Karaoke Kotoba – あなた

I’m in the Japan Times this week: “Keep pounding away and eventually Japanese will reveal its secrets.”

It’s just a little piece about how I finally figured out 使役 (しえき, causative). I mention the Yoshi Ikuzo karaoke song と・も・子, which I learned thanks to one of my host families in Fukushima. My host dad used to sing this song all the time, and he was great at imitating Yoshi’s Tohoku accent.

I mention in the article that the narrator is singing the song for his lost love, but I didn’t have space to introduce what makes this song so special. It starts with a slow, spoken rap about Tomoko, a woman the narrator loves until she goes shopping one day and never returns.

The rap is given in Tohoku-ben as the narrator chases her through the region only to find her pregnant in Hakodate. Somehow she dies between that point and time when he when he pens the song. After the rap, he sings the song, which he terms 遅かったラブソング – Too-late Love Song. The song itself is pretty standard and culminates in a The Boxer-like repetition of ラーララ. The narrator addresses Tomoko directly using あなた, which reminded me of this tweet:

Conveniently it links to my previous Japan Times article about dropping subjects. Beginner students often have trouble understanding why あなた shouldn’t be used (or at least I did), but karaoke is one of the few places where it’s acceptable to use the word because the love songs are often dialogues between two people who are intimate. If you have that intimacy, you can use あなた. Otherwise, stick to surnameさん or nameさん when you want to say “you.”

It’s worth checking out the long rap. There aren’t many good versions on YouTube (check this link as a permasearch for the song), but this one has an imperfect subtitling of the rap:

I haven’t mastered it yet, but on a good day I can make it through the rap without embarrassing myself too much, and then the rest of the song is pretty easy. I do think there is something to be said for memorizing long stretches of spoken Japanese this way. In my experience, it kind of imprints your brain in a way that comes in handy in the future.

This live version has a great example of the causative keigo right at the beginning:

今日は私の好きな曲を歌わせていただきます。Go ahead, Yoshi, sing whatever song you want.