April 15th, 2020

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The Goddess of the Toilet

I stumbled across a sentimental ballad the other day, and was very struck with it. It was a big hit in Japan about ten years ago.

「トイレの神様」 ("The Toilet God") is an autobiographical song by Kana Uemura, telling of her childhood with her grandmother, to whom she was close when she was young, but from whom she grew apart - only to regret her ingratitude when it was all too late. I can't claim that it's particularly interesting musically, but in bringing together the importance of hygiene, respect for the elderly, Shinto kami-worship and full-throttle sentimentality (the fact that I recognise this doesn't mean I didn't cry), it nests an awful lot of Japanese boxes, and even a couple of Covid 19 ones. The assertion that cleaning toilets is a pious act is one I wholly approve. (A picture-book version is apparently used in Japanese primary schools, which presumably emphasises this aspect.) But could such a song ever make it big in the West?

It comes with a helpful animation, and now an English translation from me.



From when I was around 8 years old
I lived with my grandmother
My parents' house was just next door, but
I lived with my grandmother.

I helped out every day,
And played Five-in-a-Row with her
But, because I didn't like cleaning the toilet,
Grandma told me:

"A beautiful goddess lives in the toilet.
If you clean it every day
You will become as beautiful as a goddess."

From that day I started to make the toilet sparkle.
I wanted to become beautiful
So I scrubbed and scrubbed.

Whenever we went shopping
We would have duck noodle soup for lunch.
Grandma forgot to record the new comedy show:
I cried, and blamed her.

"A beautiful goddess lives in the toilet.
If you clean it every day
You will become as beautiful as a goddess."

I grew up a bit, and began to argue with my grandma.
I didn't get on with my family, either.
I didn't fit in anywhere.

I didn't go home on my days off
But hung out with my boyfriend.
Games of Five-in-a-Row and duck noodle soup
Were forgotten.

I wonder why people hurt each other
And lose important things?
I set out on my own, abandoning
The grandma who had always looked out for me.

Two years after I moved to Tokyo
Grandma was admitted to hospital.
She had grown terribly thin.
I went to see her.

"I'm back!" I tried to say it
The way I used to when I came home.
We talked a little.
"You'd better go," she said, and I was taken from the room.

The next morning she had passed away quietly:
It was just as if she had been waiting for me.
She brought me up properly, but I was not a good grandchild,
Waiting for a time such as this to be grateful.

"A beautiful goddess lives in the toilet."
I wonder if the words my grandma gave me made me beautiful?

"A beautiful goddess lives in the toilet.
If you clean it every day
You will become as beautiful as a goddess."

It was my dream to become a beautiful bride.
I continue to make the toilet sparkle.

Grandma, grandma, thank you.
Truly, thank you.