Hey guys! It’s been a while, but time for another Lost in Translation! This entry comes from episode 21 of March comes in like a Lion, where we see Rei reacting to a seemingly innocent jingle resounding through the passageways of an empty train station.
I’m pretty sure many of you out there might have encountered this melody either in some random anime, or perhaps maybe even in real life. By far the most prolific animation to feature this tune is Kôji Morimoto’s (animator, AKIRA) original short film “Beyond” from the compilation release of The Animatrix back in 2003.
The name of this tune is called “Tôryanse” (通りゃんせ, lit. “pass through” [imp.]) and is one of the most popular “warabe uta” (わらべ歌, lit. “nursery rhymes”) in Japan. The full version of the song is as follows:
通りゃんせ 通りゃんせ > tôryanse, tôryanse > You may enter, you may pass
ここはどこの 細道じゃ > koko wa doko no hosomichi ja > Where does this narrow path [lead]?
天神さまの 細道じゃ > Tenjin-sama no hosomichi ja > It is the narrow path of Tenjin [the path leads to Tenjin Shrine]
ちっと通して 下しゃんせ > chitto tôshite kudashanse > Please let me through
御用のないもの 通しゃせぬ > goyô no nai mono tôshasenu > [Those] with no [business] shall not pass
この子の七つの 御祝いに 御札を納めに 参ります > kono ko no nanatsu no oiwai ni o-fuda wo osame ni mairimasu > I’ve come to [present] my offering (ofuda) to the child [who turns] seven
行きはよいよい 帰りはこわい、こわいながらも 通りゃんせ 通りゃんせ > iki wa yoiyoi kaeri wa kowai, kowai nagara mo tôryanse, tôryanse > [going/entering] is easy, but [the] return is scary; scary [as it may be], you may enter; you may pass
The setting of the song is basically an exchange between a civilian and a guard manning a gate (differentiated by the bold/italic text save for the first and last verses, which are presumably narrative in nature), wherein the guard allows the civilian to pass through the narrow path in order celebrate the 7th birthday of an unnamed child. As with most nursery rhymes, the original meaning is often debated, but the popular use of the song is in nursery games quite similar to songs like “ring around a rosie”. In “Tôryanse”, two children hold hands and form a “gate”, through which other children walk underneath whilst singing the song. When the song ends, the children forming the “gate” lower their arms and “trap” whichever child ends up getting caught in the middle.
Using this as context, this is why “Tôryanse” is commonly used as a melody for pedestrian crossings, in that “it is safe to cross until the melody stops”. It isn’t that common to hear these musical pedestrian crossings in big cities like Tokyo (although there might be some in the outer city, like Shimokitazawa), but I’m pretty sure you can still find these types of crossings in places like Kanagawa. Again, they’re more likely than not outside of the main cities, probably due to issues with “noise pollution”.
But why is Rei so worked up about the song being some sort of “bad omen”? Well, the last line of the song pretty much mirrors Shimada’s journey from out of the hicks into the big city. It was “easy” for him to leave, but it is now difficult for him to return. There’s also the connotation that the child who gets caught at the end of the song is often referred to as the “oni” (lit. “demon”), which is similar to the “it” of the game “tag”. But Shimada has an interesting twist to this otherwise innocent nursery rhyme when he focuses more on the last line as a sort of anchor of hope:
Indeed, going back will be tough, but he should carry on nonetheless. I can’t say for certain what the original context of this line meant for the nursery rhyme — perhaps it was a reference to the “burden of enlightenment” with religious piety; or perhaps it was a warning for innocent souls not to be corrupted by the allures of a life of plenty? Whatever it is, Shimada’s undying positivity depicts a poignant message of hope amidst our own anxieties and failures. It’s a wonderful message that works even without an understanding of what Tôryanse really means; but to those who do know, it is definitely a wonderful message made all the more meaningful despite being lost in translation.
And that does it for this entry! Let me know what you guys think in the comments below, and I’ll see you next time. Ciao!