Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Going is easy but returning is not

A lot of pedestrian crossings in Japanese cities play the haunting children's lullaby "Toryanse" to let you know when to cross - something which says more about East-West cultural differences than I think any words could. This is the tune itself; you can find other more "produced" versions on YouTube, but this version is more appropriate for the context in which the tune is generally heard (other than pedestrian crossings).


The words are in an old form of Japanese, from the Edo period, and aren't easily translated. You get different versions in different places. It is most often represented as a call-and-response dialogue, but it always isn't quite clear which of the parties is saying which line, and one of the words used, kowai, which in modern Japanese almost always means "frightening", could also just mean "difficult" in those days, and that seems to fit better. These are a few of my alternative translations depending on how you interpret the order of the speakers, with A the first speaker and B the second:

Japanese
Alternative 1
Alternative 2
Alternative 3
通りゃんせ 通りゃんせ
A: You may pass through, you may pass through
A: You may pass through, you may pass through
A: You may pass through, you may pass through
ここはどこの 細道じゃ
B: What is this narrow path?
B: What is this narrow path?
B: What is this narrow path?
天神さまの 細道じゃ
A: This is the narrow path that leads to the Tenjin shrine
A: This is the narrow path that leads to the Tenjin shrine
B: Is this the narrow path that leads to the Tenjin shrine?
ちっと通して 下しゃんせ
B: Would you please let me pass?
B: Would you please let me pass?
B: Would you please let me pass?
御用のないもの 通しゃせぬ
A: Those without good reason may not pass through
A: Those without good reason may not pass through
A: Those without good reason may not pass through
この子の七つの 御祝いに
B: To celebrate this child’s 7th birthday
B: To celebrate this child’s 7th birthday
B: To celebrate this child’s 7th birthday
御札を納めに 参ります
B: I have come with an offering
B: I have come with an offering
B: I have come with an offering
行きはよいよい 帰りはこわい
A: Going in is easy, but returning is not
A: Going in is easy, but returning is not
A: Going in is easy, but returning is not
こわいながらも
B: Even so, please let me pass
A: But even so
A: But even so
通りゃんせ 通りゃんせ
A: You may pass through, you may pass through
A: You may pass through, you may pass through
A: You may pass through, you may pass through

(If you prefer a "creepier" version, you would translate the third to last line as "going in is easy, but returning is frightening [or scary]", which in my view makes it a bit melodramatic. It also must be said that on weblio, the meaning of the line in question is described as "going in is easy, but returning is not". You can also mix and match between the three alternatives if you think the final three lines are ABA rather than AAA.)

Interpretations vary, but the wikipedia article is I guess the mainstream view; it suggests the exchange is between a guard and somebody wanting to visit the shrine to celebrate their child reaching 7 years of age (3rd, 5th and 7th birthdays are special occasions for kids in Japan for Buddhist-associated reasons). According to weblio, there's no clear reason by returning is not easy, or "scary" - it could be because one must use all one's energy climbing uphill on the way and has no energy for the return route (or, I suppose, vice versa - maybe the way is downhill and the way back requires an upward climb).

But to me there is something more to it than that, especially in the context of the melody, which seems to make the journey fraught with underlying tension - "going in is easy, but returning is not" - and hints at much darker themes. Death seems to be lurking somewhere - or, possibly, the past: you can go on (if you have a good reason!) but going back is hard.

I love stuff like this. In particular, I love the idea of guards with ambiguous requirements and warnings. Fighting Fantasy books in particular were full of that sort of thing: it works well in the context of a gamebook where the guard can't be questioned, but can only issue dire warnings which you must needs ignore.

I also like the idea of a path which is easy to follow in one direction, but hard in another. It's difficult to operationalise in game terms (other than by making encounters much more difficult if going in one direction rather than another, which is a bit of a boring way of doing it); perhaps something as simple as section of dungeon being much bigger physically when travelling one way than another, resulting in many more random encounters?

8 comments:

  1. I thought of Tales from the scarecrow, the lotfp module. Going in the house is easy, but goong back is the hard part, as the danger is much much greater

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  2. I remember that tune!

    This brings to mind various Highland ridges that are much harder to traverse one way than the other. I think it's Anoch Eagan where there's more or less no turning back after one point.

    Orpheus and Eurydice might provide a bit of a template for an adventure. You can get into the Underworld, but you have to be very careful - and resist all sorts of temptation - to get out. The obvious temptation is treasure, but there could be others (Cerberus might not let anyone out with treasures that belong in Hades - but is there another exit?). Looking back might be temptation enough, if you're being pursued by minor demons with bows!

    You also gave me a seventh point for this:

    https://hobgoblinry.blogspot.com/2018/10/you-shall-not-pass-or-how-to-make-orc.html

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  3. This whole post is pretty damn creepy. Very October-ish.
    : )

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  4. I've been running wandering monster tables like this lately:
    1 in 6 chance of encounter, +1 for every encumbered PC.

    So as the PCs have looted the dungeon and are making their way back, they're going to face significantly more opposition than they did on their way in, and are going to have to decide whether or not they want to jettison some of that precious loot.

    Going in is easy, but returning is not.

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