Tinsagu nu Hana in English (てぃんさぐぬ花)
by Philbert Ono
Updated: Jan. 6, 2021
Part of an article series on Yaeyama folklore in scenic Okinawa, Japan.
“Tinsagu nu Hana” (てぃんさぐぬ花) is one of the most famous and beloved songs in Okinawa. Although the song title means “Balsam Flowers” in the Okinawan language, the song is mainly about filial piety, teaching children how much they owe their parents (and grandparents) and how they must respect and listen to their elders. There are many other words of wisdom.
The infectious, emotional melody and wise and meaningful lyrics have made the song most endearing for generations in Okinawa. It is unknown who composed or wrote it and when and where it was composed. Although it’s originally a children’s song, everyone of all ages sing it. One of the most covered songs by Okinawan artists.
In 2011, “Tinsagu nu Hana” was chosen as Okinawa Prefecture’s Official Favorite Song (沖縄県民愛唱歌) by popular vote by Okinawans for Okinawa’s 40th anniversary of its reversion to Japan. It even beat out modern Okinawan megahits such as “Shimanchu nu Takara” (島人ぬ宝), “Nada Sōsō” (涙そうそう), and “Shima-uta” (島唄).
Those who voted for “Tinsagu nu Hana” cited good reasons for their choice: It’s a longtime local favorite sung by all generations, it stirs Okinawan pride and love for Okinawa, the lyrics are in the Okinawan language and very meaningful, evokes unity among Okinawans, and it’s sung even by Okinawans overseas (see the video above). It seems traditional songs are more treasured than modern pop songs.
It’s not to be confused with Okinawa’s official song, “Okinawan Kenmin no Uta” (沖縄県民の歌) (Song of Okinawa Prefecture Citizens) sung in standard Japanese and released in 1972 to mark Okinawa’s reversion to Japan. It’s rather obscure in comparison.
As you can see in the translated lyrics below, balsam flowers, which bloom in summer, are mentioned only in Verse 1. They were commonly used by Okinawan children to dye their fingernails for fun and to ward off evil spirits. Small pieces of the flower petals would be placed on the fingernails and wrapped with cloth overnight for dyeing. The balsam flower dye (usually red) was quite permanent and the fingernails would have to grow and be trimmed away to eliminate the dyed fingernails. It was also a common practice on the Japanese mainland during the Edo Period (17th to 19th centuries) and in Korea.
The song also epitomizes how stargazing was part of the local culture. Stars are mentioned in Verses 2 and 3. Verse 2 mentions Muribushi (群り星), the Pleiades star cluster (Subaru in Japanese). This is commonly interpreted as all the stars in the sky, the Milky Way, etc. In Verse 3, the North Star is mentioned as a guide for ships. Stargazing in Yaeyama was a major activity since centuries ago.
There are 10 verses, but the song is commonly sung only up to Verse 3 or Verse 6. The verses might be sung in a different order or certain verses might be omitted depending on the singer. There are no official lyrics, so you may hear slight variations. Below is a basic version of the lyrics up to Verse 10. The lyrics up to Verse 3 are pretty standard and sung by most everyone. In the video below, Natsukawa Rimi sings the song until Verse 6.
Tinsagu nu Hana （てぃんさぐぬ花 英語訳歌詞） *English translation by Philbert Ono. Balsam Flowers 1 てぃんさぐぬ花や 爪先に染みてぃ 親ぬ寄し事や 肝に染みり Tinsagu nu Hana ya Chimi sachi ni sumiti Uya nu yushi gutu ya Chimu ni sumiri Like the balsam flower dye coating your fingernails, Have the teachings of your parents coat your heart. 2 天ぬ群り星や 読みば読まりしが 親ぬ寄し事や 読みやならぬ Tin nu muribushi ya Yumiba yumari shiga Uya nu yushi gutu ya Yumi ya naranu In the heavens, stars in the Pleiades cluster are countable if you try. But the teachings of your parents are not. 3 夜走らす船や 子ぬ方星目当てぃ 我ん生ちぇる親や 我んどぅ目当てぃ Yuru harasu funi ya Ninu fa bushi mia ti Wan na cheru uya ya Wan du miati Ships sailing at night plot their course with the North Star. My parents who gave birth to me plot their course with me in mind. 4 宝玉やてぃん 磨かにば錆す 朝夕肝磨ち 浮世渡ら Takara dama ya tin Migaka niba sabisu Asayu chimumi gachi Uchi yuwatara Even if you have jewelry, it will tarnish if you don't polish it. Polish your heart every day, and live life well. 5 誠する人や 後や何時迄ん 思事ん叶てぃ 千代ぬ栄 Makutu suru hitu ya Atuya ichi made in Umuku tun kana ti Chiyu nu sakai One who is honest and sincere unceasingly at all times, will attain all hopes and prosper forever. 6 なしば何事ん なゆる事やしが なさぬ故からどぅ ならぬ定み Nashiba nanigu tun Nayuru kutu yashi ga Nasanu yui karadu Naranu sadami You can do anything if you try. But you can't do anything if you don't try. 7 行ち足らん事や 一人足れー足れー 互に補てぃどぅ 年や寄ゆる Ichi taran kutu ya Chui tare dare Tageni ujina ti du Toshi ya yoso yuru When help is needed, help each other. When you help each other, you mature. 8 あてぃん喜ぶな 失てぃん泣くな 人ぬよしあしや 後どぅ知ゆる Atin yurukubu na Ushi tin nakuna Hitu nu yoshi ashi ya Atu du shirayuru When you obtain something, don't be happy. When you lose something, don't be sad. One's happiness and sadness comes well afterward. 9 栄てぃゆく中に 慎しまななゆみ ゆかるふどぅ稲や あぶし枕 Saka ti yuku naka ni Chichi shima nana yumi Yukaru fudu un ni ya Abushi makura When successful, never forget to be humble. The bigger the rice grains, the lower the plant bows. Make the rice paddy's footpath your pillow. 10 朝夕寄し事や 他所の上も見ちょてぃ 老いのい言葉の 余いとぅ思な Asa yuyu shi gutu ya Yoso no ue mo mi choti Oi noi kutuba no Yoi tu umuna Words from your elders all day long, listen to them well. Idle talk by people with not much time left is not to be undervalued.
Such timeless words of wisdom. No wonder it’s Okinawa’s favorite song of all time.
More “Tinsagu nu Hana” Videos
- Well-known group Nenes based in Naha created a beautiful version, but omitted Verse 2 (Muribushi): https://youtu.be/Q5GY1dabA2U
- Nice live performance in 2018 by Ishimine Airi and Oshiro Kentaro until Verse 4 (石嶺愛莉＆大城ケンタロウ): https://youtu.be/qemJOhlqxfo
- Sung by original Nenes member Koja Misako to Verse 3: https://youtu.be/VPKwmGwESqg
- THE BOOM in concert in 1994 at the Budokan played a collaborative rock version up to Verse 3: https://youtu.be/BnO1IPxb-rk
- Sanshin lesson up to Verse 4 (第6回世界のウチナーンシュ大会 てぃんさぐぬ花 工工四): https://youtu.be/pxnoD9j8pA4
- Beautiful harmonies by a girls’ choir until Verse 3 at Hamamatsu Kinder Choir 17th annual concert in 2016 (浜松少年少女合唱団第１７回定期演奏会): https://youtu.be/OPLxVoKTkwM
- Nice mixed choir version (SATB) by Asaren (あされん): https://youtu.be/FGOQcvW1Jks
- When it comes to songs about the heavens, I need to also mention an Okinawan group named TINGARA. For one thing, their name Tingara means “River in the Heavens” in Okinawan or “Milky Way” in English. They were a trio with female vocals by Naha-native Yonemori Tsugumi (米盛つぐみ) and most active in the early 2000s. They started off as an indie group in 1998 and issued several CD albums before disbanding. They really had a heavenly sound accented by the sanshin and lived up to their name with great Okinawan stargazing music. Their first two CD albums, Tingara and Sakiyoda, were a great collection of songs including a few about the heavens. Although their beautiful version of “Tinsagu nu Hana” is not online, there’s an original song called “Hoshi-zuki-yo” (星月夜) composed by Yonemori. Hoshi-zuki-yo is a night when the stars are as bright as the moon. Listen to the video: https://youtu.be/WYBGZoFmszY
- In song lyrics, Okinawan/Yaeyama words may be pronounced differently depending on the singer or dialect.
- Okinawan words can have nuances and connotations that cannot be expressed in Japanese nor in English. Inevitably, things will get lost in translation. Chorus expressions might also have no meaning or unknown meanings.
- English translations of the lyrics come from the Japanese translation of the Okinawan/Yaeyama lyrics. Both the standard Japanese and English translations are only approximate in meaning, intended to give you an idea of what the song is about.
- In the lyrics above, I didn’t include the Japanese translations because there are multiple versions or interpretations in Japanese by different people. There is no official Japanese translation.
- There are sounds in the Okinawan/Yaeyama language that cannot be precisely written in Japanese or English romanization. The Japanese and English romanization are only an approximation for such sounds.
🌺 Other articles in this Yaeyama folklore series:
Yaeyama Min’yo Overview | “Asadoya Yunta” | Yaeyama Stargazing | “Tinsagu nu Hana” | “Tsuki nu Kaisha” | “Tubara-ma” | Nosoko Maape | Kabira | Sakieda | Yaeyama Photos
「沖縄の美ら星―四季の星空ガイド」 – 宮地竹史 (著) (ISBN-13: 978-4908598418)