Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The secret of Kimi-chan and her red shoes in America

赤い 靴 (Akai Kutsu)
"Red Shoes"

赤い靴 はいてた 女の子
異人さんに つれられて いっちゃった
横浜の 埠頭(はとば)から 船に乗って
異人さんに つれられて 行っちゃった

今では 青い目に なっちゃって
異人さんの お国に いるんだろう
赤い靴 見るたび 考える 
異人さんに 逢(あ)うたび 考える

"Akai Kutsu" is a popular children's rhyme in Japan, depicting the true story of a little girl known as Kimi-chan. Her mother being poor gives her to adoptive parents and Christian missionaries from America take her home for a better life. Published in 1922, and whilst interesting in its repetitive use of the word "foreigner", and accepting that all translations are subjective by definition, in English it goes something like this:

The girl wearing red shoes has,
Gone to America with a foreigner.
She took a ship from the wharf in Yokohama,
Gone to America with a foreigner.
Now her eyes have turned blue,
I wonder about her as a foreigner in that country.
Every time I see red shoes, I think of her,
Every time I meet a foreigner, I think of her.

There is even a statue to her in Yokohama where she boarded the ship to her new home, however, there's a secret and it's very similar to one we sometimes tell children about their beloved pet. The give away is that there is also a statue in Azabu-Juban, a quiet, leafy, neighbourhood in downtown Tokyo. And the reason it's there is this is the site of the orphanage where she passed away from tuberculosis at the age of nine. Her mother, living in Hokkaido, never knew she didn't board the ship, and the father, sticking to his story all her life - "she's gone to a farm in the country".

The statue of Kimi-chan in Azabu Juban

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