Midweek (Childhood) Music Break: Various Artists, “Sho-Jo-Ji”

Stylized tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog) as a kumadori mask design

[Image: stylized tanuki, a/k/a Japanese raccoon dog, in the form of a kumadori mask
for use in
kabuki performance. (Thus: a kabuki tanuki.) I found it here, among a collection of other kumadori.]

Probably item #1 among my nascent collection of Maxims for Nostalgists would go something like this:

Not everybody shares your memories — in fact, few people do. But don’t write off your memories as lively (or misshapen) childhood inventions, either. The Internet tells us so.

Like many stories, the story behind today’s post is longer than the simple facts (or mere common sense) might indicate. I recently received a comment on one of my old (mostly two-part) What’s in a Song posts, the one about “Cry Me a River” (Part 1 of which was here). In the course of replying to the comment, I got involved in re-reading what I’d already posted, checking the links and so on. Naturally, some of these — especially YouTube videos — had broken in the last three years, so I looked around for more current links to the same (or similar) content.

Which got me looking back at the Julie London version of the Mickey Mouse Club‘s sign-off song (“M-i-c, k-e-y…”). Suddenly, unbidden, a mini-avalanche of memories tumbled out of my subconscious, into the full light of awareness — all related to the songs on an old phonograph album, of music featured on the original TV series.

One of the songs on this album was an odd little number partially in some Oriental language — Chinese, I thought, or maybe Korean. It was a song about (according to the English verses) a raccoon, a raccoon who was always hungry. And because he was always hungry he sang — in particular, he sang something which sounded like koink-koink-koink! But that couldn’t be right, could it?

A quick Google search led me straight to this post by someone identified as Mama Lisa — and her many commenters. A gold mine of reassurance!

Turns out that “Sho-Jo-Ji” wasn’t written for the Mickey Mouse Club (as I’d assumed). It’s actually a fairly old Japanese children’s song, about a creature called a Japanese raccoon dog — or tanuki. The song made its appearance during the first season of the Mickey Mouse Club, in November, 1955 (too early for even me to have seen and remembered it from that source). This version doesn’t seem to be available in any commercial form (MP3, iTunes…), but I have found what is darned close to the version I remember (if not the actual thing). The specific signature touch I recall: the prolonged trilling/warbling/musical-free-association between verses.

The uploader tags this with the year 1957 but I assume that’s the date of the album. (I got the November 1955 date from this page, which seems pretty confident about it.)

As I said, the song has a history. Here’s a vintage (apparently real vintage) Japanese black-and-white cartoon featuring dancing raccoon dogs:

But the oddest little tidbit I found while looking into this was the discovery of a recording by Eartha Kitt, from just about the same time that the song appeared on the Mickey Mouse Club:

By the way, if you’ve got children of your own who are capable of Internet research, you might want to guide their search on this topic. The tanuki stories of Japan, in general form, seem vaguely reminiscent of Native American stories of the entity called Coyote. (You can find a few of them in translated form here.) Tanuki, personified, is a mischievous trickster capable of changing shape at will, often for no particular reason than that he enjoys it. Wikipedia:

Compared with kitsune (foxes), which are the epitome of shape-changing animals, there is the saying that “the fox has seven disguises, the tanuki has eight”… The tanuki is thus superior to the fox in its disguises, but unlike the fox, which changes its form for the sake of tempting people, tanuki do so to fool people and make them seem stupid. There is also the theory that they simply like to change their form.

Cute, eh? But what exactly is he hiding?So far so good. Still cute, right? (I mean, just look at the photo over there on the right. Raccoons themselves cute as a button, of course — but add The Pooch Factor and it can just about make a small-dog lover swoon.)

But the tanuki tales have a somewhat kinkier side, too (kinkier to American readers, anyhow): male tanuki are supposedly blessed with enlarged testicles, which (so goes the legend) bring financial good luck. Some of the artwork playing up this angle carries the hope for good luck to an extreme; the creature itself may occupy a little tiny corner of a two-page spread, say, while the testicles fill the entire remainder. I know I’m revealing a Philistine nature here, but, well… it can be a little, um, ick.

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Edit to add: The English-language versions above both feature — if I’m not mistaken — the rhyme:

Macaroons and macaroni
Jelly beans and beef baloney

Which, if I haven’t misheard the lyrics, probably signals a non-literal translation. (It also sort of drags my head in another direction — towards the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Beefaroni theme song — but please, don’t let me get started on the subject of commercial jingles from the ’50s and ’60s!)

Further edit to add (2017-07-13): a new comment, from someone going by the handle “Gnemec,” challenged my always-iffy hearing of the “jelly beans and beef baloney” lyrics. As it happens, though both Gnemec’s and my own versions are probably wrong. You can see Gmec’s comment and my reply (which I think led me to the correct version) below.

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  1. I burst out laughing when I got to the point of “koink, koink, koink” . I can remember having this stupid song in my head whilst going through the day as a kid. But I had totally forgotten it until now. And of course, I knew nothing about his physical attributes. Thanks for the giggle John.

    • One of the most comprehensive pages of tanuki information which I found is here, at a site apparently about Japanese Buddhist statuary. There’s a whole section about the, er, anatomical issue. Among the most curious items: the reference to a fairly recent Japanese TV commercial which merged the tanuki legend with the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale (see at right), all to pitch the advertiser’s construction/development resources. Dis, turb, ing — at least, again, to Western sensibilities. (I know: TMI.)

      On the label for the Eartha Kitt recording, you can see the name Bill Walsh credited as the songwriter — at least the lyricist. (I’m pretty sure the music is traditional, however far back the tradition extends.) I haven’t been able to find a songwriter/lyricist by that name, but I think it might’ve been this guy — assuming that this “translation” was in fact commissioned for the Mickey Mouse Club.

  2. Pink spumoni, not beef baloney. There is a subtitled version of Eartha Kitt’s recording on YouTube that implies that whole section has nothing to do with the original lyrics.

    • Hey, thanks for catching that. I’ll add a note to to the post to clarify.

      I did a general Google search on the song title plus each of the two phrases, “beef baloney” and “pink spumoni.” The former returned 7 hits — most of them to this post, it seemed; the latter returned 12. Neither of those numbers sounded real convincing, and neither of the translations make much sense when you think about it: an old Japanese children’s song about a legendary raccoon-like creature which eats baloney/bologna (a German/Italian/processed meat?!?) or spumoni (an Italian ice cream?!?).

      So I reconsidered, and did another Google search — this time on “sho-jo-ji,” “lyrics,” and either “jellybeans” or “jelly beans.” (That last criterion was to be sure I’d get only English-language versions, since I can’t read Japanese.) And this provided what may be the definitive answer — which is hinted at by the repetition of the word “koi” throughout the song. Koi, of course, are a domesticated type of Japanese fish used for decorative purposes, in garden ponds. And the mystery phrase, according to the 149 hits I got from the general lyrics search, is “pink abalone”: that is, a type of edible sea snail. Although they’re common pretty much around the world, Wikipedia reports that abalone farming “began in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Japan and China.” Abalone are also a component of some types of sushi.

      All of which suggests that Sho-Jo-Ji in specific, or tanuki in general, may simply be raiding human food supplies for seafood native to Japan — not stuff imported from Europe or America.

      For the record, here’s the subtitled YouTube video I think you’re referring to:

      …and here’s another and to my mind much wackier version altogether… “pinks for morning” (!):

      Thanks again for the input!

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  1. […] own introduction to the mambo came from a record album I’ve referred to before here at RAMH (here (on “Sho-Jo-Ji”) and here (about “Cry Me a River,” a clip in which Julie […]

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