Tuesday, November 9, 2010

AKB48 - "Beginner"

It seems only fair to start this post with AKB48's biggest hit to date.

(from "Beginner" single)
AKB48 senbatsu members (A: Kojima Haruna, Maeda Atsuko, Sashihara Rino, Shinoda Mariko, Takahashi Minami, Takajo Aki / K: Itano Tomomi, Minegishi Minami, Miyazawa Sae, Oshima Yuko / B: Kasai Tomomi, Kashiwagi Yuki, Kitahara Rie, Watanabe Mayu / SKE48: Matsui Jurina, Matsui Rena)

words: Akimoto Yasushi
music: Inoue Yoshimasa
point of view: male language is used but it is not relevant to the meaning of this song
theme: fighting/support song
original lyrics

listen to Beginner on youtube

In your position set!

All the experiences you made until yesterday
And your knowledge are only a burden
The wind will always pass by
And leave nothing behind

Look for a new road!
Don't spread someone else's map!
When you raise your eyes that were looking at the ground you'll become zero

Are we dreaming?
Are we believing in future?
Afraid of nothing, careless of what's our place
As reckless as ever
Are we dreaming now?
We should be as brand new as a child...
Let's tear off the chains that controlled us
Change your mind
Change your mind
We don't need to know anything Beginner!

Adults have failed and felt ashamed
And suffering has become their trauma
Thinking they don't want to feel such pain again
They have become smart

Challenges are laughed upon
What are you protecting with your silly calculations
In order to avoid risks?

Are we alive?
Do we want to be alive tomorrow?
We pretend we understand, we feign a knowing look
While we haven't dreamed in a long while
Yeah, are we alive?
Aren't we wasting our life?
Feel now the rhythm pulsing through your veins!

Stand up! Together!
Remember the day you were born!
Everyone's a beginner!
Stand up! Right away!
It won't go well
Easily from the beginning
Stand up! Together!
You just need to go back to the beginning
A beginner again
Stand up! Right away!
Be defiant, be defiant
You will make it somehow
Tear away the old page
Come on, let's begin!
We can be reborn all the time

Are we dreaming?
Are we believing in future?
Afraid of nothing, careless of what's our place
As reckless as ever
Are we dreaming now?
We should be as brand new as a child...
Let's tear off the chains that controlled us

I can't do anything
I can't do it well
So what?
We're still young
I can't do anything
I can't do it right away
That's why we have possibilities

The rain has stopped
The wind has stopped
A light we've never seen before
Is shining
Now's the time

You are a reborn beginner!

Text in italics is in English in the original lyrics


This is probably the song with the strongest lyrics among AKB48's single releases of the last years. It apparently fits in the category, so peculiar of Japanese lyrics, of "ouenka" (support/fighting songs), yet it is much more than that.
The meaning of the lyrics could be largely broken up in three big layers.
The first layer is strong and immediate: do it, recklessly. If you feel it's worth doing it, then don't think that you could fail, don't think of the risks and just do it - it's the only thing that can make you break away from a dull life and make it worth living.
It would be already a rather strong message for a group of idols, considering how idol music is generally very conservative and idol "ouenka" are usually limited to cute "Do your best!" songs; but let us look at the other layers of meaning.
One was nicely pointed out by this Oricon article (translation by me):

Idols song are a means of communication. They are a tool for shaping a message. But if the idols who stand in front don't synchronize themselves with the message, it won't come across. (...) This is an AKB48 song, and at the same time it isn't an AKB48 song. It's not the AKB that has taken the whole Japan by storm and conquered it, but it expresses a reality that's in synch with the state of mind of each single member. (...) A strong will is the reverse side of cheerfulness and high quality entertainment. Idols, too, in order to be able to keep showing their smiles to the fans, have to be strong. AKB can sing this message exactly because they are doing their best to be strong. The reason why this message becomes pain and pierces through us listeners, it's because we have stopped trying to be strong.

I think this is straight to the point. Several members posted on their blogs how they felt the lyrics reflected their own state of mind. It cannot be excluded that it could be a push on their backs from Akimoto, to encourage the girls to keep pursuing their dreams and to stay strong.

Next, there is another point of view we can look at these lyrics from. The controversial PV for this song's theme was "getting to know the meaning of 'being alive' through pain". In short: until you feel pain, until you know what pain is, you cannot understand what it means to be alive. In other words, as especially pointed out in the second verse, avoiding pain is avoiding life. Only by pain can we be reborn (which is, in my opinion, the true meaning of the word "beginner" as it is used in this song).
Moreover, not knowing what pain means leads to smaller perception of what it means hurting others (the "adults who have become smart" might refer to overprotecting parents).

The three interpretation levels overlap and interweave forming the broader picture of this song. The repetitive melody, deep-voiced singing and hard beat make for a compelling song, leaving you slightly anxious, and this is the case where the music is a perfect match for the lyrics.

Language-wise, the song is sung using male language, because of its "strong" connotations. Whether the first person is a boy or a girl is completely irrelevant when it comes to the meaning of "Beginner".

This song led me to take an important, maybe reckless decision that could change my whole life. It's just a song, but it has this kind of power, and I felt it was right to dedicate my first entry to it. I hope I could convey the strenght of this song through my words.


  1. Thanks for the translation! It is very interesting. I never imagined that the lyrics would be so strong, even with the PV and some other translations I've read, I've never got the feeling of this song being "controversial". Now I understand :)

  2. OMG! Thanks for the translation, i have never thought that the lyrics of this song would be that strong and meaningful
    i don't read Japanese, so i have never tried to understand the lyrics

  3. Great blog. Hope to read more from you in the future, especially Everyday,Kachuusha.