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Tōryanse facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts

"Tōryanse" (通りゃんせ) is the name of the traditional Japanese children's tune (warabe uta). It is a common choice for music played by traffic lights in Japan when it is safe to cross.

Lyrics

The words to the song are:

Japanese: Romaji: Translation:
通りゃんせ 通りゃんせ
ここはどこの 細道じゃ
Tōryanse, tōryanse
Koko wa doko no hosomichi ja?
You may go in, you may enter
Which way is this narrow pathway?
天神さまの 細道じゃ
ちっと通して 下しゃんせ
Tenjin-sama no hosomichi ja
Chitto tōshite kudashanse
This is the narrow pathway of the Tenjin shrine
Please allow me to go through
御用のないもの 通しゃせぬ
この子の七つの 御祝いに
御札を納めに 参ります
Goyō no nai mono tōshasenu
Kono ko no nanatsu no oiwai ni
Ofuda wo osame ni mairimasu
Those without good reason shall not pass
To celebrate the 7th birthday of this child
We've come to dedicate our offering [to offer our ofuda here]

行きはよいよい 帰りはこわい

Iki wa yoi yoi, kaeri wa kowai

Going in is easy, but returning is scary

こわいながらも
通りゃんせ 通りゃんせ
Kowai nagara mo
Tōryanse, tōryanse
It's scary, but
You may go in, You may pass through

Tune

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Explanation

山角天神「通りゃんせ」
The Monument of Tōryanse in Yamakaku Shrine

There are many theories to the origin of the song, but all agree that it is a portrayal of an exchange between a civilian and a guard manning some sort of a checkpoint — at Kawagoe Castle according to one theory. In the old days when infant mortality was high, people celebrated when a child survived to reach the age of 7 (as well as 3 and 5; see Shichi-Go-San), and ordinary people were only allowed to visit the shrine within the castle compound for special occasions.

This particular warabe uta is sung as part of a traditional game where two children facing each other link their hands to form an arch 'checkpoint', and the remaining children walk through underneath in a line (and back round again in circles). The child who happens to be under the arch when the song finishes is then 'caught', not unlike Anglophone game London Bridge is Falling Down.

The tune being played at Japanese pedestrian crossings is an analogy to this game, i.e., it is safe to cross until the music stops.

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