Traditional Japanese Song on Koto

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Written By Tanya

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It was the day that I realized what “that song” was. I was thrilled. It was a song that had been haunting me for literally decades. It is a song that Sakura Sakura has been heard by more people than anyone realizes.

Take a quick listen as you continue reading. You will be like, “Oh yeah, this is what I heard before.” You’ll be able to find it wherever you are most likely to know it from.

About the Sakura Song

As you read the rest of the article, take a moment to listen to the song.

Sakura is a song that celebrates the beauty of Cherry Blossoms. Cherry blossoms, which are the beautiful leaves of the Japanese tree in bloom, are for the uninitiated. Let me tell you:

They are stunning and it is no surprise that a culture founded on Zen and Shinto’s calm and collected psychologies would be able to notice them, write a song about them, and then continue to play that song for generations on an instrument like the Koto. The koto, a Japanese classical stringed instrument, is similar to a lap-steel guitar.

The shamisen, a Japanese stringed instrument that is more like an acoustic guitar, is also available.

Sakura was composed during Japan’s Edo period, which is roughly from 1600-1850, when the Tokugawa Shogunate ruled the country. This was a typical urban song until the Tokyo Academy of Music used this song as a beginner song in their 1888 Collection of Japanese Koto Music to help koto students.

Sakura Lyrics

The original verse of this song is actually one, with a second verse added by the Japanese Ministry of Education in 1941. These are the original lyrics in Japanese:

sakura sakura
yayoi no sora wa
mi watasu kagiri
kasumi ka kumo ka
nioi zo izuru
izaya izaya
mini yukan

This is translated into English as:

Cherry blossoms, cherry blooms
The spring sky is visible.
The eye can see as far as the eyes will go.
Are there clouds or mist?
The air is fragrant.
Now, come now
Let’s see them!

The lyrics are clear and concise with lots of imagery to evoke all the senses. It’s just not the same as it used to be.

Sakura: Where have you heard it before?

As you listen to Sakura on koto, think about hearing it faster, with a more MIDI synthesizer sound… something you might hear in a 1980’s NES game.

Imagine you are a little white guy with bright green gloves boxing, about to face the Minor Circuit champion from Tokyo.

That’s right! Sakura is the intro theme for Piston Honda’s first boss on Punch Out on NES! Listen closely…

If you are my age (30 years), a male and lucky enough to have owned a Nintendo, this is the soundtrack that will burn the melody of Sakura in your brain forever. Piston Honda treated it like Glass Joe, until you learned his patterns.

I am afraid that unless this song is used as an intro for a fighter in MMA video games, children will not learn the beauty of cherry blossoms. I’ve done my part. Please help me spread the word. You can also listen to eight other classic video game songs

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