The toilet god

Here is an interesting song from singer Kana Uemura called “The Toilet God.”

The video (hosted by her record company) is apparently popular, currently checking in with just under a million views. Her album Pieces of Me has hit #10 on the Oricon charts but has since slipped to 17th place. I think part of the buzz comes from the juxtaposition of the silly sounding title and the somber content.

The song tell the story of the singer’s bittersweet relationship with her grandmother and runs about 10 minutes long. The title comes from the grandmother’s original way to get her to clean the toilets. Basically, there’s a goddess in the toilet who will make you grow up to be a beautiful woman only if you make the toilet spotless.

The story, based on Uemura’s real-life experiences growing up and then leaving Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture (incidentally, where I spent a year as an exchange student) is nothing short of heart-breaking: the girl moves in with her grandmother and the two get along until she reaches her rebellious teenage years. They fight and eventually she leaves the house for Tokyo. Two years later, the grandmother falls ill. The singer visits but is soon turned away. The grandmother dies the next day, leaving the singer with no chance to make amends for all the trouble she caused.

This song has a lot of elements that often help spell pop success:

– An attractive singer-songwriter with a guitar
– Tear-jerking lyrics
– Shout-outs to local dialects (she sings in Kansai-ben)

And to that she has added a twist, the off-color song title.

It’s tempting to call this the pop song equivalent of a keitai novel, but I liked it because it while it is heavy on the pathos, it still rings true because the story is so common and familiar. This song doesn’t offer a voyeuristic look at a dysfunctional family so much as a raw reminder of our own private dysfunctions.

See below for my quick and dirty translation of the lyrics:

Not sure why, but in 3rd grade
I started living with my grandma
She lived next to my parents’ house
But I lived with grandma instead

I helped out every day
We even played board games
And when I didn’t want to clean the toilet
this is what grandma said:


There’s a very very beautiful goddess
living in the toilet
So if you clean the toilet every day
You can be a beauty just like her.

From that day I started cleaning the toilet spotless
I definitely wanted to be beautiful
so I wiped it every day.
When we went out shopping we ate duck soba together
And I cried and yelled at her when she forgot to tape my favorite shows.


When I started to grow older grandma and I bumped heads
I didn’t get along with my parents either so I felt I did not belong anywhere
I stayed out of the house even on weekends, ran around with my boyfriend
No more board games, no more duck soba

Why oh why do people hurt each other like this?
Why do we lose what’s important to us
I left home, left my grandma who had stood by me

Two years after coming to tokyo
Grandma checked into the hospital
When I went to see her
She was thin and weak
I said Grandma I’m home like I used to before
I wanted to chat with her
but she just told me to go away

The next morning she died quietly

As if she had been waiting for me to visit

You waited for me, even though I never thanked you for raising me right
and I was never a good granddaughter

There’s a very very beautiful goddess
living in the toilet
Maybe you saying that to me back then
is why I am beautiful now

It was always my dream to grow up
to be a sophisticated lady
So even now I make sure to keep the toilet clean as a whistle

Grandma, thank you
Truly, thank you  

3 thoughts on “The toilet god”

  1. It’s a nice tune, and arranged well (the vocal harmonies and the backbeat feel very organic when they come in). I’m not a big fan of the ji-amari style of some ballad lyric writing like this, but that’s more the fault of the Japanese language than her lyric writing.

    You forgot to draw the parallel to Hirai Ken’s resurrection of My Grandfather’s Clock, which is the austere Werther’s Original version of this kind of story. This is guaranteed to do better, because this is at least her own song about her own grandparent…

  2. The Hirai Ken song didn’t spring to mind immediately, but now that you mention it the similarity is almost *too* perfect. If the producers are cynical enough, Uemura’s embittered dead grandmother might be about as real as Densha Otoko.

    “How can we repeat the success of Grandfather’s Clock with the ghetto-girl demographic?”
    “Hmm, most of them were practically raised by their grandparents anyway, so let’s turn it into a tragic keitai novel!”

    This is the same record company that works with AKB48, so I wouldn’t put it past them.

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