In episode 16, what appears to be a Japanese translation of "Dona Dona" plays twice -- once where Nanami has a dream where she, like the calf in the song, is sent away to her death, and once right after Utena removes the cowbell.

I know that there are translations of this song (which seems to originally have been in Yiddish) -- there's a recording of Joan Baez singing it in English on YouTube, and Wikipedia lists a bunch of other languages.

Given that I doubt Japan has a particularly large Jewish presence compared to the other countries indicated by the languages listed on Wikipedia, I'm wondering about the Japanese translation: who did the translation, and when did a translated version of the song first appear? Did a translation exist before Utena?


Somewhat belatedly, from the research I did for the blog post you mention, this is what I understand the sequence of events to be:

  • Song is written in Yiddish, fails to gain mainstream popularity even when the songwriter produces an English version, sinks into obscurity.

  • Teddi Schwartz and Arthur Kevess dig it up in the 1950s and translate it into English; this version gains moderate popularity in the United States.

  • In the 1960s, Joan Baez and some other mainstream popular artists record versions. It becomes very popular in the United States, and translated versions start popping up in other countries, including Japan.

  • The original Japanese translation, as you note, is by the Peanuts and may have played a role in popularizing the song there, but their version becomes pretty thoroughly overshadowed by the 1966 Yasui Kazumi translation, which passes into the general cultural consciousness. For some reason it remains one of those bits of common knowledge/things you can reference and expect pretty much everyone to understand in Japan even when that's no longer the case in its home country. (At least, I grew up listening to folk music and had not actually heard the song before Utena.)

  • Some thirty years later, when planning the cow episode, one of the creators of Utena remarks that it seems like a "Dona Dona" kind of situation. (This is from a translated interview that I don't remember where I found, sorry.) Everyone else goes "hey, that's a good idea, actually," and they decide to use the song (with the well-known 1966 translation) in the show. (They probably didn't sit down and go "Hmm, which translation should we use? Or should we do our own?" and eventually settle on that one; as far as I understand, that's just the version of the song that most people will automatically think of when you mention it.)

  • Welcome to the anime/manga SE, and thanks for the additional information! On my part, I'd only heard of "Dona Dona" after I stumbled across an album of Jewish songs by accident (which was before I'd ever gotten through that part of Utena), but the sort of music I listen to is probably hardly representative of the average person my age or with my geographic background.
    – Maroon
    Feb 17 '16 at 17:01
  • Thanks! I came across the link in the list of referrers to my blog and I figured that since I'd done the research when translating the song, I might as well share what I found. My music tastes aren't really representative for someone who grew up in the US in the '80s/'90s either, but my parents were into folk music and I did listen to some Joan Baez as a kid. Just not that particular song, apparently.
    – E. J.
    Feb 18 '16 at 17:44

From an internet search for dona dona japanese translation, which I ran after it occurred to me that there might be a quick answer out there, I found this blog that mentioned a 1966 translation by Yasui Kazumi. An MIT's Jewish A Capella site also gives the same translator.

Just to further double-check things, I ended up on the Japanese Wikipedia page for both Yasui and the song. My Japanese knowledge is somewhat lacking, but I can read katakana and hiragana, and they also list the same year and translator, although the Wikipedia page lists an earlier instance of the song being performed in Japan (which may not have been in Japanese).

So the song translation definitely appeared before the anime (which, if I'm not mistaken, was in the 1990's), and it wasn't anime-specific.


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