A musical crumb from Asakusa

Asakusa is Asakusa for everyone.  In Asakusa, everything is flung out in the raw.  Desires dance naked.  All races, all classes, all jumbled together forming a bottomless, endless current, flowing day and night, no beginning, no end.  Asakusa is alive…..The masses converge on it constantly. 

This is a quote from Soeda Azenbo, published in the 1930 novel, The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa by Yasunari Kawabata.   The novel creates a vivid picture of a wild and magical place.

In The Scarlet Gang, Kawabata calls Asakusa “something completely different from today`s world, like a remote island or some African village.”

 Nowadays, while Asakusa remains distinct, it does not feel foreign or wild.  Every time I go to Asakusa I have to try hard to imagine what it used to be.  It is difficult, so little clues remain.

Pictures always help.  Last night wandering the deserted side streets, one picture caught my attention; it was attached to a lamppost on Rokku-dori, the street of past masters.  The picture was a black and white photo of Taya Rikizo, an unconventional opera singer and Asakusa legend.


A brief internet search revealed Taya singing a song called Korokke (Potato croquettes).  This song, supposedly portraying the life of newly weds, was popular in the Taisho period (1912-1926).


The song made me smile.  It is both funny and ridiculous.  I replayed it 10 times before bed.  Then woke up craving mashed potato.

Here is a primitive translation of the first two verses, and a YouTube clip of the song itself.

I`m happy I got a wife but

Dinner is always the same: korokke

(Chorus girls) Korokke!

Today it`s korokke, tomorrow it`ll be korokke

All year-long it`s korokke

This is madness


I`m happy I got a husband but

He`s always going out, hardly ever home

Again today he won`t come home, tomorrow he won`t come home

All year-long I`m stuck at home alone

This is madness


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2 Responses to A musical crumb from Asakusa

  1. Rurousha says:

    I understand – from a literary point of view – why Kawabata called Asakusa an African village, but very time I encounter that description I crack up. I suspect Kawabata-sensei knew more about snow than African villages. 😉

    PS: Asakusa’s glory days may be over, but I love this neighbourhood.

  2. tomointokyo says:

    I love it too; I appreciate it a little more with every visit. There is enough character and history in the backstreets for a lifetime of study. Kawabata must have had some incredible adventures there. Perhaps the odd naughty one too.
    So much of Asakusa`s charm lies in its stories. Without the stories and exploration of the backstreets, it does not always appeal to everyone. I did not particularly like it on my first visit. All I remember of the afternoon was a Japanese man trying to practice his English with my friend with a pigeon perched on his shoulder. His persistence was admirable.

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