Suzhou Nocturne (蘇州夜曲) – lyrics, chords, translation

Originally performed by Yamaguchi Yoshiko (aka Li Xianglan or Ri Kouran) in the 1941 film Suzhou Nights (蘇州の夜), the song “Suzhou Nocturne”, though beautiful, has an inescapably nasty history. Yamaguchi, born in China to Japanese parents, became a star of Manchukuo Film Association ‘national policy film’ productions – not strictly propaganda films but nevertheless carrying distinctly political elements, usually promoting in some way the idea of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Suzhou Nights
is no exception. The film depicts a romance between a Japanese doctor (Sano Shuuji), intent on fulfilling his ‘service to the Empire’, and the head of an orphanage (Yamaguchi) with anti-Japanese sentiments. He eventually dives into the river to save a child from her orphanage, proving to her that he is earnest (and implicitly, that the Japanese imperial mission is). As they fall in love, their conversations take a tediously politically-charged turn: “We have so much to be thankful to the Japanese for… to the doctors and to the soldiers.” “Oh, that’s all right. It’s enough if you understand our true intentions.”

It became a popular song, despite apparently overwhelming public sentiment against the film. “Suzhou Nocturne” was also performed by Bai Hong in 1944 in Mandarin.

Following the end of the war, Yamaguchi was put on trial as a traitor to China, facing the death penalty, until it was revealed she was a Japanese citizen. “Suzhou Nocturne” was consequently banned, not so much for its content but for the historical context and the ideology of the film, and it remained so until at least 1999, according to Kyodo news agency. But it remains a well-known song in Japan to this day, with modern renditions from singers such as Nikaido Kazumi and ASKA from pop duo Chage and Aska.

蘇州夜曲 Soshuu yakyoku (Suzhou Nocturne)
Music: Hattori Ryōichi
Lyrics: Saijo Yaso

C             Dm                          Em                   Am
kimi ga mi mune ni          dakarete kiku wa
君がみ胸に                           抱かれて聞くは

Dm              Am                    Dm         G
yume no funa uta            tori no uta
夢の船歌                              鳥の歌

F              C                                                         Am
mizu no Soshuu no         hanachiru haru o
水の蘇州の                          花散る春を

F                                              C             Dm         Em    G
oshimu ka                           yanagi ga susuri naku
惜しむか                                柳がすすり泣く

C             Dm                         Em                   Am
hana o ukabete                 nagareru mizu no
花を浮かべて                        流れる水の

Dm              Am                    Dm         G
asu no yukue wa              shirane domo
明日の行方は                      知らねども

F              C                                                Am
koyoi utsushita                 futari no sugata
こよい映した                          ふたりのすがた

F                                              C   Dm   Em    G
kiete kureru na                 itsu made mo
消えてくれるな                     いつまでも

C             Dm                         Em                   Am
kami ni kazarou ka          kuchizuke shiyou ka
髪に飾ろうか                         くちづけしようか

Dm              Am                    Dm                 G
kimi ga taorishi                 momo no hana
君が手折りし                         桃の花

F              C                                                      Am
namida gumu you na         oboro no tsuki ni
涙ぐむような                              おぼろの月に

F                                              C Dm Em    G
kane ga narimasu             kan zan ji
鐘が鳴ります                        寒山寺

Translation:

Cradled to your chest, I can hear
the song of the ship from my dreams, the song of the birds
Will you long for spring with its scattered blossoms
in watery Suzhou? The willow weeps

Though we know not where the flower
floating in the flowing water will head tomorrow,
our reflection tonight will never, ever disappear

Shall I put it in my hair? Shall I press it to my lips?
The peach blossom you broke off to give to me
In the moonlight, hazy as though with tears
the bell rings at Kanzanji

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