Monday, April 25, 2011

Hotaru no Hikari (Glow of the fireflies)

I am sure you must have heard this 'one' music at closing time (see the link at the end of this para) in shops, department stores, supermarkets, gyms (my gym plays it) and a lot of other places in Japan. All these years, though the thought did occur to me a few times, but I never dwelt much on why all these places played exactly the same music..Thanks to a friend's status message on facebook today, I thought of looking it up on the net and was pleasantly surprised to find what I did :) It turns out that the music is from the 'Japanese version' of the English (originally Scottish) song that I have loved for the past couple of years (I heard it for the first time in the movie 'Sex and the City') No wonder the music sounded familiar but wasn't quite able to place it.
( - the music)

'Auld Lang Syne' (means "times gone by") - is a Scots song written by Robert Burns, set to the tune of a traditional folk song and is very popular in the 'English speaking world' (quoted from Wikipedia). Traditionally sung at the stroke of midnight on New Year's eve to welcome the new year, it marks the end of an year and the beginning of a new one. Symbolizing "end" or a "new beginning", whichever way we choose to look at it, the song is also sung at funerals, graduation ceremonies, farewells, and other such occasions.

The Japanese version 'Hotaru no Hikari' (蛍の光, means Glow of the fireflies), the lyrics of which are quite different from the original Scottish version, is sung mostly on graduation ceremonies in Japan (and of course at the end of business day at all other places that I mentioned above). Composed in the 19th century, it is now so well integrated in the Japanese society that most of the Japanese do not realize that the original song is not from Japan. Chikai Inagaki, who was a teacher at the Tokyo National School of Fine Arts & Music, is believed to be the composer of the Japanese version, though this is yet to be confirmed.

I love the lyrics of both the English and the Japanese versions - the verse of the Japanese version denoting a lot of things such as the diligence of the students who studied in the night by the light of the fireflies (which is where the name comes from) long back when there was not much of electricity, parting or farewell (and death), and also a farewell to students who were sent to war after they graduated from high school (World war II, i believe)

Thus, partly symbolizing an end , it is sung at the end of the business day in many places in Japan to say 'goodbye' or 'see you' and is a polite request to the shoppers, members (of a gym), etc to finish whatever they are doing and leave (in time).

Also sung in many other parts of the world, it has different connotations in every country.

Note: In India, the melody was the direct inspiration for the popular Bengali song "Purano shei diner kotha" (Memories of the Good Old Days) composed by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, and forms one of the more recognisable tunes in Rabindra Sangeet (Rabindra's Songs), a body of work of 2,230 songs and lyrical poems that form the backbone of Bengali music.(quoted from Wikipedia)

Lyrics of the Japanese version (with English translation)
(source: a post in Yahoo groups)

hotaru no hikari, mado no yuki. (Light of fireflies, snow by the window)
fumi yomu tsukihi, kasanetsutsu.(Many suns and moons spent reading)
itsushika toshi mo, sugi no to wo. (Years have gone by without notice)
aketezo kesa wa, wakare yuku. (Day has dawned; this morning we part)

tomaru mo yuku mo, kagiri tote ( Stay or leave, either an end)
katami ni omofu, chiyorozu no (Think as mementos; so many)
kokoro no hashi wo, hitokoto ni (Corners of my heart, in one word)
sakiku to bakari, utafu nari. (Sing for peace)

tsukushi no kiwami, michi no oku (Far reaches of Kyushu, far along roads)
umi yama tohoku, hedatsu tomo (Though separated by seas and mountains)
sono magokoro wa, hedate naku (Its sincere heart is not.)
hitotsu ni tsukuse, kuni no tame. (Serve single-mindedly for our country)

chishima no oku mo, okinawa mo (From the ends of Chishima to Okinawa),
yashima no uchi no, mamori nari. (All part of Japan)
itaran kuni ni, isa o shiku. (Contribute to our great country)
tsutomeyo wagase, tsutsuganaku (I'll faithfully devote my life)

***It is also a popular Manga in Japan

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  1. Interesting. Good we dug into this! :) Thanks!

  2. hello, do you have an mp3 (full version) for this song? I only got half version of this song, I found at youtube

  3. hi there, sorry i do not have an mp3 file...the full version is there on you tube..probably you can use some tool to download and save as mp3? or an mp3 converter? if i do get an mp3, i will send it across to you....
    this is the full version on you tube

    btw, i assume that you understand Japanese?

  4. Hi Puneeta !
    Great comments re. your famous 'hotaru no hiraki' which I did not about until yesterday when I had a look on 'Wiki' : I was looking for lyrics and videos about the original Scottish song, then about its French translation, and now about the Japanese one... I'm always curious and your version is very romantic and nice ; I love the fireflies into it. Apparently many of your Animated movies show fireflies, probably because of your traditions...
    I have decided to translate the Japanese version into French, just for fun and because it looks beautiful. I like very much the use you make of it after graduation.
    I'd love to come and visit Japan but would prefer to know someone in situ so I can better feel the culture, which is not the case whan you are a tourist...
    Anyway, you can write me directly to my email address on gmail (, for instance if you are interested in my French version (c) me and credited you and Peter Able who did very useful comments regarding the song (
    Stephan (in Poitiers France)

  5. Interesting.. thank you for the post

  6. Hello, my grandparents were Japanese, and they both emigrated to the Americas, this song was sung when they left Japan, everyone the people on the ship and their loved ones left behind sung this song... My grandmother used to narrate to us, with watery eyes. I used to sing it myself when i took Japanese... it is an icon of the times when Japanese left Japan. The high values I was brought up under were part and parcel of what the lyrics talk about... it's to me so much more meaningful when I read them in English... i totally understand now my grandparents... it is kind of an Oath (to me). Thank you for the post.