The Lullaby of Itsuki

Itsuki no Komoriuta (low quality excerpt)

Can a lullaby communicate a lament and can a lament become a lullaby? If it is not beyond the realm of credence, then Itsuki no Komoriuta (literally Lullaby of Itsuki) is certainly such a lullaby.

Featuring the lithe vocals of Atsuko Yuma interwoven with Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin`s subtle Shakuhachi performance and Fusako Yoshida`s sparse but nimble Koto accompaniment, this piece communicates a dramatic range of pitch and timbre. Within the brief sample I have provided (and in the entirety of the composition) the tempo varies, but it is also cyclical within the different phrases of the piece – the vocals set the rhythm and pitches, with the other instruments contributing to the overall melody of the composition.

Though the language barrier will limit the precise communication of the song`s ideas, there is little doubt that such universal emotions of love and longing are clearly transmitted above the din.

To dispense with the mystery, this is a four hundred year-old Japanese folk lullaby – popular within the rural provinces of southern Japan. It tells an ancient tale of a young peasant girl, forced to work as nursemaid to a wealthy family`s children, who sings for the soothing of the small child in her charge and also of her longing to return home. The lyrics speak of a forthcoming holiday (the Obon festival) wherein poor laborers, such as this girl, will be permitted to return to their homes for a brief respite from their toil.

During this important part of Japan`s history its people were divided into four basic classes: Samurai, Farmers, Craftsmen and Merchants. The Samurai class was the highest. They enjoyed many privileges but also had responsibilities and were supposed to set a good example for the rest of society. The next class was that of the Farmers, placed so high because the livelihood (i.e. the rice) of the Samurai depended on them – but farmers had to work hard, they were bound by many restrictions, and were generally very poor. Craftsmen came next, followed by Merchants. Merchants were placed on the lowest rank of the class system because they produced nothing and acted only out of a desire to amass wealth.

Outside of these four strictly defined classes were, on the one end: Priests, Doctors, Intellectuals and Courtiers – and on the other end were the people often considered “the outcasts” a group of classless people who performed the most despised tasks of society. Working in virtual slavery for the rich and looking after their babies was a way to survive for these people.

This is but a simple song from a faraway place and forgotten time – nevertheless, it is full of the passion and heartache that any Soul can know.

Recently the provincial government has decided to build a water reservoir near the village by building a Dam upon the local tributaries – which will submerge all of the surrounding communities beneath the water.

Only a few fragments of memory, and this song, will remain of the village of Itsuki.


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