Komori [Nursemaid] Songs (kazoe-uta)
During the modern Imperial period (1868-1945), daughters of poor Japanese families worked as komori taking care of their own siblings or working as indentured servants for other poor families. The state's efforts to foster Japanese citizenship and feminize the komori led to programs aimed at making them more maternal.
The first song is one that was sung by a teacher who taught komori girls in the town of Matsumoto around the turn of the century. This song was part of the broader educational curriculum designed to replace the songs of the komori that were deemed "coarse" and "vulgar" by teachers and other adults who represented the interests of the modern state.
The second counting song, typical of others by the komori, described exploitative working conditions and grave injustices. Based on peasant songs, those songs sung by the komori (of which there are many versions) enabled workers to express resistance to those who exploited them as well as those who sought to feminize them. Some songs mocked their mistresses and masters; other focused on the foods they were not allowed to eat as well as the inadequacies of their rations. The lyrics of others expressed hostility toward their charges: "What can we do with a naughty child?/Let's put him on the drum/and hit him with green bamboo sticks." The third song included here is representative of those that expressed the emotional pain of the komori and their need for their mothers. Not only did the komori sing about love but also lust, their bodies, sexual desire, and intercourse.
These songs and others that describe their daily lives (working, playing, trysting, venting) are useful sources of information that shed light on the everyday experiences of the komori and the lyrical cultural practices that expressed their alienation and resistance. In what ways are the komori similar to and different from babysitters in other cultures and at different times?
One, childhood is the function of personhood; the role of komori is important.
Two, play carefully; don’t choose dangerous play.
Three, you can play, but don’t forget your charge on your back.
Four, copy the good deeds; use the polite language.
Five, always be cheerful; if you smile, your charge will smile.
Six, don’t force your charge to wake up or to sleep.
Seven, whatever you do, do for your charge; don’t do anything your charge may not like.
Eight, a child will soon grow into an adult; treat your charge as if it were an adult.
Nine, the role of komori is important; komori replaces the mother to protect the child.
Ten, don’t give any poisonous food or a dangerous toy to your charge.
One, we are all bullied.
Two, we are all hated.
Three, we are all forced to talk.
Four, we are all scolded.
Five, we are all forced to carry babies who cry a lot.
Six, we are all fed with terrible food.
Seven, we are all forced to wash diapers in the cold water of the river.
Eight, we are all impregnated and shed our tears.
Nine, we are all persuaded to leave, and finally,
Ten, we all must leave.
I want to go home
I want to see my house.
I want to see my mother’s face.
Even if I cannot see her, I want to talk to somebody about my wretched life.
Mariko Asano Tamanoi, "Songs as Weapons: The Culture and History of Komori (Nursemaids) in Modern Japan." The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 50, No. 4, (Nov., 1991), pp. 793-817. Annotated by Miriam Forman-Brunell.