Tsuki nu Kaisha in English (月ぬ美しゃ)

by Philbert Ono
Updated: January 6, 2021

Part of an article series on Yaeyama folklore in scenic Okinawa, Japan.
(八重山名勝の民話・民謡の英語訳シリーズ記事)

Moon, that is shining tonight over sugar cane on Iriomote.
Moon viewing in 10th-century Japan. (Postcard)

Called tsukimi (月見) in Japanese, moon viewing has long been a tradition in Japan and Okinawa. The autumn moon has been especially revered due to its association with the harvesting of crops.

In Japan, the moon is traditionally celebrated twice in autumn, about a month apart. First there’s the famous Jugoya (十五夜, 15th Night) full moon on August 15th of the lunar calendar (mid-September in the modern calendar). It’s what we call the Harvest Moon celebration (中秋) in English.

Then in the following month, it’s the less famous Jusanya (十三夜, 13th Night) on September 13th of the lunar calendar (usually in October) before the full moon. Although Jugoya originally came from China in the 10th century, Jusanya later originated in Japan. The person in Japan who invented Jusanya must’ve thought that the waxing moon even before the full moon was still beautiful enough to give it a traditional celebration. Or perhaps it was just as beautiful or even more beautiful than the full moon on the 15th Night. The modern calendar dates of Jugoya and Jusanya change every year.

Traditionally, the Jugoya 15th Night is when farmers give thanks for the potato harvest, and the Jusanya 13th Night is when they give thanks for chestnut and soybean harvests. Tsukimi moon viewing initially started among the aristocrats who basically partied under the moonlight with poetry readings or musical performances. It eventually spread to the masses especially during the Edo Period (17th to 19th centuries) when they displayed offerings from harvests to give thanks.

Ufutsuki above Tokyo in November. Is that a rabbit pounding mochi or a sitting grandma reading a book?

🌔 “Tsuki nu Kaisha” (月ぬ美しゃ) is a very famous and beloved Yaeyama song celebrating the autumn moon. It can be translated as “Beautiful, Beloved Moon.” Tsuki means moon as in Japanese, and Kaisha (美しゃ) in the Yaeyama dialect means not only “beautiful,” but also “beloved” and “close to the heart.” It’s a common word in Yaeyama. The song was originally sung by Yaeyama babysitters as a bedtime lullaby. It’s now sung by all ages. The composer and writer are unknown.

The first three verses celebrate the moon, but the rest of the song is about totally unrelated things (see the translated verses below). The melody also changes slightly from Verse 4.

It’s a mystery as to why the song has become like this. A subject of much discussion. The latter verses were apparently added later. It’s a Yaeyama song technique known as Utinan susanan (ウティナン・スサナン唱法) when the tempo and lyrics change in mid-song. Most people sing Tsuki nu Kaisha only until Verse 3 or 5.

Verse 1 is most famous and talked about for saying that the moon on the Jusanya 13th Night was most beautiful, more so than the full moon on the Jugoya 15th Night. Also, girls at age 17 were most beautiful, even before coming of age at 20.

So why does the 13th Night moon look more beautiful than the full moon? And why does a girl look her best at age 17 instead of age 20? It’s subject to interpretation and personal opinion. Perhaps this pre-peak period of anticipation, high hopes, dreams, and expectation is most beautiful.

Verse 2 is considered to be prayer words for the Moon. Full moon is ufutsuki (大月) in Okinawan and mangetsu (満月) in Japanese, The catchy “Ho-i cho-ga” chorus has no known meaning.

On a windy Ishigaki, Tsuki nu Kaisha sung by Kinjo Hiromi (to Verse 5).
Tsuki nu Kaisha (月ぬ美しゃ 英語訳歌詞)
Beautiful, Beloved Moon
*English translation by Philbert Ono.

1
月ぬ美しゃ 十日三日
女童美しゃ 十七ツ
ほーいちょーが
Tsuki nu kaisha tuka mika
Miyarabi kaisha tu nanatsu
Ho-i, cho-ga
The moon is most beautiful on the 13th night (before the full moon on the 15th night).
A girl is most beautiful at 17 (before coming of age).
Ho-i, cho-ga.

2
東から上がりょる 大月ぬ夜
沖縄ん八重山ん 照ぃらしょうり
ほーいちょーが
Ari kara ari oru ufutsuki nu yu
Ukinan Yaiman tira shori
Ho-i, cho-ga
Full moon rising from the east,
please shine on Okinawa and Yaeyama.
Ho-i, cho-ga.

3
あんだぎなーぬ 月ぬ夜
我がげら 遊びょうら
ほーいちょーが
Andagi na-nu ufutsuki nu yu
Baga kera asa byora 
Ho-i, cho-ga
On such a beautiful moonlit night,
let's all party tonight.
Ho-i, cho-ga.

4
寺ぬ大札んが 絹花
黄金花 咲かりょうり
ほーいちょーが
Tiranu ufu danga ichu bana
Kugani bana saka ryori
Ho-i, cho-ga
On the temple's big banner.
Let a beautiful flower bloom, an important flower bloom.
Ho-i, cho-ga.

5
ぴらまぬ家ぬ 東んたんが
むりく花ぬ 咲かりょうり
うり取り 彼り取り なつぃきばし
びらまぬ家ぬ花ぶんなー
ほーいちょーが
Bira manu ya-nu antan ga
Muriku bana nu saka ryori
Urituru karituru natsu kibashi
Bira manu ya-nu hana bun na
Ho-i, cho-ga
On the east side of my beloved's home,
have jasmine bloom.
Pretend to pick this or that flower,
so lots of flowers bloom at your home.
Ho-i, cho-ga

6
女童家ぬ 門なんが
花染手布ば 切り落し
うり取り 彼り取り なつぃきばし
女童家ぬ 見舞いす
ほーいちょーが
Miyarabi ya-nu mun nan ga
Hanashi miti sashina kiri otoshi
Urituru karituru natsu kibashi
Bira banu ya-nu mimai su
Ho-i, cho-ga
Near the girl's house gate,
dropped a flower-dyed hand towel.
I pretend to pick up this or that 
in order to visit the girl's home.
Ho-i, cho-ga

7
釜戸ぬふつぬあっぴゃーま
のーどぅのーどぅ んまさーる
煙草ぬ下葉どぅ
んまさーる茶飲み
ばーやんがさぬ
ほーいちょーが
Kamadu nu futsu nu appya ma
No-du no-du nmasa-ru
Tabaku nu shichaba du nmasa-ru 
Cha numi ba-ya ngasanu
Ho-i, cho-ga
Mother at the wood stove,
so what's delicious?
The lower tobacco leaves are beautiful.
Because the tea leaves are bitter.
Ho-i, cho-ga

More “Tsuki nu Kaisha” Videos

  • China Sadao sings to Verse 3 subtitled with a Japanese translation of the lyrics: https://youtu.be/LvPT9MmDBXM
  • Famous Okinawan/Yaeyama songbirds Natsukawa Rimi and Koja Misako sing a short duet of the song, but only until Verse 2 before they also sing “Shima-jima Kaisha” (Islands of Beauty) in this pretty medley: https://youtu.be/Vejfb4J7C6o
  • In an eatery in Tokyo (木乃久兵衛), this lady with a strong voice sings the song like a folk song should be sung, with a lot of down-to-earth feeling. Until Verse 4: https://youtu.be/uY5B7CUYrpc
  • Pretty medley of moon songs sung by the Nenes: https://youtu.be/cyk0_AO_osA

Note

  • 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 (so far):
Yaeyama Min’yo Overview | “Asadoya Yunta” | Yaeyama Stargazing | “Tinsagu nu Hana” | “Tsuki nu Kaisha” | “Tubara-ma” | Nosoko Maape | Kabira | Sakieda | Yaeyama Photos

References
https://taru.ti-da.net/e2696559.html
https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%9C%88%E3%81%AC%E7%BE%8E%E3%81%97%E3%82%83
「沖縄の美ら星―四季の星空ガイド」 – 宮地竹史 (著) (ISBN-13: 978-4908598418)
https://www.churashima.net/shimauta/30/02.html

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