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A Lyrical Brush

March 2023
1min read

The Japanese had made my tune their own.

The Japanese had surrendered. I was hurried from Manila to Tokyo in my capacity as a junior officer investigating war crimes. Although I had sampled the Japanese language while training at the Army School of Military Government at the University of Virginia in early 1945, I simply was not prepared for the total immersion in that language that came with my arrival in Tokyo. It seemed to have an explosive rhythm. I couldn’t resist parodying those exotic sounds by piecing together a few of the phrases that struck me as phonetically droll.

My Japanese ditty didn’t make much sense if you tried to translate it, but it certainly rocked along—to the tune of “London Bridge.”

Here’s the way it went:

Moshi, moshi, anonay, Anonay, anonay. Moshi, moshi, anonay, Ah so, deska? Arigato gozai-mas, Gozai-mas, gozai-mas. Arigato gozai-mas, Sayōnara.

It didn’t make much sense if you tried to translate it: “Hello, hello, hey there, hey there, hey there. Hello, hello, hey there, is that so? Thank you very much, very much, very much. Thank you very much. Good-bye.” But it certainly rocked along to the tune of “London Bridge.”

It wasn’t long before I heard the ditty sung back to me in the corridors of the Yuraku building, our billet, here and there on the street, and even in the Dai Ichi building, MacArthur’s headquarters, where my outfit had offices.

In a few months I left for demobilization and home. I thought no more of my composition until a decade or so later when I had a family. My Japanese lyrics to “London Bridge” were something of a hit with my children. But when they grew up, I gave no more thought to the little composition.

Years later my younger son and I visited Japan—my first return in thirty-three years. One day we were on a tour bus to Nikko shrine. After the enterprising tour guide ran out of sight-seeing chatter, he suggested teaching us some Japanese folk music. He handed out the texts of such songs as “Sakura,” and somehow got people to join in singing as they followed the anglicized texts. Then he said he wanted us to learn a “fun song” put to a tune we all must know. There it was: my “London Bridge”—“Moshi, Moshi.” I was speechless, or rather, tuneless.

My song had endured! The Japanese had taken it over and made it their own. I’d never thought to take out a copyright. What a lot of yen might have piled up in those thirty-three years.

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