The Most Cultured Meme: New Translation Reveals Hidden Depth in “Japanese Goblin”

This time, we’re breaking our usual format a little bit. Rather than focusing on analyzing someone else’s localization, we’re returning to the world of Touhou Project to present a localization of our own: a retranslation of the “We Are Japanese Goblin” song. This article will also serve as translation notes, an analysis of the song, and a more in-depth explanation of many, many references the song makes to Japanese culture. I will also comment on prior translations at times, but it’s not the focus of the article. So, with no further ado, here are the video and the lyrics!

(*) We are the Japanese goblin
Do you have a charging knight trying to pull “Oni Slayer”?
I am… um, er… Japanese goblin
Red, blue, yellow onis, and more
High vivid chartreuse green oni
Sexy medium violet oni
Purple orange rhododendron oni
Can you say “la la la”? Tonight, we’ll have a parade!
High-tension Japanese goblin
Drunk, happy, quickly getting wasted
I am… um, er… Japanese goblin
Let’s go! See the harvest moon! Sing and make noise!
Wrapped in furoshiki, shall we yada-yada?
Humans and youkai pour drinks, and stars float within
It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter
Break out into a blowout!
Dusk comes to envelop the land, and then I just wait and wait
For something to go with the drinks, but it never comes
I repeat “Is it ready yet?” and “Come on, hurry up!”
Chamomile flowers sway toward the sky
Every single human thinks they don’t have any strength at all
In the town, they pass down the chant “katashihaya”
With a fist, I’ll insist, “ekasenikurini?”
And they’ll quickly forget all about that
In due time the harvest moon will certainly reveal itself again
So come on and join the party and then dance the night away
‘Til the glimmering light flickers and then fades away
Meaning the break of dawn swiftly draws near
Dusk comes to envelop the land, and then I just wait and wait
For something to go with the drinks, but it never comes
I repeat “Is it ready yet?” and “Come on, hurry up!”
Chamomile flowers sway toward the sky
(Umm…
Starting now, the Onigashima International Oni Summit is officially in session.
To address the issue we had last year with tofu hamburger steaks,
which caused enough damage to injure and chip the horns of many attendees,
under the advisement of the Namahage Committee,
the “Soybeans: No Way, Absolutely Not” Campaign shall be implemented.
In accordance with this policy, we would like to give notice to all oni citizens
so that they do not mistakenly ingest such harmful substances.)
repeat (*)
The curtain of night falls again, and then I just wait and wait
For something to go with the drinks, but it never comes
The sunset has again taken on a flaxen hue
Chamomile flowers sway toward the sky
Every single human thinks they don’t have any strength at all
In the town, they pass down the chant “katashihaya”
With a fist, I’ll insist, “ekasenikurini?”
And they’ll quickly forget all about that
In due time the harvest moon will certainly reveal itself again
So come on and join the party and then dance the night away
‘Til the glimmering light flickers and then fades away
Meaning the break of dawn swiftly draws near
The curtain of night falls again, and then I just wait and wait
For something to go with the drinks, but it never comes
The sunset has again taken on a flaxen hue
Chamomile flowers sway toward the sky
Dusk comes to envelop the land, and then I just wait and wait
For something to go with the drinks, but it never comes
I repeat “Is it ready yet?” and “Come on, hurry up!”
Chamomile flowers sway toward the sky
Every single human thinks they don’t have any strength at all
In the town, they pass down the chant “katashihaya”
With a fist, I’ll insist, “ekasenikurini?”
And they’ll quickly forget all about that

Meet the Japanese Goblin

The character singing this song is Suika Ibuki, a character from Touhou Project, a Japanese indie shoot-em-up game series. Suika is an 鬼 (oni), a type of creature from Japanese folklore often compared to an ogre or demon (or, occasionally, a goblin). They are often portrayed as violent and evil, but Suika wants nothing more out of life than to get drunk and party every single day. She is based on the mythical figure 酒吞童子 (Shuten Douji), whose name sounds like a Wild West-era moniker when literally translated: the Alcohol-Drinking Kid. The creator of the series, ZUN, is a well-known beer-lover, so Suika feels like she is, in part, an expression of his love of alcohol. She didn’t stand out to me as I was first getting into the series, but she eventually grew to become one of my favorite characters. When life’s difficulties start to wear on us, Suika’s single-minded dedication to having fun speaks to the part in all of us that just wants to forget our worries and let loose.

She was introduced in the series’ first fighting game spinoff, 東方萃夢想 ~ Immaterial and Missing Power. The first part of that title, 東方萃夢想 (Touhou Suimusou), roughly translates to “Eastern Gathering Dream”. ZUN created the game in collaboration with Japanese indie game developer Twilight Frontier, whose musicians handled most of the music. This included Suika’s pre-battle theme 砕月 (Saigetsu, Broken Moon) by U2 Akiyama. (U2 is pronounced uni, not “you too” like the Irish band.) This track that proved to be so popular that it overshadowed her actual theme, and replaced it outright when Suika reappeared in Scarlet Weather Rhapsody.

Suika lived up to this song’s title when she broke the moon to pieces in Bohemian Archive in Japanese Red. (Or created the illusion she did, anyway.)

“Broken Moon” inspired many covers by musicians in the Touhou community. Today, the most famous of these is probably the song that serves as the basis of the “We are Japanese Goblin” meme: 粋月 (ココ&さつき が てんこもり’s 作業妨害Remix)” (Saigetsu: Koko to Satsuki ga Tenkomori’s Sagyou Bougai Remix). That title is quite long, so let’s break it down. Koko is the vocalist, and Satsuki ga Tenkomori is responsible for the lyrics and arrangement. The term 作業妨害 (sagyou bougai) means “work disruption”. The very title of the track confidently asserts that it’s so catchy it’ll stop you from getting any work done any time it comes up on shuffle. So, to put it all together, the track’s name means “Broken Moon (Koko and Satsuki ga Tenkomori’s Work Disruption Remix)”.

This remix was included in the album 幻想郷ミソギバライ (Gensoukyou Misogi-Barai, Fantasy Land Ritual Purification), a Touhou fan album released by the group Astral Trip in 2009. The next year, a promotional video (PV) for the song was uploaded to Nico Nico Douga (a Japanese video site similar to YouTube) featuring an animated 3D model of Suika singing and dancing to the song. Not long after, YouTube user atomicpuppy uploaded an English translation of it. Although fans of the series enjoyed the song, it remained fairly obscure, even in Japan, for over a decade.

The front and back cover of Gensoukyou Misogibarai, the album this song is from. Most of the album is radio drama rather than music.

Finally, a vocal performance of the song by Virtual YouTuber Shirakami Fubuki resulted in the song’s popularity explosion. This led to two remakes of the promotional video by Indonesian YouTuber MTB, several mashups of Fubuki’s isolated vocals with other music, and multiple covers of the song (which was itself a cover to begin with). All of this exposed the song to many people for the first time in the East and West alike, both inside and outside of the Touhou fandom. As a result, a fresh batch of newcomers had the opportunity to get bewildered by the song’s lyrics. So what do they mean?

Lyrics Overview

The song is challenging to translate for multiple reasons. Song lyrics are difficult to translate in general; they’re a form of poetry, and poetry often emphasizes the beauty of words and structures over their literal meaning. In this song in particular, the lyrics appear to be deliberately nonsensical at times, to the extent that even Japanese people struggle to understand their meaning. Some lines mix English and Japanese words in a way that doesn’t seem to conform to the grammar of either language. English is considered “cool” in Japan (the same way T-shirts with Japanese text are currently very popular in the United States), and so English is frequently used without much regard for correctness. Furthermore, the song is a nonstop barrage of deep-cut references to Japanese folklore and culture.

Finally, the first two eight-line stanzas of the official lyrics are written entirely in hiragana. This is a stylistic choice meant to come across as cute and feminine, but the lack of kanji conceal the intended meaning from even native Japanese speakers at parts. It’s pretty tough to translate a song that native speakers struggle to fully understand! I found several attempts by native Japanese people to interpret the hiragana sections by transcribing them into conventional orthography (using hiragana, katakana, kanji, and Roman letters where each is appropriate). However, they contained many contradictions among themselves, and I didn’t fully agree with any single one of them. One of these interpretations had six separate footnotes explaining various terms and references to other Japanese people, and several of them admitted that there were lines they didn’t understand at all.

The official lyrics, from the booklet that came with the original album.

In light of all of that, I can’t claim that my translation is 100% correct or definitive. I’m sure that there were parts I didn’t fully understand, and that there’s room for further improvement still, so I welcome comments and corrections. I was only able to complete this project with a great deal of help from others, and I am extremely grateful to everyone who made this possible. This includes the previous translators, and the Japanese users who produced the aforementioned interpretations of the hiragana stanzas (which only appeared after the meme’s recent resurgence). Finally, I also received a great deal of support from Anthony.

Chorus Analysis

So, let’s get into it! In addition to the official lyrics on the left and my English translation on the right, tables in this section will also present my interpretation of the official text in conventional Japanese orthography on the bottom left.

JapaneseEnglish
うぃーあーざじゃぱにーずごぶりん
どぅゆぅはぶけいのたかとびおにごろし
We are the Japanese goblin
Do you have a charging knight trying to pull “Oni Slayer”?
WE ARE THE JAPANESE GOBLIN
DO YOU HAVE 桂の高跳び鬼殺し?

This entire first line is in English, but it’s ungrammatical. A later line pluralizes oni in the English manner as おにず (onizu), so the choice not to pluralize “goblins” here seems to be deliberate, and fans of the song seem to enjoy the Engrish. Although this song was clearly targeted at a Japanese audience, the way she introduces herself as a “Japanese goblin” in English sure does come across like she’s speaking to Western listeners, doesn’t it?

There also happens to be an emoji called “Japanese Goblin,” but it depicts a 天狗 (tengu), not an oni. This song was created long before emoji went international, and clearly, the Unicode Consortium disagrees with the songwriter on whether oni or tengu are more goblin-like. Sorry Aya, Momiji, Hatate, and Megumu; you’re the wrong kind of Japanese goblin.

Understanding the second line requires knowing a little bit about 将棋 (shougi, Japanese chess). The lyrics けいのたかとび (kei no takatobi) refer to the phrase 桂の高跳び歩の餌食 (kei no takatobi, fu no ejiki), roughly meaning “a knight’s leap, a pawn’s prey”. This common saying among shougi players advises against moving your knight forward too quickly. Unlike chess, knights in shougi cannot move backwards, so if you move your knight too far forward, it’s likely to get taken. Even if you protect your knight with another piece, your opponent can take the knight with a pawn and come out ahead on the exchange.

鬼殺し (oni-goroshi, Oni Slayer) is a tactic popularized by Keiho Noda, a street shougi player. Noda asserted that the tactic was so effective that it could even surprise and defeat Sankichi Sakata, a player with oni-like skill. Like the scholar’s mate in Western chess, it can end a game quickly, but only if your opponent doesn’t know how to defend against it. Since Oni Slayer requires a very aggressive early knight push, a failed attempt will cost you that piece, putting you at a significant disadvantage. (This video by HIDETCHI demonstrates how to perform it.)

A diagram showing the state of a shougi board after Oni Slayer is successful.
The outcome when oni-goroshi succeeds, depicted using lishogi‘s “Western” piece set for maximum legibility by non-shougi players. Player 1’s rook just moved into Player 2’s territory and promoted, thus threatening Player 2’s rook and gold general. At this point, the game’s outcome is decided unless Player 1 makes a serious blunder.

There’s a lot going on, so to try to unpack all of the meaning here, I think Suika is basically saying this: “Are you advancing your knight like that because you’re trying to pull Oni Slayer on me? Despite its name, that tactic doesn’t actually work on us, so you’re gonna lose that knight. That’s what you get for underestimating an oni!”

The kei no takatobi saying only exists due to the rules of shougi, and chess has no equivalent. Translating it literally as “a knight’s leap” communicates almost nothing of the intent. So, I chose the phrase “a charging knight” to give more accurate intuition as to what’s happening on the shougi board. At the same time, the phrase evokes Don Quixote making a suicidal charge at a windmill without making the out-of-place Western cultural reference explicit.

JapaneseEnglish
あいあむえぇとじゃぱにーずごぶりん
あかあおきいろのおにずあんどもあ
はいびびっとしゃとるーずぐりーんおに
せくしーみでぃあむばいおれっとおに
むらさきだいだいしゃくなげおに
I am… um, er… Japanese goblin
Red, blue, yellow onis, and more
High vivid chartreuse green oni
Sexy medium violet oni
Purple orange rhododendron oni
I AM えぇと JAPANESE GOBLIN
赤青黄色の鬼S AND MORE
HIGH VIVID CHARTREUSE GREEN 鬼
SEXY MEDIUM VIOLET 鬼
紫橙シャクナゲ鬼

A common idea in Japanese folklore regarding oni is that there’s several colors of oni, and these lines play with that idea. Traditionally, the colors are red, blue, yellow, black, and white. Suika starts off normal, listing well-known oni colors, but gradually shifts into listing more and more outrageous ones.

Different colors of oni come up a lot in Japanese fiction. In particular, it’s common for a red one and blue one to be paired.

Previous translations turn だいだい (daidai, orange) into “blooming”. It’s not clear why, since I’m not aware of any word in Japanese pronounced daidai with that meaning. But here’s my best theory: some purple rhododendrons have an orange flare on the inside, which is only visible when the flower is blooming. So, perhaps the translator took this line as a metaphor, and translated his interpretation of its meaning. Describing a rhododendron as orange to communicate that it’s blooming doesn’t seem to be an established idiom in Japanese, so I opted to translate the line directly. If it truly is a metaphor, then English speakers are just as likely to work out its meaning as Japanese speakers.

Murasaki daidai shakunage may refer to this, a purple rhododendron with an orange flare inside that is only visible while blooming. (Image source)
JapaneseEnglish
らららいえるかなとぅないひゃっきやぎょう
はいてんしょんじゃぱにーずごぶりん
どらんくはっぴーどんどんへべれけ
Can you say “la la la”? Tonight, we’ll have a parade!
High-tension Japanese goblin
Drunk, happy, quickly getting wasted
「ラララ」言えるかな? TONIGHT 百鬼夜行
HIGH TENSION JAPANESE GOBLIN
DRUNK HAPPY どんどんへべれけ

百鬼夜行 (hyakki yagyou, hundred-oni night parade) is a phrase from Japanese folklore that refers to a parade of oni (and sometimes other monsters) at night. Most of the time, the phrase used as a metaphor for pandemonium. However, in the context of this song, it is clearly referring to a literal oni parade.

To an English speaker, describing someone as “high-tension” suggests they are under a lot of stress. In Japan, though, they use the English phrase “high-tension” to communicate intense emotions of any kind. Suika is all about getting drunk and having fun, and so is this song, so “high-tension” in the English sense doesn’t seem to fit. She is not a stressed-out Japanese goblin; she is a very happy and excited one. Still, this line is already fully in English, and one I see quoted often, so I left it as-is. Most people can probably infer from context that the phrase is being slightly misused.

There isn’t much ambiguity in the third line, so it is strange that other translations render this line “slowly getting tipsy”. どんどん (dondon), means “quickly”, not “slowly”. Similarly, someone who is へべれけ (hebereke) is very drunk, not slightly drunk, so “tipsy” is off the mark too. Suika’s no lightweight, she’s an oni! She’s not slowly getting tipsy, she’s quickly getting wasted! Chug! Chug! Chug!

Hebereke is also the name of a Famicom game by Sunsoft, and is one of the earliest entries in the Metroidvania genre. They opted to change this to Ufouria: The Saga for its Western release instead of releasing a kids’ game called “Dead Drunk”. Can’t imagine why.
JapaneseEnglish
あいあむえぇとじゃぱにーずごぶりん
れつごーつきみだうたえやさわげや
I am… um, er… Japanese goblin
Let’s go! See the harvest moon! Sing and make noise!
I AM えぇと JAPANESE GOBLIN
LET’S GO 月見だ 歌えや騒げや

The term 月見 (tsukimi) means “moon-viewing”, but it generally refers to the Japanese festival traditionally held for that purpose during full moons in autumn. Although it’s not exactly the same thing, English does have a special name for the full moon closest to the autumn equinox: the harvest moon. While the term doesn’t convey anything about the Japanese holiday or traditions, any other solution would have sacrificed even more meaning.

If you’ve played the Harvest Moon games, then Moonlight Night is called お月見の日 (o-tsukimi no hi) in the Japanese releases. That’s right, it’s a real holiday, not something they just made up. In this screenshot, Ran Yakumo mentions “moon dumplings”, which are really 団子 (dango), a traditional tsukimi treat.
JapaneseEnglish
ふろしきつつんでしゃるうぃーなんちゃらWrapped in furoshiki, shall we yada-yada?
風呂敷包んで SHALL WE なんちゃら

A 風呂敷 (furoshiki) is a cloth used to wrap things. While it can wrap gifts the way wrapping paper can, it can also wrap other things. It may be used for ceremonial purposes like wrapping sacred objects at temples, or for practical purposes like carrying clothes and bentou boxes.

My translated line may not make much sense, but neither does the original Japanese line. なんちゃら (nanchara) is a filler word used when you’ve forgotten how something goes. For example, if you’re struggling to remember a phone number in English, you might say “Eight six seven, yada yada, oh nine.” In this case, the filler word apparently replaced the verb of the sentence, so it’s hard to make much sense of it. As one potential guess, in Japan, the English phrase “shall we” is heavily associated with the movie Shall We Dance?. Since it’s believable she’d forget how a foreign-language phrase goes, and dancing is mentioned elsewhere in the song, this is my best guess.

An American soldier carrying a furoshiki-wrapped box on the cover of When We Get Back Home by Bill Hume, a 1953 comic series about soldiers stationed in Japan bringing Japanese customs back home with them.

The grammar on this line is strange due to its mixture of Japanese and English, but it can also plausibly parse as “Shall we wrap X in furoshiki and Y it?” If this is the intended reading, then she’s probably suggesting that things for the party (drinks, snacks, etc.) should be carried to the party in furoshiki.

JapaneseEnglish
ひともあやかしもしゃくにほしうかべHumans and youkai pour drinks, and stars float within
人も妖も酌に星浮かべ

This might be the hardest line in the entire song. It isn’t just me that had trouble; the Japanese interpretations also struggled greatly. There was no consensus as to what the line meant, or even how to write it in conventional Japanese. One of them outright admitted to not understanding the line at all. I can’t say with confidence that the interpretation I settled on was the intended one, but it makes more sense to me than any alternative.

The first oddity here is あやかし (ayakashi). By its most common definition, this word refers to a specific type of monster: a vengeful ghost of someone who died at sea and causes shipwrecks in order to create more ayakashi. However, all of the Japanese interpretations I found agreed that the word being used here is 妖 (ayakashi), a synonym for 妖怪 (youkai, monsters). So, it refers broadly to all youkai, not just vengeful shipwreck ghosts. As far as I can tell, this is a rare and unusual usage. However, despite disagreements elsewhere, the various interpretations all agreed on this point.

Minamitsu Murasa, who debuted as the Stage 4 boss in Undefined Fantastic Object, fits the first definition of ayakashi exactly. Strangely, though, I’m not sure she’s ever been officially described as one. She recently appeared as a playable character for the first time in Sunken Fossil World, Twilight Frontier’s latest collaboration with ZUN.

By far, though, the hardest word is しゃく (shaku). There are multiple words pronounced this way, and without kanji to tell us which one is intended, it is genuinely hard to work out which one is meant. Some interpretations proposed 尺 (shaku), a traditional Japanese unit of length about one foot (30cm) long. Others proposed 笏 (shaku), a sort of ceremonial stick once carried by Japanese aristocracy. One interpretation wrote シャク (shaku) in katakana, which could refer to a species of parsley, but it was probably deliberate vagueness.

The interpretation that makes the most sense to me by far came from this YouTube comment by user フルYuki. His interpretation involves 酌 (shaku), a term referring to the pouring of alcoholic drinks. He said the line may describe humans and youkai drinking together outdoors on a starry night, and the stars metaphorically floating in the alcohol are, in truth, reflected off the surface, or refracted through the stream. I found this interpretation made more sense than anything else, and was struck by the loveliness of the poetic imagery, so I went with it.

Toyosatomimi no Miko, the antagonist of the Ten Desires, carries a (shaku), as shown here in her Antinomy of Common Flowers concept art. I know I keep referencing other Touhou games in these asides, but they just keep being relevant.
JapaneseEnglish
くるしゅうないぞくるしゅうないぞ
ぶれいくあうとでぶれいこう
It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter
Break out into a blowout!
苦しゅうないぞ苦しゅうないぞ
BREAK OUT で無礼講

A 無礼講 (bureikou) is a party that disregards the rules of polite society, possibly to the point of becoming rowdy and chaotic. “Break out” and bureikou sound similar, and this wordplay seems key to this line. To try to preserve the wordplay as best as I could, I localized bureikou as “blowout.”

Verse Analysis

At this point, the official lyrics switch back to conventional Japanese orthography, so there is no longer a need for the interpreted lyrics. However, this section has melodic vocals, which present a new challenge. I aimed to make the lyrics fit the melody (if slightly awkwardly) without changing the meaning more than necessary. I’m sure a real songwriter could refine these lyrics to make them more natural to sing.

JapaneseEnglish
夕闇がこの場所を包むから
今宵の肴に待ち惚け
繰り返すまだかなもういいよ
華密恋が空に揺ぐ
Dusk comes to envelop the land, and then I just wait and wait
For something to go with the drinks, but it never comes
I repeat “Is it ready yet?” and “Come on, hurry up!”
Chamomile flowers sway toward the sky

肴 (sakana) refers to anything that accompanies alcohol, whether it’s food, conversation, or some kind of performance. Suika has her alcohol, but she needs something to enjoy it with, and whatever it is isn’t coming. There’s definitely a lot of room for interpretation in this section. The relentless exuberance of the previous section is now tempered somewhat, and the song takes on a more melancholic tone. We get subtle hints that Suika has more complex emotions behind her happy-go-lucky exterior. She keeps it ambiguous by asking for the vague sakana, but perhaps conversation is what she truly wants. Regardless, alcohol alone is clearly not enough.

The last line is challenging enough to rival the shaku line. The first oddity here is that kamitsure, meaning “chamomile”, is written as 華密恋 (with kanji roughly meaning “splendor, secret, romance”) rather than the typical 加密列 (kamitsure, roughly “add, secret, row”), カミツレ (kamitsure), or カモミール (kamomiiru). The most prominent usage of 華密恋 is actually the name of a company that makes skin care products, pronounced Kamitsuren! But, since I don’t hear the final n in the vocals, I chose to write it off as a weird stylistic flourish and translate it as “chamomile.”

Even with that oddity brushed aside, the line is still very strange, and seems like a complete non-sequitur. Anthony found an interpretation by a Japanese Twitter user who points out that, in the language of flowers, chamomile means “strength in the face of adversity.” So, Suika could be thinking of chamomile to remind herself to endure the wait for tonight’s sakana.

JapaneseEnglish
今日も夜の帳が降りるから
今宵の肴に待ち惚け
ありふれた夕焼け亜麻色に
華密恋が空に揺ぐ
The curtain of night falls again, and then I just wait and wait
For something to go with the drinks, but it never comes
The sunset has again taken on a flaxen hue
Chamomile flowers sway toward the sky

A slight variation of the stanza we just analyzed is used later in the song. The metaphor 夜の帳が降りる (yoru no tobari ga oriru, the curtain of night falls) translates directly with no difficulty. ありふれた (arifureta) means “common” or “familiar” but can also take on a more negative nuance, like “mundane” or “trite”. From context, I get the sense that Suika is not fully enjoying the sunset. So, I settled on “yet again” to try to communicate that vague feeling of boredom without making it too explicit.

JapaneseEnglish
人は皆誰しもが非力だと
里に伝わるはカタシハヤ
拳で問うエカセニクリニ
後はもう忘れ物
Every single human thinks they don’t have any strength at all
In the town, they pass down the chant “katashihaya”
With a fist, I’ll insist “ekasenikurini?”
And they’ll quickly forget all about that

This is well-known among those familiar with this song, but the untranslated words in this stanza are from a chant that supposedly protects you during a hyakki yagyou. (If there was any doubt the earlier usage of that term was literal, this puts it to rest.) The full chant is as follows: katashihaya, ekasenikurini, tamerusake, teehi, ashiehi, wareshikonikeri. The origin and meaning of the chant are not entirely clear, even to Japanese natives.

The villagers begin the chant, and Suika interrupts them to demonstrate that, like Oni Slayer, this thing that supposedly works on oni actually doesn’t. The grammar on the third line strongly implies Suika isn’t planning to say ekasenikurini out loud. Instead, she will communicate it non-verbally by means of a fist—either with a threatening gesture or an actual punch. Anthony points out that the related phrase 男は拳で語る (otoko wa kobushi de kataru), “men communicate using their fists”, is common in Japanese media.

A screenshot from the original Japanese Goblin PV, showing Suika raising a fist (not very threateningly.)
While speaking this line in the original PV, Suika does a dance move where she raises a fist like this. In MTB’s remake, she punches the camera.

There’s a lot of ambiguity in this stanza, starting from the first line. Without quotation marks to tell us how much of the sentence is being quoted by the と (to) particle, it’s not entirely clear who is saying who is powerless. However, to me, the most natural reading is that humans think of themselves as powerless. Thus, they feel they have no recourse during a hyakki yagyou but to rely an an ineffective chant from a superstition.

The ambiguity continues through the last line. Something (or possibly someone) is being described as 忘れ物 (wasure-mono), literally “forgotten thing,” usually used to describe an item accidentally left behind. However, there is no explicit subject. Previous translations take the implied subject as the people who tried to chant katashihaya, implying that Suika punched them hard enough to kill them.

In our interpretation, it is the chant that will be forgotten. The most straightforward reading of 後は (ato wa) is “after”, but Anthony helped me here again by pointing out that ato has an archaic usage meaning “descendants”. Archaic language is plausible in this context, and it ties into my interpretation of 伝わる (tsutawaru, “to pass down”) earlier in the stanza. Humans have been passing down this chant, but after Suika asks them ekasenikurini with her fist, this tradition will end and be forgotten by their descendants. Since it’s a bit of a reach, I kept the word “descendants” out of my lyrics, but it does fit the context quite well.

JapaneseEnglish
いつか見たあの月がまた覗くから
今宵も宴でさて舞い踊れ
きらり光り瞬き消えて
夜明けはもうすぐそこ
In due time the harvest moon will certainly reveal itself again
So come on and join the party and then dance the night away
‘Til the glimmering light flickers and then fades away
Meaning the break of dawn swiftly draws near

The first line refers to the moon with unusual phrasing as あの見た月 (ano mita tsuki), literally “that seen moon”, implying that she means a specific, special moon. Since tsukimi was mentioned earlier, she probably means the harvest moon. As tsukimi and the harvest moon are both events that occur predictably and regularly, I chose to translate itsuka as “in due time” here, rather than “sometime” or “someday” which would have implied a greater degree of uncertainty.

Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom‘s Stage 2 Boss, Ringo, is a moon rabbit who seems like the product of ZUN deciding to make a Tsukimi-themed character. Here, she uses the spell card 月見「セプテンバーフルモーン」(Tsukimi “September Full Moon”). Her other spell cards are based on dango, which she is also seen eating in her portrait. Suika, if you’re still looking for someone to celebrate Tsukimi with, meet your new best friend.

Spoken Section

JapaneseEnglish
えーこれより鬼ヶ島国際鬼サミットを開会致します。
昨年度多くの負傷者を出し、角がかける程度の被害が出ている豆腐ハンバーグ問題につきまして
なまはげ委員会主導の下
「大豆 ダメ・絶対」キャンペーンを実施致しまして、
国民の鬼の皆様が間違えて摂取せぬよう、こちらの方針にてお知らせしていきたいと考えております
Umm…
Starting now, the Onigashima International Oni Summit is officially in session.
To address the issue we had last year with tofu hamburger steaks,
which caused enough damage to injure and chip the horns of many attendees,
under the advisement of the Namahage Committee,
the “Soybeans: No Way, Absolutely Not” Campaign shall be implemented.
In accordance with this policy, we would like to give notice to all oni citizens so that they do not mistakenly ingest such harmful substances.

We’re in the home stretch! Here, the song takes another radical shift into a comedic spoken section that just might have the highest density of cultural references out of the entire thing. Throughout, Suika uses stiff, formal “business Japanese”, which is typical for TV broadcasts. The comedy derives from how uncharacteristic it would be of oni to hold a press conference and speak this way, and also, the silliness of the issue being discussed.

To get a few minor references out of the way quickly, 鬼ヶ島 (Onigashima) is an island from Japanese folklore populated by oni, which was visited by the oni-slaying hero Momotarou. If oni are going to hold a summit, I guess Onigashima is the most logical place to do it. Second, なまはげ (namahage) are a type of oni that appear in the folklore and traditions in the Oga Peninsula region.

The covers of disk 1 and disk 2 of Shin Onigashima for the Famicom Disk System.
Onigashima also features prominently in the game ふぁみこんむかし話:新鬼ヶ島 (Famikon Mukashi-Banashi: Shin Onigashima, Famicom Fairy Tales: New Onigashima), a visual novel developed in-house at Nintendo for the Famicom Disk System.

Third, while it’s an easy mistake to make, the food mentioned in this section is ハンバーグ (hanbaagu, Hamburg steak), not ハンバーガー (hanbaagaa, hamburger). Hamburg steaks, which are much more popular in Japan than the West, are basically wads of ground beef (or in this case, tofu) placed directly onto a plate with no bun. Both “Hamburg steak” and “hamburger steak” are used in English, and I chose the latter form as it does a better job communicating what it is.

More importantly, this section plays heavily on the notion that roasted soybeans are harmful to oni. During the holiday of 節分 (Setsubun), which celebrates the first day of spring, it is traditional to throw roasted soybeans out the door, or at a person playing the part of an oni. And since tofu is made from fermented soybeans, the food at the conference last year caused a lot of trouble. This would be like if a cooking mistake at a vampire conference forced Dracula to announce a No Garlic policy. Though Oni Slayer and the Katashihaya chant may not work, it seems roasted soybeans are thoroughly effective.

A drawing of a Hamburg steak in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim.
If you’ve played 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, then you know about hamburger steak—erroneously called “hemborger” by a character who had never heard of it before. Atlus even put out a recipe for players who wanted to try making it.

Until We See That Moon Again

Thanks for reading all the way through to the end! If you want to use this translation on your own Japanese goblin-related videos or otherwise, feel free, but crediting us and linking to this article or our upload of the video would be greatly appreciated. I hope this retranslation and analysis will help fans of the song deepen their appreciation and understanding of it.

If you have any questions or comments, especially corrections, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you’re looking for more Touhou content, check out my article on Mokou’s fear of jelly donuts. If you enjoy articles covering music, you should check out Anthony’s article investigating whether Ys stole its fanfare music from Metroid.

4 comments

  1. Maaaan what is this??
    How? Why are you doing this

    To think I would actually come across an in depth analysis of this nonsensical song which I just heard these past 2 days.
    :Respect:

  2. “Goblin” is a pretty old (and somewhat archaic-feeling) standard translation for 妖怪, which may seem to not make sense but “goblin” has a similarly archaic sense as a more generic term for weird fairy creatures. So I take “Japanese goblin” (in this song, in emoji, whatever) as being a somewhat vintage way to refer to 妖怪 in general (i.e., I’d expect some Victorian book to use it).

    I don’t know the provenance or origin of this, though.

    1. That’s an interesting point! I hadn’t heard that before but it’s definitely a plausible explanation.

      The funny thing is, when I said “or occasionally a goblin,” I was referring to the song itself—I’ve never heard any other source describe an oni as a goblin. It was meant as a bit of a joke.

      Before I read your comment, if I had to guess why the song uses the term “goblin,” my logic would have been as follows. The creature from Western fantasy that is most like an oni would be an ogre. Then, a goblin is like a smaller version of an ogre, so Suika chose “goblin” over “ogre” to sound cuter and less threatening.

      Definitions do kind of get loose when it comes to words that describe purely fictional creatures. Even the term “youkai” doesn’t have a specific meaning in Japan. While we in the West use it to mean “traditional monster from Japanese folklore,” in Japanese the term pretty much just means “monster.” Touhou describes Western monsters who happen to end up in Gensoukyou as “youkai,” and I’ve seen other Japanese sources use the term similarly.

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