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Trashy tunes

Colin Smith whistles the themes of the garbage collector

Trashy tunes

If you live or work in Osaka and find the city to be sorely lacking in trees, flowers or other greenery, it might interest you to know that even the drab, gray Osaka of today contains eleven times more parkland foliage and 90 times more streetside trees than it did in 1964. This was the year of the Tokyo Olympics, the year the Shinkansen began running, and in Osaka, the year of the Ryokka 100-nen Sengen (or 100-Year “Greenification” Proclamation). This was an official designation of the ensuing century as one in which Osaka would gradually be turned into a green urban paradise, full of lush foliage bordering its crystal-blue rivers and the twittering of little birds filling the air.

While less than half a century has elapsed since the proclamation, it would seem there is a lot of catching up to do if the goal is to be met by 2064. Apologists for Osaka’s unprepossessing cityscape point out that the entire area was gradually reclaimed from the sea and is naturally treeless, making it a lot harder to “greenify” than many other cities with naturally occurring foliage. Throughout its long history, as a trading port, a castle town, and an industrial powerhouse, it has been difficult to get a tree in edgeways among the busy waterways, throngs of people, houses, and places of business. Critics, on the other hand, point out that the municipal government has been less than proactive when it comes to planting things, and what little open space and historical preservation there is, often owes much of its existence to citizens’ donations and grassroots campaigning (the rebuilt Osaka Castle and the park around it are an example).

Be that as it may, the year 1964 was a time of bold visions for the future of Osaka, and it was decided that a song should be commissioned for the occasion. Composed by Ichikawa Shosuke, with words by Nishizawa So, the song was entitled “Kotori ga kuru machi” (“A city where little birds gather”) and had lyrics celebrating the envisioned transformation of Osaka into the kind of city birds would like to come to. It was performed by Shimakura Chiyoko, an enka singer at the height of her popularity at the time, and can still be hummed by most Osakans because of its continued use as the soundtrack to garbage collection.

Da da da da-da, da da da da dahh…
Da da da dum dum dum…

You may recognize this whimsical melody (played by trucks collecting regular, burnable kitchen garbage - there are other melodies for recyclables and non-burnable plastics). Unfortunately, this is the best KTO can do as far as providing the lyrics to the original song, as they do not appear to be in the public domain anywhere, and the only way to obtain a recording of the original tune seems to be purchase of the ¥13,000, six-CD Shimakura Chiyoko zenshu: Jinsei yo arigato, a complete collection of her songs released for the 50th anniversary of her debut. (Noble readers who make this purchase, transcribe the lyrics and send them to KTO will be rewarded with eternal gratitude.)

As any foreign person who grew up in an area blessed with a musical ice-cream truck can attest, Japan certainly has no monopoly on melodies being broadcast from vehicles. In fact, even the Osaka garbage song itself is found overseas, played disturbingly off-key by garbage trucks in the city of Hoian, Vietnam (see this bizarre spectacle on YouTube). There certainly are a lot of such melodies here, however - the heating-oil song, the ramen charumera loop, the siren song of the sweet-potato man, the mysterious dirge of the laundry-pole seller.

Osaka’s rubbish collectors, however, have a relative rarity in that the song was written especially for the city. In 1966, two years after the song’s release, the municipal gomi fleet was fitted out with a music-box rendition of “Kotori ga kuru machi,” and it remains with us to this day, being popular with the citizens - you can even download it for your cell phone at Melody i-Land, a free ringtone download site. Look for (大阪市環境事業局ごみ収集車) (Osaka-shi Kankyo Jigyo Gomi Shushusha). The Osaka Environment Bureau says there are no plans to change it any time soon.

On can- and bottle-collection day, the somewhat melancholy children’s tune “Akatonbo” (“Red dragonfly”) is heard, while pickup of containers and other plastic non-burnables is heralded by Stephen Foster’s “Camptown Races” (known in Japanese as “Kusa keiba”). Both of these were launched in the past decade, and given a two-year test period in a couple of designated wards, followed by feedback from locals, before being adopted citywide - public opinion can be fierce when it comes to melodies heard year in and year out, and all possible precautions had to be taken.

Some other cities in Kansai also employ garbage-truck music. “Akatonbo” is a popular choice both here and nationwide, and most other tunes are those similarly lacking copyright protection. There are exceptions: Amagasaki features the Frank Mills’ composition “Music Box Dancer” (Japanese title: “Ai no orugoru”), while Sakai has “Shigoto Hajime” from the heartwarming Miyazaki Hayao animated film Majo no takkyuubin (Kiki’s Delivery Service). Higashi-Osaka, like Osaka itself, has three songs, one of which was specially commissioned. As of 2006, the official “Ganbaro! Higashi-Osaka Image Song,” “Higashi-Osaka, meccha genki na machi ya nen,” is heard on non-burnable plastic garbage days. It features music by hometown boy and J-Pop celeb/producer Tsunku♂ (the male symbol is part of his name) and lyrics celebrating the cheerful, can-do spirit of Higashi-Osakans even in the midst of economic adversity. (Music, lyrics and free downloads available atwww.city.higashiosaka.osaka.jp/koho/plofile/song.html#2.) Other cities, in keeping with their more mature and staid image, eschew music altogether.

As long as it stays the same from week to week, any music will fulfill the necessary function: reminding you that it’s time to take the garbage out. However, some cities go above and beyond the call of duty, using unique songs that express their citizens’ hopes and dreams. Here’s hoping the next 56 years see Higashi-Osaka stay genki, and Osaka turn green.

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