Chinsagu nu Hana



An Interpretation of the Okinawan Lullaby

Shortly before my first son was born, I put together a playlist of songs from Okinawa, Amami Ōshima, Hawaii, and elsewhere in the hope that having a set of soothing tunes I liked would make lulling my baby boy to sleep more tolerable for me

Of all the songs on that playlist, the most effective at getting my son to fall back asleep—he’s often out by the third verse—has been the warabi-uta, or Okinawan children’s song, “Chinsagu nu Hana”, sung by the sublime Rimi Natsukawa in one of the Ryūkyūan dialects, known broadly as Uchinaa-guchi.

Although “Chinsagu nu Hana” is a well-known song, the lyrics make it all but unintelligible for the average Japanese listener. Whenever Natsukawa performs the song on TV, subtitles in standard Japanese, or Hyōjungo, must be provided.

A word about the title of the song. Chinsagu nu Hana is Ryūkyūan for balsam flowers, or hōsenka in standard Japanese. Chinsagu (天咲) literally means “the flower that blooms in heaven” (ten ni saku hana, 天に咲く花). In olden times, children in Okinawa would squeeze the sap from balsam flowers to stain their fingernails as a way of warding off evil. The word uya (親, oya, or “parents”), which is often repeated in the song, does not refer to one’s mother and father, but rather all of one’s ancestors since the “age of the gods”, that is from the beginning of time.

While the song is said to contain some ten verses, the version I provide below continues until only the sixth verse. The lyrics of the song convey Confucian teachings, with the first three stanzas related to filial piety, the latter three to respecting one’s body and goals. Each verse contains the exact same number of syllables (8, 8, 8, 6) using language and meter devices that are unique to Okinawa. The lyrics have been translated fairly literally into English to preserve the meaning of the original.



Chinsagu nu Hana

The Balsam Flower









Chinsagu nu hana ya

Chimisachi ni sumichi

Uya nu yushi gutu ya

Chimu ni sumiri.


(Standard Japanese)







Hōsenka no hana wa

(Mayoke toshite) tsumisaki ni somenasai

Oya no iu koto wa, kokoro ni somenasai.


(English Translation)

Dye your fingernails with the pigment of the balsam flower,

Dye your heart with your parents’ words.










Chin nuburi bushi ya,

Yumiba yuma riyui.

Uyanu yushigutu ya,



(Standard Japanese)








Kazoeyō to omoeba,


Oya no iukoto wa,


(Sore hodo oya no oshie wa kagiri ga nai)


(English Translation)

Though you can count the stars in the sky if you wanted to, 

You cannot count the teachings of your parents.










Yuru harasu funi ya,

Ninu fabushi miachi

Wannacheru uyaya,

Wandu miachi.


(Standard Japanese)







Yoru, oki ni deru fune wa

Hokkyokusei ga meate

Watashi wo undekureta oya wa

Watashi ga meate (watashi wo mimamotteiru).


(English Translation)

The ships that sail at night are guided by the North Star,

I am guided by my parents who gave birth to and watch over me.










Takaradama yachin,

Migakaniba sabisu

Asayu chimu migachi,

Uchiyu watara.


(Standard Japanese)








Kagayakanakute wa sabiteshimau,

Asayoru kokoro wo migaite

Yo no naka wo ikiteikou.


(English Translation)

Even jewelry will rust unless polished,

Polishing my spirit night and day, 

I traverse this transient world.










Makutu suru hitu ya,

Atuya ichi madin.

Umukutun kanachi,

Chiyu nu sakai.


(Standard Japanese)







Seijitsu ni ikiru hito wa

Ato wa itsu itsu made mo

Negai-goto mo subete kanai


(English Translation)

All the wishes of those who live honestly will,

Be realized and they will prosper forever.










Nashiba nan gutun,

Nayuru gutu yashiga,

Nasanu yui karadu,

Naranu sadami.


(Standard Japanese)







Naseba nanigoto mo

Naru-koto de aru ga

Nasanu yueni

Naranai no da.


(English Translation)

You can do anything if you put your mind to it,

But you can’t if you never try.

A few clues for pronouncing/interpreting the Okinawan dialect that one may glean from this and other Okinawan songs include:

ぬ (nu) is the possessive の (no).

や (ya) is the subject marker は (wa, as in watashi-wa).

て (te) becomes てぃ (chi);

お (o) is usually pronounced う (u), and similarly よ (yo) becomes ゆ (yu). Likewise, 事 (こと, koto) is グトゥ (gutu), and 夜 (yoru) is read ゆる (yuru).

“K” is often pronounced “g”, such that Tensaku becomes Chinsagu; and “koto”, as we have already seen above, becomes “gutu”.

Interestingly, the Okinawan word for the Polaris (North Star) is 方星 (ファブシ, fabushi), with the “o” in “boshi” again becoming “u” here, bushi. What is remarkable about the word is the first character 方. In standard Japanese, it is pronounced hō or kata/gata, but in the dialect used in the lullaby it is “fa”, which is closer to the way the character is read in Chinese, fang. This may be a vestige of the days when the Ryūkyū Kingdom traded extensively with China and countries of southeast Asia.

Wan (わん) is the customary way to refer to oneself not only in Okinawa but also in Amami Ōshima.  (わー) is also fairly common. The pronoun changes depending upon whether it is singular or plural or what article follows it:


私が   Wanga   (わんが), or Wāga(わーが), used when “I” is the subject of a clause

私たち   Wattā   (わったー), plural form of “Wan

私は   Wanya   (わんや), or Wannē(わんねー), when “I” is the subject of a sentence

私も   Wannin   (わんにん), or Wānin (わーにん), meaning “I, too”

私の   Wannu   (わんぬ), or Wānu (わーぬ), meaning “my”

私には  Wangā   (わんがー), or Wāgā (わーがー), meaning “toward or as for me”


Finally, the conditional form, which is usually formed by taking the root verb and adding 〜えば (〜eba), such as すれば (sureba, if you do), 読めば (yomeba, if you read), 磨けば (migakeba, if you polish) becomes, すりば (-suriba), ゆみば (-yumiba), みがかにば (-migakiba), respectively. That is, 〜えば (〜eba) becomes 〜いば (〜iba).

Whaddaya doin'?

One of the first things I ask students at the beginning of a semester is where they are from. If they hail from a prefecture outside of Fukuoka, and particularly from one outside of the Kyūshū region, I then ask them to say something in their local dialect. Japanese can be frustratingly shy at times and unwilling to stand out so it often takes some pleading on my knees to get the kids to speak up.

Coaching them helps. I’ll say, “In Fukuoka when someone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ they often say, ‘Nan sh’yotto?’ or ‘Namba shiyottoka?’” Having lived in Fukuoka for nearly two decades, the Hakata dialect (Hakata ben) is almost second nature to me and hearing me speak it allows the students to laugh, to let their hair down a bit and volunteer a phrase or two of their own dialect.

“What are you doing?” is one of those very basic, daily, and utterly necessary phrases. It still amazes me how much variation in it can be found throughout Japan.



6. Yamagata


   Nani Shitta?



10. Gunma


   Nani yatterun?

11. Saitama

   なにしてんのー? Or, なん(い)してん?

   Nani shiten noh?  Or, Nan(i) shiten?



15. Niigata


   Nan shiteran?

16. Toyama

   なんしとんが?  Or, 何しとんがけ?

   Nan shitonga?  Or, Nan shiton gake?

17. Ishikawa

   なんしとるん?  Or, なにしとるがん?

   Nan Shitorun?  Or, Nani shitoru gan?


   Nan shiton?

18. Fukui

   なにしてんにゃー Or, なにやってんのー?

   Nani shiten nya?  Or, Nani Yatten noh?

20. Nagano


   Nani shiteru dah?

21. Gifu

   なにしとるの? Or, なにしとんの?

   Nani Shitoru no? Or, Nani shiton no?

22. Shizuoka

   何してんの?  Or, 何しちょん?

   Nani shiten no?  Or, Nani shichon?

23. Aichi

   なにしとんの?  Or, 何やっとんの?

   Nani shiton no? Or, Nani yatton no?



24. Mie


   Nani shi-yon?

26. Kyōto

   何してんの? Or, 何してるん?

   Nani shiten no? Or, Nani shiterun?


   Nani shiton nen?

27. Ōsaka

   何してるん? Or, 何してん?

   Nani shiterun?  Or, Nani shiten?

   なんしよん  Or, なにしよん

   Nan shiyon? Or, Nani shiyon?

28. Hyōgo

   In Kôbe, 何しとぉ~?

   Nani shitoh?

   なにしとん? Or, 何しよんねん?

   Nani shiton?  Or, Nan shiyon nen?



31. Tottori

   何しとるだ~? Or, なんしょ-るぅ?

   Nan shitoru dah?  Or, Nan shyohruu?

32. Shimane

   何しちょ―?  Or, 何しよん?

   Nani shichoh? Or, Nani shiyon?

33. Okayama

   なにしとん?  Or, なんしょん?

   Nan shiton?  Or, Nan shon?

34. Hiroshima

   なんしよん? Or, なにしとん?

   Nan shiyon? Or, Nani shiton?

   なにしとるん? Or, 何しちょるん?

   Nani shitorun? Or, Nani shichorun?

35. Yamaguchi

   何しとるん?  Or, 何しとん?

   Nan shitorun? Or, Nan shiton?



36. Tokushima

   Awa-ben, なんしょん?

   Nan shon?

37. Kagawa


   Nani Shiyon no?


   Nan Shon?


   Nani Shiterun?

38. Ehime

   なんしとん?  Or, なんしよん?

   Nan shiton?  Or, Nan shiyon?

39. Kōchi

   何しゆうが?   Or, 何やりゆうが?

   Nani shiyuu ga? Or, Nani yariyuu ga?



40. Fukuoka

   なんしよ-と~??  Or, なんしよん?

   Nan Shiyoh toh?  Or, Nan shiyon?

   なんばしよっと?  Or, なんしよるー?

   Nanba shiyotto? Or, Nan shiyoruu?

   なんばしとっと? Or, なんばしとると?

   Nanba shitoto? Or, Nanba shitoruto?

41. Saga

   なんしよると-? Or, なんしよーと?

   Nan shiyorutoh? Or, Nan shiyoh to?

42. Nagasaki

   なんしよっと?  Or, なんしよっとー?

   Nan shiyotto?  Or, Nan shiyottoh?


   Nanba shiyotto?

43. Kumamoto


   Namba shiyottoh?

44. Oita


   Nani Shiyon no?

45. Miyazaki


   Nan shichotto?

46. Kagoshima



47. Okinawa

   ぬーやってるばア?  Or, ヌーソーガー?

   Nuu yatteru bah?  Or, Nuu sohgah?

Ippē Kanasandō 

A year ago when we were in Okinawa, my wife and I took a sanshin (三線) lesson. Big fans of Okinawan music, it was something the two of us had been meaning to do for many, many, many years, but, well, kids have a way of putting those kinds of things on hold.

If I can find the time—don't hold your breath—I will try to explain a little—the very little I know, that is—about the instrument. For now, let me mention that the shamisen (三味線), which is used to accompany kabuki or bunraku puppet plays and Japanese folk songs, has its roots in a Chinese instrument called the sānxián (三弦) that was introduced through the Ryūkyū Kingdom (modern-day Okinawa) in the 16th century. The sanshin and shamisen can be considered distant cousins, if you like. One major difference in how the two instruments are played is the "plectrum". While the shamisen is strummed with a flat, fanlike bachi made of wood, the sanshin is plucked with the horn of a water buffalo. The sanshin in Amami Ōshima, just north of Okinawa, is played with a stick. Not sure what it is made of though. Will look into that later.

The song we learned was not a difficult one, but we succeeded in butchering it all the same: Ippē Kanasandō (いっぺーかなさんどー)

いゃーが するくとぅ なすくとぅや

Iyā suru kutu nasu kutu ya

(あなたがする事 成す事は)

The things you do, the things you make



Wanne ippē chinikakati


I can never stop thinking about them.


かなさんどーや かなさんどー

Kanasandō ya kanasandō

(好きだよ〜 好きだよ〜)

I love . . . I love . . .



Wanne ippē kanasando

(私は、君が とても好きだよ〜)

I love you so very much.


いゃー (Iyā)

いゃー“Iyā” and うんじゅ “Unju” mean “you” in Uchinaguchi (うちなー口), the dialect of Okinawa. In Japanese, it can be translated as anata (あなた), kimi (君), or o-mae, (お前).

A word similar to いゃー (汝, nanji, meaning you, thou, or thy) is やー (家, ie, meaning home, family). The younger generation, under fifty, use the two terms interchangeably.

For someone in a lower position (a junior, a younger person, or one’s inferior) use: いゃー (Iyā)

いったー (Ittā) is the plural form

For someone in a higher position (a senior, an older person, or one’s superior) or people you are not familiar with use:


うんじゅ (Unju)

うんじゅなー (Unjunā) is the plural form

The meaning of unju, incidentally, is 御所 (Gosho, an ancient imperial palace).


するくとぅ(Suru kutu)

We have seen するくとぅ (suru-kutu) in an earlier post. The Okinawan dialect lacks the “o” sound, and many Japanese words that contain お (o) are pronounced as う(u). 事 (koto) becomes くとぅ (kutu).


わんね (Wanne)

Wan (わん) is a common way to refer to oneself not only in Okinawa but also in Amami Ōshima.  (わー) is also fairly common.

私が      Wanga (わーが), used when I is the subject of a clause

私たち   Wattā (わったー), plural form of “Wan

私は      Wanya (わんや)

私は      Wannē (わんねー)

私も      Wannin (わんにん), Wānin (わーにん)

私の      Wannu (わんぬ), Wānu (わーぬ)

私には   Wangā (わんがー), Wāgā (わーがー)


いっぺー (Ippē)

Ippē (いっぺー) means “very, a lot, terribly”. I may be wrong, but I think ippē comes from "ippai" (いっぱい) which can mean "a lot" or "full", among other things.


きにかかてぃ (Ki-ni kaketi/chi)

The てぃ(tiki-ni kaketi is pronounced like a “ch”


かなさんどー (Kanasandō)

Kanasandō (かなさんどー) sounds a lot like the standard Japanese word kanashii (悲しい, “sad, unhappy, pathetic”), but actually means “cute” (かわいい) or “dear, beloved, precious” (愛しい). Today’s kanashii and the Okinawan word kanasandō actually share a common etymological root.

Kanasandō (かなさんどー) can be interpreted to mean “I love you” (愛してるよー), “I’m crazy about you” (大好きだぞー), “I’m always thinking about you” (いつも想っているぞー). I think we have all had that kanasandō feeling some time in our lives.

There was a hit in 1983 called かなさんどー (Kanasandō) by Maekawa Shuken (前川守賢, 1960~). Here's a bad recording of the song sung by Maekawa:

Botchan's Na Moshi

Matsuyama City's Dōgo Onsen (hotspring)

Matsuyama City's Dōgo Onsen (hotspring)

Reading J. Cohn's translation of Natsume Sôseki's Botchan I kept coming across the phrase "na moshi" as in the following passage:

"When I asked him what he wanted, he said, 'Well, umm, when you talk so fast it's hard to understand, umm, could you slow down just a little bit if you don't mind--na moshi.' This 'if you don't mind na moshi' sounded awfully wishy-washy to me."

Although Sôseki never explicitly says so in his novel, it is clear from clues throughout the story, including the use of na moshi in dialogue with the locals, that Botchan takes place in the city of Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku.

So what is this na moshi?

Na moshi (〜なもし) is the Matsuyama dialect's equivalent of de gozaimasu-ne (〜でございますね), a phrase that doesn't quite translate into English. Think of it as a formal way to say desu-ne (〜ですね), for which there is no good English equivalent, though, "Isn't it?" comes close.

Some examples:

Matsuyama Dialect: O-samui na moshi (お寒いなもし)
Standard Japanese: O-samui gozaimasu-ne(お寒いございますね)

English: It's cold, isn't it? (Only much more formal.)

Matsuyama Dialect: Sô ja namoshi (そーじゃなもし)

Standard Japanese: Sô degozaimasu-ne (そうでございますね)

English: It is, isn't it. 

In the southern part of Ehime, people say nah shi (なーし) or nashi (なし); in the east, they say nomoshi (のもし) or nonshi (のんし).

Although Sôseki made the patois of Matsuyama famous, very few people used na moshi today. 残念なもし。