu "lose memories" also show up
a couple of times; the depth of his feelings is expressed in words like
mune and kokoro, but the only vaguely love-related word
he uses is daisuki "beloved". The motif of kotoba "words"
is also introduced here and will show up in three following selections
What he lacks in heartfelt
nouns, he makes up for in adjectives. Yasashii "kind" and odayaka
"gentle" are used in the same verse to describe both his girlfriend and
the waves which wash against her and sweep her farther and farther away
in his mind. To me, however, the most touching words are amai "sweet",
as in the "sweet summer days" he's trying so hard to remember, and azayakasugiru
"too vivid"--the summers spent apart that he's trying so hard to forget.
The verbs used reflect
a yearning: oikakeru "chase after", hanareru "be separated",
and sarau, among others. Again, sarau shows up in the context
of nami carrying a loved one (or memories of her) away. What I
found most interesting was the shift from modorenai "can't return"
to modoranai "won't return"--and then back again. Removing all
possibility of their reliving their life together, as he does by using
"can't", makes it easier for him to accept the choices they have made;
saying they won't return implies that the two of them may in fact
be able to get back together, but just don't want to or are stubbornly
holding grudges (etcetera). It is much more comforting, then, to use "can't".
A nearly perfect 13-17-17-14
meter in the verses--perfect if you hear the doubled vowel in the middle
of Verse 1's ikite--coupled with a spotless 15-16-15-16 refrain
and topped off with a poignant 22-foot tag makes for a tight, well-planned
song, technically the best of these eight. The lines average about 17
feet each, the longest in this group, and the AB-AB-ABB stanza pattern
is pleasantly structured. Interestingly, the title is sung but once, and
though it may not have been the most immediate choice for a title (given
the four-time repetition of the song's longest and most conspicuous line),
it is perhaps the most accurate, summing up 24 lines in only eight syllables
and drawing on the natsu no hi "summer days" theme mentioned twice
Female: Nagai Aida
Probably the simplest
of the eight songs studied here, this lovely piece, performed by the duo
Kiroro, hit the charts in spring 1998. It is the first so far in this
paper to discuss a relationship that is going very well--so well, in fact,
that the woman wonders if it's time for her to admit she loves her boyfriend.
She also attributes her happiness and almost her well-being to him, another
first (and a polar opposite to the jilted woman in Rouge no Dengon).
In keeping with the two male selections above, the singer feels this love
most strongly when the two of them are separated, even if for a short
while: absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Her boyfriend calls from
work to apologize for being late and making her lonely, but she notes
that his voice gives away his own stress at being separated. She then
admits what power he has over her, how happy she is when they can finally
get together. Realizing for the first time the extent of her feelings
for her partner, she suddenly thinks "I love you"--but cannot bring herself
to go that far. After all, what's said is said. It should be noted that
aishiteru "I love you" is not said carelessly in Japan. More usually,
a boy- or girlfriend would say anata (no koto) ga suki "I like
(some things about) you", or anata ni muchuu "I'm crazy about you".
"I love you" is reserved for real love (Tse 55).
The woman uses the standard
watashi for herself and both anata and the much more informal
kimi for her lover. Traditionally, kimi has been used only
by men, but there are no real equivalents in standard women's speech.
In order to achieve a higher level of intimacy in the way she relates
to her boyfriend linguistically, adopting kimi was probably her
best bet. Although from these pronouns one could read the song as a two-person
conversation, I am more inclined to think of it as a monologue, that perhaps
the singer is auditioning to herself what she wants to say to her lover.
Again, mune and
omoi make appearances, along with the aishiteru that is
so pivotal to the song's theme. It is interesting that, although this
song does contain wasureru as do the two male songs discussed earlier,
it is in the negative--"I want to be near you / So I won't forget your
smiling face." It may have been an unspoken wish of the man in Kimi
ga Inai Natsu, but the woman here is straightforward enough to admit
it out loud. Sarau is used as well, with positive connotations
rather than ones of lonely desperation.
The meter is irregular,
but the average line length is about eleven syllables. Each verse is similar
in construction, and the two versions of the refrain are alike as well.
The song ends with a cycle of the first refrain followed by the second
refrain, repeated once. As the refrain is what carries the important "aishiteru--masaka
ne" theme and her reasons for wanting to say it, this repetition serves
to highlight the joy felt in this relationship as well as the difficulty
she has making such a decision. The title has as little to do with the
theme as Kimi ga Inai Natsu's, and is likewise sung only once,
though it has an unusual position as the first part of the very first
Game Songs: Released: Hikari no Naka E
The melody of this song
first made its appearance in the 1991 home console game Final Fantasy
IV (FF2 in English) as Ai no Theme "Theme of Love",
the song that played through most scenes involving the main hero's girlfriend
Rosa. A variation on this theme was also used during their wedding in
the closing sequence. Three years later, it was included on an album of
orchestrated and lyricized Final Fantasy songs. (There are eight games
and counting in this popular series, so the lyricists have plenty of songs
to choose from.) Although other video game songs can be like television
theme songs--having too much to do with the game's or show's plot to be
popular any other way--I was pleased that this one turned out so unmarked.
Dealing with unrequited
love, a woman sings of the object of her affection aloof and alone, almost
in his own little world far from companionship, while she struggles with
the love for him welling up within. She admires him as the woman in Nagai
Aida admires her boyfriend, saying he'll open locked doors and lead
ill-fated ships into the light. I suspect this last is a metaphor, perhaps
signifying that he can reverse the inexorable path of one doomed to failure.
As she associates herself with negative images--being at a loss, allowing
her memories to "break and scatter" as she tucks them away--she is implying
that she, too, can be lifted into the light and rescued if only he would
notice her waiting for him.
Because the two are strangers
for all intents and purposes, it is fitting that she use the polite watashi
and anata to refer to herself and her crush. The unrequited love
and near idol-worship is also a reason for her saying watashi but
once and anata four times, putting the focus on him even as she
begs him to realize she's there for him.
is used twice and aishita once, they don't seem to have much to
do with love. In fact, the first use of kokoro is in describing
the loneliness of her beloved's distant heart and the second in her statement
that her glazed eyes cannot convey her feelings. Likewise, aishita
describes only songs, not flesh and blood. Omoide is described
not as being carried off or lost, but rather consciously locked away and
allowed to shatter.
Regular meter is to be
expected in a song where the words were put to music that had already
been around for three years, and indeed the meter is precise. Two lines,
with parallels elsewhere, feature extra syllables, as in "dare mo inai
kara" and "ima wa todokanai" with eight instead of the usual
seven, but this is acceptable even by ancient Japanese standards of poetry.
The average line length is about eight syllables, the shortest among these
selections--and perhaps also natural when the words are but an afterthought.
Stanzas follow an AA-BBC-BBC pattern structurally (not musically), and
we are kept waiting for the title until the very last line.
Game Songs: Unreleased: Chikazuku Yokan
I chose to examine this
piece because of its uniqueness. Written for Final Fantasy VI (FF3
in English) but never used in the game, Chikazuku Yokan presumably
sat on a shelf somewhere until its release on an EP of special and unreleased
FFVI tracks. It was lyricized for its debut and sung by the video game
company's staff; a karaoke version was also included on the CD. In this
way, it can be seen more as a regular commercial tune rather than a theme
song, the role it was written for but one it never filled.
Unfortunately, it is difficult
to analyze because of its arcane, fragmentary lyrics. It is also hard
to pinpoint one singer and one audience, especially because the verses
are sung by different people and the chorus by the entire group. However,
we can note that there is a feeling of going onward and upward, a deep
and unending love, dreams that won't be forgotten, and a strong premonition
of beautiful things to come. Anata is used twice, in the context
of being loved and protected, but there is no first-person pronoun in
this song. To make matters worse, the first anata is sung by a
chorus of women, and the second by a mixed chorus--if there is one voice,
one person singing to an audience, we can't even be sure if they're male
For all that, though,
love abounds. Words like suki, ai, jounetsu "passion",
kokoro, kanjiru, and even dakishimeru "embrace" are
really what help make this a love song. The line "I love you / So much
that I can't breathe" may be the most "love song-y" part, along with the
concept of protecting someone as long as love lasts. Notice also the yume
motif--chasing after dreams as in Kimi ga Inai Natsu--and the wasurenai
concept as in Nagai Aida. Sasou even shows up in almost
the same context as in It's Only Love: the wind beckoning the singer
onward, but not to emotions better left unfelt. Kaze is an important
element in this song, appearing without umi unlike previous examples.
The repetition of "sore dake...sore dake (de ii)" puts an emphasis
on simplicity while providing reassurance at the same time.
Another feature of this
song is the counterpoint that appears in the second refrain and then in
the reiteration of the first refrain. Sung by a second all-male chorus,
it embellishes what has already been presented by the main chorus, usually
with related verbs or merely additional words that do not change the meaning--as
in "Time (As it passes)" and "Never again (No, never again)". They provide
additional information and varied views on whatever subject is at hand,
and above all make the refrains interesting, especially when the first
refrain with which one is already familiar is reworked in such a refreshing
Although the verse meter
is not regular, the two reworked refrains follow a 9-10-9-11-9-9-11 pattern,
and all other lines are between seven and eleven syllables long, making
for an average line length of about nine syllables. The AAB-AAC-CC pattern,
where C is a revamped version of B, is straightforward and easy to listen
Themes: Drama: LA LA LA Love Song
The "trendy drama" Long
Vacation debuted on Japanese television in 1996 and ran for eleven
episodes. It was and is still incredibly popular in Japan as well as throughout
Asia, in part because its male lead was none other than heartthrob Kimura
Takuya of SMAP. The show itself had a musical subtext, as Kimura's character
was a piano teacher with dreams of becoming a concert pianist. Having
said that, however, it is again nice to see an TV show's opening theme
that does not have anything specifically to do with the show's plot; the
song, like the show, still enjoys immense popularity.
For a refreshing turn
of pace, LA LA LA Love Song continues on the path of Chikazuku
Yokan with a love that is the healthiest we've seen so far. A man
tells how he played hard-to-get while secretly wishing he could be with
a certain girl, glories in their chance meeting, and exuberantly celebrates
the full-fledged love they have nurtured from seed. As in Hikari no
Naka E, he also hints that he had been an emotional wreck before she
was in his life (using the same "breaking into pieces" idea), and suggests
that the two kiss "until [they] stop breathing"--similar to Chikazuku
Yokan's declaration of love.
The pronouns boku
and kimi, again, introduce a level of comfortable intimacy; after
all, "there's nothing for [the singer] to be shy about" around his girl.
"Love"--not ai, not koi, but English "love"--is mentioned
a whopping fourteen times, while neither of the Japanese terms noted above
appear at all. Such an overwhelming use of gairaigo--not to mention
"merry-go-round", "melody", "love song", and the handful of lines sung
by American model Naomi Campbell--makes this piece hip and sexy, going
much farther than Rouge no Dengon's endearing modernity. (There
may be unexpected side effects for English speakers, though: the repeated
lines "Wanna make love / Wanna make love song--hey, baby" inspired one
of my American friends to call the song "cheap" and compare it to early
Kokoro pops up
again, as it has in most of the previous songs, and dakiyoseru,
related to dakishimeru, reappears from Chikazuku Yokan.
One newcomer is kuchizuke "kiss" (note that it isn't the probably
more common loanword kissu; the writer may have considered that
much gairaigo superfluous). He touches on the kotoba motif
seen elsewhere as he sings of a love song more serious than words, and
actually speaks of the moment the two met, calling it a "miracle" that
"changed the color of our tears"--a metaphor describing the change from
tears of lonely sorrow to ones of giddy joy.
I enjoyed the English
lines tucked into the mini-verses, especially because they cleverly echo
the lines that came before: brand-new love plus changed tears, being one's
shining star plus a starless night. If one listens closely, one can even
hear a "No, thanks!" in the background after "'Mappira!' to yokomuite".
If there's going to be that much English in a song, at least it depends
heavily on the Japanese that's already in place.
Setting aside Campbell's
phatic "Wanna make love" contributions and splitting the eight-line verse
and refrain into groups of four lines each for consistency, we find a
meter of about 10-8-9-9, give or take a syllable, in the verses and about
10-12-10-7 in the refrains. It fits well and goes down easy, so to speak.
A very long piece, the stanza pattern falls into something like ABCCD-AABCD-AAEAA,
and as the title falls into the last line of all those A's and B's, it
is most certainly hard to miss. This and the following song are the only
two in this collection to have "love song" in their titles, disregarding
the original title of Hikari no Naka E's melody.
Themes: Anime: Lum no Love Song
usually translated as Those Obnoxious Aliens, was a serialized
manga by the prolific manga-ka Takahashi Rumiko before it
was made into a television anime in 1981. The female lead, Lum,
is a beautiful oni-girl (a traditional Japanese demon) and an alien
to boot. She mistakenly believes the male lead has proposed marriage and
vows to be his forevermore--despite the fact that he, a notorious lecher,
simply cannot be stopped from eyeing other women. Lum, who has a bad habit
of extreme fits of jealousy, tries her darnedest to keep him faithful
with the liberal application of electric shocks and other forms of tough-love
punishment. This song, the opening theme, does have a lot to do with the
plot of the show, but is still general enough to be reasonably popular
on its own (though it has never reached the level of any of the singer-songwriter
or idol pieces covered earlier).
The singer chastises her
lover, or would-be lover, for not paying more attention to her and for
pretending she doesn't exist, despite the fact that she loves him more
than anyone else. Along with this come two refrains bemoaning the fickle
ways of men and wondering out loud why they find it so difficult to love
one woman and one alone. The theme has some aspects in common with the
spurned girlfriend of Rouge no Dengon, and its admonitions to notice
the singer awaiting his love may also be seen in Hikari no Naka E.
Despite the informality
and intimacy desired by the woman in this song, she may still realize
the distance between her and her beloved: she uses watashi for
herself and anata for him. There is some feminine language, but
not as much as in Rouge no Dengon (only one wa, for example),
and no loan words. The song does feature two gitaigo, onomatopoeia
describing actions rather than sounds: sowa-sowa "fidgety" and
kyoro-kyoro "looking all over the place (nervously)".
Love shows up in suki
(thirty-two times!), aishite, muchuu, and ai. The
yume motif shows up as the woman dreaming of her loved one, and
while there's nothing being swept off or forgotten in this piece, all
the loves a man insists on having are spread all over confusedly. Following
what was said earlier about "anata ga aishiteru" versus "anata
ni muchuu", the singer attributes the former to her feelings and the
latter to her lover's--rendering her emotions for her one love as deeper
and more sincere, even more important than the mere infatuation the man
experiences for girl after girl.
The opening refrain, repeated
once more and then again with changes, has a surprisingly uniform 12-12-12-12
meter. While none of the other portions are as consistent, the average
line length is very close at about eleven syllables per line. The stanzas
are laid out as ABCD-AD-A1, with the final A1 a
version of A plus a trimmed version of B. Unique among all the songs presented
here, the title of this piece is never mentioned within the song itself.
notes (slightly technical)
VCCV words, like saratte
and totta, can be pronounced in one of two ways: with a
long consonant, as is usual in speech, or with an elongated vowel before
the consonant. The latter is more common in songs, as it sounds much more
melodic and less choppy. It's simply easier to carry the tune through
vowels rather than consonants (note, however, that the syllabic nasal
n is a sonorant like vowels are: you can sing through it just as
easily). Saratte, then, is sung as "saraate". Most words that fit
this pattern are sung this way in these eight pieces, with a few exceptions,
emphasizing crisp consonants rather than mellifluous vowels:
Only Love: natte, totta
Aida: saratte (in direct opposition to It's Only Love's
LA LA Love Song: kesshite
- Lum no
Love Song: hito 'tte
It's Only Love. Written and performed by Fukuyama Masaharu. 1994: BMG Victor, Inc.
Rouge no Dengon. Written and performed by Arai Yuumi. This version: 1989: Tokuma Japan Communications, Inc.
ga Inai Natsu. Written by Komatsu Mihou, performed by Deen. 1997:
B-Gram Records, Inc.
Nagai Aida. Performed by Kiroro. 1998.
Ai no Theme. Composed by Uematsu Nobuo for Final Fantasy IV. 1991: Squaresoft, Inc.
Hikari no Naka E. Written by Yamabuki Ririko, performed by Ohki Risa. 1994: Square, Inc.
Chikazuku Yokan. Performed by Square staff members. 1994: Polystar/NTT Publishing, Inc.
LA LA LA Love Song. Written and performed by Toshinobu Kubota with Naomi Campbell. 1996.
Lum no Love Song. Written by Itoh Akira and Kobayashi Izumi, performed by Matsutani Yuuko. 1981.
Tse, Peter. Kansai Japanese. Rutland: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1993.