Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Creepy Kids Songs Part 2: Kagome Kagome

Our second dreadful dirge warns of murderous in-laws, global conspiracies, and treasure best left buried. You're never too young to learn that someone is always watching you, so fit in or pay the price. 

Basket basket / Bird in a cage
When will it go free / At the eve of the dawn
The crane and turtle slipped
Who's that behind me?
Children playing Kagome Kagome
Beware: Children at play! (Source)
Kagome Kagome is a cryptic nursery rhyme in the vein of Ring Around the Roses. Children join hands and slowly circle around the blindfolded “it” while chanting. When the singing stops, the “it” tries to guess who is standing behind them. If they’re correct, the two swap places and the game continues.

The song’s mysterious origin and vague lyrics have made it a topic of tireless speculation, with each analysis more macabre than the last. It all hinges on how you interpret the eponymous kagome.
Ikido Edo execution.
Public execution like ikido dissuades others from falling out of line.
Typically kagome means "basket," though it can also be a perversion of kakome, “to surround.” This makes the bird in a cage a prisoner in jail. Written with different kanji characters, “at the eve of dawn” reads “the dawn patrol” (夜明けの番人) who have come to escort the accused to their execution—if the crane and turtle, symbols of longevity, take a fall, then death is certainly not far behind.

Or kagome may derived from kagomi (籠女) for "pregnant woman"—literally ”basket lady” for the extra abdominal baggage. In this gruesome interpretation, the unborn child (bird in a cage) becomes a ticking time bomb in an inheritance squabble. Rather than risk sharing the windfall with their family member to-be, the in-laws plot to push the wife down the stairs in a forced abortion. Be sure you can trust those at your back.
Four Symbols from Chinese constellations.
The Four Symbols from Chinese constellations. (Source)
The rabbit hole only gets deeper from here. Viewed through the lens of New Age spirituality, the bird becomes the soul confined to the trappings of flesh, yearning for escape. The eve of the dawn will usher in the next stage of human existence incited by a world-changing event prophesied by Chinese astrology—namely, Genbu, the Black Tortoise of the North and Suzaku, the Vermillion Bird of the South slipping, a metaphor for the inevitable shift of the earth's magnetic poles and ensuing chaos.
Kagome-mon hexagon pattern.
The kagome-mon pattern.
Don't be so fast to write this off as mere tinfoil-hat speculation—the Zionist threat is real! Though what it represents is up for debate. The hexagon cross-work pattern of kagome wicker basket coincides with the Star of David, conjuring up images of Illuminati plots or the Committee of Three Hundred's hidden hand corralling us into cages of the mind like the cattle we are.

A more likely conspiracy theory posits that the kagome acts as a treasure map to the buried gold of the Tokugawa clan. In 1868, the shogunate abdicated rule to the emperor, thus bringing a close to the bloodless Meiji Restoration. Though ousted from his castle and stripped of power, Tokugawa had the last laugh—the penniless new government was banking on funds from the war chest to rebuild the country, only to find that the riches of the vaults had been moved elsewhere!
Kagome reveals Tokugawa's buried gold.
Connecting the dots between Sado Kinzan Gold Mine, Edo Castle, and Toki Shrine, then Akechi Shrine, Senpu Castle, and Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine.
The search to uncover this lost fortune continues through the present, fruitless even with the help of modern science. Kagome Kagome may be the secret tech in cracking the mystery. Draw a line between the six areas closely connected to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun, and the points form a hexagram—this narrows down the search.

Next, assume that the bird in a cage hints at the location of the treasure. Logically it would be in the center of the hexagram, though once again wordplay offers a different interpretation. Tori meaning "bird" is nearly a homonym for torii shrine gate. This makes the most likely location Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine where Ieyasu is entombed. The final puzzle pieces are the tortoise and crane statues in the shrine's southern park. At the eve of the dawn, their sunrise shadows will converge, revealing the precise location of the treasure.
Crane and Turtle Park at Nikko Tosho-gu.
Follow your nose to history-altering revelations. (Source)
With the answer so obvious, what's keeping work crews from excavating the site? If you are willing to believe in the truth in the rhyme, you must also accept its warning. On an etymological level, kagome is derived from kago no me—"the eyes of the cage." Someone is watching to make sure that the secrets of the shogunate remain deep in the ground. Someone standing right behind you.
Whose eyes are those eyes? (Source)


  1. That rendition of Kagome certainly reminds one of some children songs put into various horror video games with the explicit purpose of unsettle.

    I believe it was the Zero series, but memory fails me. And of course who can forget the Ring around the Rosy rendition by that little girl in the infamous Silent Hill 2 trailer which was sadly omitted from the game.

    What is it in particular about children chanting songs mechanically that aids in establishing an unsettling atmosphere?

    As for the treasure and warnings of foul fates awaiting their seeker. Well, fear is a basic instinct, but greed is baser still, thus threats of horrible fates and curses didn't stop ancient grave robbers from leaving only empty tombs for Victorian explorers to discover, so it is that the last Shogun's gold is likely already long lavishly spent.

  2. In a Western horror movie, all you have to do is throw in some glass-eyed kids and you create instant unease. For Japanese audiences, I think these nursery rhymes work not because of the connotations with childhood, but because they are from an older, mysterious time. Forgotten shrines and decaying mountain shacks tend to play more into J-Horror than the dark alleys and graveyards we were raised on.

    Silent Hill being a great exception here! The developers were really in tune with the psychology of Western horror and the low murmurs of madness that underlies suburbia.

    1. The original Silent Hill is rife with references to luminaries of western horror. Most Street names are references to horror authors and the movie Jacob's Ladder has been cited as an influence by the people behind the madness.

      Of course what helps Silent Hill rise above all of those is that all of it is being viewed through the distorted lens of Japanese creators, who grew in an entirely separate and independent cultural hive mind and thus had unique interpretations of the subject matter. The end result does not resemble what you would get if a westerner tried the same because when the Japanese do it they colour it with their own distinct cultural background and in this case, interpretation of the concept of horror.

      Part of the reason why Japanese games were so successful for so long was exactly because these creators would take western influences, usually only in the form of visual aesthetics and cues borrowed from foreign movies, and put them in their game in an night unrecognizable amalgam.

      That is how the movie Night of the Living Dead spawned as bizarre and amusing interpretations as Resident Evil and Dead Rising.

      Seeing something with a faint feel of familiarity but distorted and backwards enough to feel at the same time novel and fresh was their strength. That in combination with the fact that movies had no gameplay so that part was entirely their own creation.

      Their failure in recent years has been due to them giving up that strategy and instead settling for imitating actual foreign games properties. Alas, since their approach here is to imitate everything from their look and gameplay in a straight faced manner they merely come off as poor copycat material instead of products of an independent will.