Soran Bushi is a very well-known sea shanty from Hokkaido. It was sung by men who fished for herring with a net.

A popular bon dance accompanies this song. Bon dances are performed for the Bon Festival in which people honor the spirits of their ancestors. This dance is also taught and performed in schools.

In the dance, the dancers mime the waves of the ocean with their hands and the fisherman dragging in their nets. They also call out "soran" and "dokkoisho". Both are words to encourage the work of the fisherman. "Dokkoisho" is like "heave-ho" and "soran" is a word that marks time. (You can read more about the italicized chorus in the Song Notes.)

Notes

Pronunciation:

Yaren soran soran
Soran soran soran hai hai!

Nishin kitaka-to kamome-ni toeba
Watasha tatu-tori nami-ni kike
Choi! Yasa eeh yen yahn saah noh, dokkoisho
Hah dokkoisho dokkoisho!


Yaren soran soran
Soran soran soran hai hai!

Koyoi hitoyo-wa donsu-no makura
Asu-wa defune-no nami-makura
Choi! Yasa eeh yen yahn saah noh, dokkoisho
Hah dokkoisho dokkoisho!


Yaren soran soran
Soran soran soran hai hai!

Otoko dokyo nara goshaku no karada
Don-to noridase nami-no ue
Choi! Yasa eeh yen yahn saah noh, dokkoisho
Hah dokkoisho dokkoisho!


Yaren soran soran
Soran soran soran hai hai!

Nami no seno-se de don-to utsu namiwa
Kawaii sendo-shu no dokyo dameshi
Choi! Yasa eeh yen yahn saah noh, dokkoisho
Hah dokkoisho dokkoisho!


Yaren soran soran
Soran soran soran hai hai!

Odoru gin-rin kamome no utani
Ohama tairyo no hi ga noboru
Choi! Yasa eeh yen yahn saah noh, dokkoisho
Hah dokkoisho dokkoisho!


Yaren soran soran
Soran soran soran hai hai!

Ryoba no ane-ko wa oshiroi iranu
Gin no uroko de hada hikaru
Choi! Yasa eeh yen yahn saah noh, dokkoisho
Hah dokkoisho dokkoisho!


Yaren soran soran
Soran soran soran hai hai!

Ane-ko doko iku nishin-ba kayoi
Kami no midare ga kini-kakaru
Choi! Yasa eeh yen yahn saah noh, dokkoisho
Hah dokkoisho dokkoisho!


*****

About the Chorus at the Beginning and End of Each Verse
Written by Sadao Mazuka

I searched the meaning of "Soran" and found a decent answer on the web. It's a preposition word for "Dokkoisho". We say "so-re" or "so-ra" nowadays. "So-ran" is a dialect or an accent of the north part of Japan according to a person on the web.

When we lift up a heavy thing we can say;
"So-re, Dokkoisho", or "Sae-no Dokkoisho".
The shout, "So-re" or "Sae-no" makes a good timing for "Dokkisho".

In this stirring song, they sing or shout 'Dokkoisho'.

Maybe you shout something when you lift up a heavy thing with someone. You all say, 'One two three!' at the same time. So the word 'Dokkoisho' corresponds to 'three'. Then you can lift it up more easily with many people cooperating at once."

Soran Bushi is the song for the end of their working on the sea. They lift up the fish from the net and put it on the carrying boat. So "Dokkoisho" is the timing that they should use for applying the strongest amount of muscle using the loudest cry.

Regard the line, "Choi. Yasa eeh yen yahn saah noh".
I can say this is a kind of interjection to mark the rhythm of the song.

Comments

"I believe fishermen sang this song ad lib (improvising) during their work fishing. So I think there are no standard song words." -Sadao Mazuka

Sadao sent this description of the song from Wikipedia (Japanese text below followed by an English translation):

春とはいえ、海上での作業は寒さに苛まれる。単調で辛い肉体労働をこなすには、大勢で掛け声を唱和する必要があった。時には即興で卑猥な歌詞を歌い上げ、場に笑いを誘う。

English Translation:

Even in the Spring, work at sea is tormented by the cold. To do a monotonous and painful physical labor, they (the fishermen) would all work together with loud shouting. Sometimes they sang, improvising obscene lyrics and it made them all laugh.

"This is one of the most famous traditional songs with dancing. Almost all Japanese can sing this song and many people are able to dance it at the bon-festival." -Sadao

*****
Listen to Soran Bushi here.

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Thanks and Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Sadao Mazuka for sending this song with the translation and commentary and the midi!

Arigato gozaimasu!

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