This song has long been sung among the people in the burakumin areas of Kyoto and Osaka in a slightly different form for a long time. During the 1960s, it was picked up as a theme song by the Buraku Liberation League, particularly its branch at Takeda.
Burakumin (“hamlet people”) were an outcast community at the bottom of the Japanese social order that had historically been the victim of severe discrimination and ostracism. These communities were often made up of those with occupations considered impure or tainted by death – such as executioners, undertakers, workers in slaughterhouses, butchers or tanners. Professions such as these had severe social stigmas of kegare, or “defilement”, attached to them. A burakumin neighborhood within metropolitan Tokyo was the last to be served by streetcar, and is the site of butcher and leather shops to this day.
In this lullaby a young girl comforts herself with singing about her miserable situation. One day she was forcibly sent away to work for a rich family at a village across the mountain. Every day as she works with a baby on her back she is reminded of her family, looking at the silhouette of the mountains in the direction of her homeland.
In 1969, the folk song singing group Akai Tori made this song popular, and their single record, recorded in 1971, became a million seller in three years. The song has also an additional history that NHK and other major Japanese broadcasting networks refrained from broadcasting it because it is related to the burakumin activities, but this ban was stopped during the 1990s.
In Popular Culture
The song was played at the first episode of the BBC2 mini series London Spy
- Folk song
- Other Japanese lullabies: Itsuki Lullaby, Edo Lullaby, Chugoku Region Lullaby, Shimabara Lullaby, etc.