Obokuri Eeumi, translated to English, "Obtain our Bearings". From the album of traditional Amami music "Utabautayun" by Ikue Asazaki and also featured in episode 14 of the "Samurai Champloo" anime.

This song is a little hard to write about. I'm not a scholar of the languages of the Japanese islands, but I've read enough to know that there is debate about the language Asazaki-san sings in. Ikue Asazaki is a respected folk singer from the Amami archipelago, which lies between Kyushu and Okinawa. Asazaki-san's singing style is clearly traditional and clearly regional, but there is some disagreement about whether her style, and even the language she sings in, are "Japanese", "Okinawan", "Kyushu" or "Amami". It seems that the latter is most likely, and that she is reflecting influences of her family, community and early life. It is interesting that her Amami "dialect" or language appears difficult to pin down, even among scholars and students. This may be because of Amami's location and closeness to Okinawa and Kyushu, regions which still retain some remnants of traditional culture, although sadly these are dying out. The lyrics are not intelligible to speakers of modern Japanese, I'm told.

When I first heard this song, I had no idea what is was about. Asazaki-san's slightly rough, deep, incredibly distinctive voice completely arrested me. Although I didn't understand her emotion at the time, I thought I heard longing, yearning, and she moved me. The haunting power of Asazaki-san's voice is backed by a piano counterpoint that works perfectly, in my opinion. This is one of my favourite songs.

I've dug around a little bit and tried to find the best translation I could, for you.

Obokuri Eeumi – (Obtain our Bearings)

Arayashikiku no dei – (in search of a new land)
Harasaku baku no dei – (let’s build a new house)
Hare fushigyurasa nejyuku – (by neatly gathering hay)
Surajifushiro yondo – (to thatch the roof)
Hare fushigyurasa nejyuku – (by neatly gathering hay)
Fushigyurasa nejyuku – (neatly gathering hay)
Surajifusero yondo – (to thatch the roof)
Kirishigaki ku no dei – (at the stone walls)
Kuganeya be tatei tei – (let’s celebrate the golden house)
Hare momo to byuru wakya – (that was built)
Ya uriba yuwa o yondo – (by a hundred carpenters)
Hare momo to byuru wakya – (that was built)
Momo to byuru wakya – (that was built)
Ya uriba yuwa o yondo – (by a hundred carpenters)
Hateigachi ya naryuri – (August draws near)
Tobibani ya neranu – (but I have nothing to wear)
Hare utou katabani – (I want to dress up)
Ya karachitabore – (brothers, lend me a sleeve)
Hitotsu aru bani ya – (I want to dress the children and those I love)
Kanasha se ni kusuitei – (with the single kimono I own)
Hare wanu ya okuyama – (I will wear vines)
Nu kazuradasuki – (that I picked deep within the mountains)
Ojyuugoya no teiki ya – (the full moon shines)
Kami gyurasa teryuri – (far and wide like the gods)
Hare kana ga jyo ni tataba kumo tei taborei – (when my lover comes to visit, I wish the clouds would hide it a little)

You can hear the song here

Some brief notes on interpretation of the lyrics;

"Obtain our bearings" is an interesting title. The singer sings of building a new house in a new land in a traditional way, and also "celebrating" a golden house, possibly left behind. As the time of celebrations draws near, the singer cannot dress in a manner befitting the occasion. The children and the people she loves are all left wanting, highlighted by the impossibility of the one kimono she has saved being shared among them all. The singer is willing to give up her clothes for vines in order to share what she has. She has a lover but no husband, another indicator of instability and deprivation. The full moon is beautiful, but she wishes for clouds to hide her secrets. Perhaps obtaining our bearings means holding true to love in difficult circumstances. Our condition may be low, but we can still remain true to ourselves and those we care about.

Hope and loss are mingled together in Asazaki-san's song. She remembers days left behind, and her voice rises and trembles as she sings of her dreams and wishes, before trailing off to rise again.