In a few moments, the mournful tones of the 5 o’clock song will ring out. The strains of this tune have always made me stop and reflect for a moment, wistful for the day that’s past, eager for the cozy comforts of an evening at home ahead.
It was probably during the first month we were here in Japan, a year ago, when the reason behind the 5 o’clock song was explained to me. We were outside, coatless, in the falling dusk while Sophie and Will played in the tiny garden with the neighbor children. At this point, neither of them could speak a bit of Japanese so playing consisted of running, laughing, yelling…and not making eye contact. Suddenly, the Honda family stopped short and the children ran inside. The 5 o’clock music was playing out from…where? over the Tori-Sen grocery? Mr. Honda explained to me that this song is to tell all the Japanese children to come home. It means that it’s time to quit playing or leave school and run home for dinner where it’s warm and comfortable and your okaasan has made something oishii for dinner.
“Where does the music come from?” I wanted to know. Mr. Honda wasn’t sure. He gestured into the air. On that cold, dusky afternoon, I might have been convinced that the music just played in the Japanese sky, as part of the general unconscious. Now I know that it is piped through a PA system at a park across the street. From the mayor’s office? Sophie wondered…
In any case, I began to be aware always of the 5 o’clock song and listen for it. I began to stop and listen to it, often gazing out at the orange sky before returning inside to the comforts of my own evening inside. And, it’s just like me, how could I be anything else…I began to be nostalgic for Japan before I’ve even left. These feelings have been heightened in the month since we found out we’re leaving early. I am crying now as I write this, thinking of the long, lonely afternoons the song brings to mind, the dark and cool or warm and hazy afternoons, the passing on the street of friends, the laughing of children in the street, the glow of a lamp through the curtain, the wave of a friend’s hand as he heads home. I’m sure, most of all, the song just symbolizes my time of learning and becoming and being in Japan.
For me, this song has come to represent all the beautiful things about Japan and the safe and protected feeling I have here. And it will surely symbolize all the things I will think of leaving behind when I return to the U.S. Someday, that song will play for us as we leave and head for home…
Yuyake koyake de hi ga kurete
Yama no o-tera no kane ga naru
O-te de tsunaide mina kaero
Karasu to issho ni kaerimasho
Kodomo ga kaetta atokara wa
Marui oki na o-tsuki-sama
Kotori ga yume o miru koro wa
Sora ni kirakira kin no hoshi!
The sunset is the end of the day,
the bell from the mountain temple rings
hand by hand let’s go back
home together with the crows.
After the children are back at home
a big and round moon shines,
when the birds dream,
the brightness from the stars fills the sky.