Japan: Takamatsu Grandmother inspires the writing of this lullaby.

As we travel and share HUG Your Baby country to country, my husband, Jim, is writing lullabies inspired by the people and the culture we meet. Here, a grandmother at Bokko Birth Center (Takamatsu) inspired the writing of the Japanese lullaby.  Jim explains this process and offers this lullaby.

"Visitors to Japan encounter one of humanity’s most complex and fully articulated cultures. Japanese traditions in language and literature, arts and crafts, cuisine and architecture, social mores and performance art have been defined and shaped through centuries of continuous practice, and all continue to have growing edges as long and keen as a Samurai sword’s. Japanese social and cultural sophistication may put off some visitors, but for most of us, that is precisely why we’re here!

It should come as no surprise, then, that lullabies—komoriuta—form a longstanding musical genre in Japan. The brilliant (and physically challenged) New Orleans journalist-turned-Japanase-folklorist, Lafcadio Hearn, collected a lullaby (from Izumo province, in the early twentieth century, about a baby sleeping) that parallels the lyrics to the song we wrote below. READ HERE for more details.

CLICK HERE to visit a site that presents a sort of “top five” of traditional cradle songs.

CLICK HERE to visit another Japanese lullaby site, with an embedded YouTube video. Note the reference to Lafcadio Hearn.

Finally CLICK HERE for yet another Japanese lullaby site, this one put up with the help of a Japanese father.

The lullaby that Jan and I wrote to commemorate our stay in Japan is a living part of the komoriutatradition. Here’s the very moving back story:

At Bokko Birth Center in Takamatsu, I witnessed Jan having a very tender moment with a grandmother and her baby. The grandmother, Taeko Watanabe (an English teacher), was learning from Jan some games to play with her daughter’s month-old baby. In the course of their conversation it was revealed that Ms. Watanabe’s husband had died a month before the baby was born.

Naturally, she was still grieving this loss, even as she was overjoyed about the birth of her granddaughter. Jan helped Ms. Watanabe learn about a baby’s increased crying at two weeks of age—a normal development that the grandmother had interpreted as the baby’s crying for her lost grandfather. 
Jan suggested to Ms. Watanabe, a Christian, that in America some people think that when babies look away from their caregivers (another normal newborn behavior) they are "watching angels."

This observation deeply touched the Japanese grandmother, and she had a little cry and hug with Jan. Right after that moment, Ms. Watanabe spontaneously launched into singing a lullaby—not having heard, yet, that lullabies are a special interest of mine. CLICK HERE to watch her sing to her grandbaby. Notice where her voice catches with emotion.

I could not NOT base my Japanese lullaby on this touching experience. The melody Ms. Watanabe sang sounded familiar, and with a little Internet research I discovered that it was written by Franz Schubert. Our nursing professor friend, Kimie Tanimoto, confirmed that this song is, indeed, one of the most common Japanese lullabies. Ms. Watanabe later sent me the Japanese lyrics (in romaji characters), and she gave permission to use her recording.

My arrangement of this song (scroll down to see it) starts with Ms. Watanabe’s version of the Schubert lullaby (in Japanese, of course). She took some liberties with the melody, and chose her own key; both changes I preserved. Then, after a father-friendly key change, three verses in English follow, which Jan and I wrote.

Professor Kimie Tanimoto practices
face-to-face play in the "Ready Zone."
The Japanese babies we met, and whom Jan got to work with, had remarkable powers to calm themselves and to focus on objects or faces. Dr. Brazelton had observed the same phenomenon when he worked in Japan in the 1980s. The lullaby lyrics we wrote reflect the capabilities of a baby—so reassuring to a loving parent, or a grieving grandmother—and also tell the story of birth in a Japanese setting (based on a birth that Jan attended).  I hope you enjoy this attempt to distill part of our experience of Japan into a simple song."