Video link: http://youtu.be/bfGs7GSdrXE
My friend in Niigata recently posted this video of a choir singing Hitsuji-gusa or Water Lilies. What’s significant about this obscure song from 1915 is that its melody was used in the much more famous song, Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song), Shiga’s most famous and beloved song (read about it here).
The university rowing club boys in Kyoto who wrote Biwako Shuko no Uta in 1917 found that Hitsuji-gusa’s melody matched their lyrics well, and the rest is history.
When you watch this video, you will notice that the melody sounds very similar to Biwako Shuko no Uta. (Or should I say that Biwako Shuko no Uta sounds very similar to Hitsuji-gusa.) Hitsuji-gusa was composed by a very talented young man named Yoshida Chiaki (吉田 千秋 1895-1919) from Niigata Prefecture. The lyrics are his Japanese translation of an old British children’s song called Water Lilies. He then composed a melody to match his Japanese lyrics. The song is about holding firm in times of adversity, just like the water lilies can even in a rainstorm. Chiaki composed the song while he was battling tuberculosis. He later died of the disease at age 24 in 1919.
For many years, no one knew who composed the melody for Biwako Shuko no Uta. When Kato Tokiko scored a national hit with Biwako Shuko no Uta in 1971, people started to wonder who composed the melody. It was known that the lyrics were written in 1917 by Oguchi Taro and his fellow university rowing club buddies in Kyoto. Many people assumed that Oguchi also composed the melody. Every 5 or 10 years or so after 1971, researchers found out a little more about the composer of the music. First they found out which song the melody came from. A few years later around 1980, they found the name of the composer, but didn’t know who he was.
Finally in 1993, after over 20 years of digging, the composer’s identity was brought to light. Chiaki turned out to be the second son of a famous geographer (Yoshida Togo). Chiaki was also found to be a brilliant young man who took interest in many things like astronomy, zoology, botany, and foreign languages. He had a good command of English and several other languages. If he hadn’t died so young, he likely would have become one of Japan’s leading scientists or professors. (Read my article about Chiaki here.)
The video above was taken at a memorial gathering on the anniversary of Chiaki’s death in Feb. 2013 at Chiaki’s birth home in Niigata city. A choir called Koai Gassho no Kai (小合合唱の会) sang a few songs including Hitsuji-gusa and Biwako Shuko no Uta. Chiaki’s home is now occupied by his niece, the daughter of Chiaki’s younger brother. I visited the house in 2007 and the niece showed me the room where Chiaki spent his final days. (Photos here.)
In 2001, an organization named Chiaki no Kai (「ちあき」の会) was formed to perpetuate, preserve, and honor Yoshida Chiaki’s numerous works and legacy.
Here are the lyrics of the original British children’s song followed by Chiaki’s song. There are three verses.
Water Lilies, by E.R.B. (Education & Resettlement Bureau)
Misty moonlight, faintly falling
O’er the lake at eventide,
Shows a thousand gleaming lilies
On the rippling waters wide.
White as snow, the circling petals
Cluster round each golden star,
Rising, falling with the waters,
Moving, yet at rest they are.
Winds may blow, and skies may darken,
Rain may pour, and waves may swell;
Deep beneath the changeful eddies
Lily roots fastened well.
Hitsuji-gusa (ひつじぐさ), by Yoshida Chiaki
Oboro tsukiyo no, tsuki akari
Kasuka ni ike no, omo ni ochi
Nami ma ni ukabu, kazu shiranu
Hitsuji-gusa o zo, terasu naru
Yuki ka tomagafu, hanabira wa
Kogane no shibe o, tori makitsu
Nami no ma ni ma ni, yuruge domo
Hana no kokoro wa, nami datazu
Kaze fukaba fuke, sora kumore
Ame fure nami tate, sari nagara
Adanami no shita, soko fukaku
Moe idetarinu, hitsuji-gusa
The video below is the same choir singing Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song). Listen and compare.