This isn’t the type of thing I usually put up on this site, but someone may find it useful one day, and it should be on the internet somewhere.

A friend is studying to be an opera singer, and for a performance project she was assigned an old, traditional Japanese folk song called a min’yo (民謡).  She was given hand-written sheet music that included only the syllables she was expected to sing, without the meaning, and she asked me to take a crack at translating it.  I said Sure, thinking that if the song was so famous I would just have to Google it.

No such luck.  The song is called “Kuroda Bushi” (黒田節), and it’s popular for shamisen and shakuhachi and old-school karaoke, but there was so little out there about it in English that I ended up doing the translation from scratch.  I translated all four verses in the version my friend gave me, but I came across many more.  The first two verses appear to be standard in every version, but after that it looks like people mix and match about a half-dozen others, and even then they don’t always agree on the details of the lyrics.

“Kuroda Bushi” means “Song of Kuroda,” but if you write “bushi” like this武士 instead of 節, it means “samurai.”  (The wordplay is intentional.)  The Kuroda clan supported the shogun in the wars to unify Japan in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, and they were given northern Kyushu as their fiefdom.  The song is based on a much older piece of court music called “Etenraku,” which was popular during the Heian Period (794-1185).

I found this explanation of the first two verses here, on the International Shakuhachi Society’s website:

Verse 1 commemorates a supposed event of 1590. The shogun Hideyoshi had just presented a famed spear to his general Masanori. The Kuroda warrior Mori Tahei then arrived with a message for Masanori, who insisted that Tahei join him in a celebratory drink. Forbidden to drink “on duty”, he refused; Masanori insisted, and finally offered him a gift of his choice if he would drink. Tahei drank — and claimed the spear!

(The spear is real, and it is kept in the Fukuoka City Museum.  That’s a picture of it up at the top.)

Verse 2 reaches back to the 12th century: the emperor’s concubine had, through court intrigue, been banished to a hidden hut in the woods. The monarch sent a servant to find her. From a distance, he heard her playing on her koto zither a tune that confirmed she still loved her man.

So these two verses are taken from unrelated stories, and in fact none of the other verses I’ve seen appear to be connected either (if anyone out there can shed any light on this, please let me know).

Here is my translation of the four verses my friend will be singing.  Since nothing ever disappears from the internet, maybe someday someone will be Googling around looking for a translation and this will give them a helpful head start:


Kuroda-Bushi — Song of Kuroda


酒は飲め飲め 飲むならば  日ノ本一のこの槍を 飲み取るほどに飲むならば  これぞ真の黒田武士

Sake wa nome, nome!  Nomu naraba, hi no moto ichi no kono yari o, nomi toru hodo ni nomu naraba, kore zo makoto no Kuroda bushi!

Drink! Drink this sake!  If you drink, this, the finest spear in all of the Land of the Rising Sun will be yours!  Drink enough to show you are a true Kuroda warrior!


峰の嵐か松風か 訪ねる人の琴の音か 駒ひき止めて立ち寄れば 爪音高き想夫恋

Mine no arashi ka? Matsu kaze ka? Tazuneru hito no koto no ne ka?

Koma hiki tomete tachi yoreba, tsuma oto takaki — Soh fu ren.

Is that the sound of a storm up in the peaks?  Or is it the wind in the pines?  Or could it be music from the koto of the one I seek?

He reined in his horse and paused, and heard the clear sound of her instrument expressing her yearning for her lord.


春のやよいのあけぼのに  四方の山べを見わたせば  花の盛りも はくの  かからぬ峰こそ なかりけれ

Haru no yayoi no akebono ni yomo no yamabe o miwataseba, hana no sakari mo, haku no kakaranu mine koso nakarikere.

In the spring, in the third month, at dawn, he could see that all around him the mountainsides were covered with blooming flowers, but there were no peaks that were untouched by snow clouds.


花たちばなも匂うなり  軒のあやめも薫るなり  夕暮まえのさみだれに  山ほととぎす名乗るなり して

Hana tachibana mo niou nari, noki no ayame mo kaoru nari, yugure mae no samidare ni yama hototogisu nanoru nari shite.

The mandarin orange blossoms smelled sweet, and the irises under the eaves were fragrant, and in the early summer rain before twilight the mountain cuckoo was calling its own name.



And just so you know what I’m talking about, here’s a performance of the first two verses: