Douyou (童謡): 12 Common Japanese Nursery Rhymes to Learn

Japanese nursery rhymes, called “douyou (童謡)” in Japanese, are an integral part of the country’s culture and education passed down through generations. These simple songs, often accompanied by actions or gestures, serve as a way to teach young children Japanese traditional values, customs and culture. 

However, just because Japanese nursery rhymes are for children doesn’t mean they’re not allowed for everyone else. In fact, it might be daunting for those studying Japanese as a foreign language might to try and sing along to even simple baby songs in Japanese. However, Japanese nursery rhymes can be a great source for Japanese-language learners as it is a more achievable goal to start with. In other words, Japanese nursery rhymes make learning fun and educational.

In this article, we will take a look at 12 of the most popular Japanese nursery rhymes, including their meaning, cultural significance, and historical references. Along with offering a glimpse at Japan’s rich history and country, they are also a fun way to learn Japanese. 

Why Learn, Listen and Sing to Japanese Nursery Rhymes?

1. Japanese nursery rhymes are simple and easy to understand.

The language used in nursery rhymes is usually simple, making it easy for adult learners to understand and remember the vocabulary and grammar. The repetition of phrases and sentences in douyou (童謡), which usually includes onomatopoeia and tongue-twisters, helps to reinforce language learning and memory retention.

2. They are fun and engaging

For a lot of us who hate traditional learning methods (think textbooks and assignments), these songs can be a fun and engaging way to learn Japanese. Of course, this would be nowhere near as fun as actually singing popular songs at karaoke, but it’s a great first step!

Nursery rhymes can improve pronunciation: Singing nursery rhymes can help adult learners to improve their pronunciation and intonation, which can be especially challenging when learning a new language.

3. They’re a reflection of Japanese culture

Songs provide insights into the culture of a certain language and country. Japanese nursery rhymes help us understand Japanese culture in a broader sense and from a Japanese point of view as a lot of these songs are also used to teach Japanese children about how to be a part of society.

4. They’re appropriate for all age

The theme of nursery rhymes is light and fun, making them a great tool for language learning for both children and adults. The simple vocabulary and grammar used in nursery rhymes make them accessible for children who are just starting to learn a new language, as well as for adults who may be more advanced learners.

12 Japanese Nursery Rhymes to Know

1. Amefuri 雨降り (Rainfall)

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
あめ あめ ふれふれ かあさんが
じゃのめでおむかえ うれしいな
ピッチピッチ チャップチャップ ランランラン
かけましょ かばんを かあさんの
あとから ゆこゆこ かねがなる
ピッチピッチ チャップチャップ ランランラン
あらあら あのこはずぶぬれだ
やなぎのねかたで ないている
ピッチピッチ チャップチャップ ランランラン
かあさん ぼくのをかしましょか
きみきみ このかさ さしたまえ
ピッチピッチ チャップチャップ ランランラン
ぼくならいいんだ かあさんの
おおきなじゃのめに はいってく
ピッチピッチ チャップチャップ ランランラン
ame ame fure fure kāsan ga
janome de o mukae ureshii na
pitchi pitchi, chappu chappu, ran ran ran
kakemasho kaban wo kāsan no
ato kara yuko yuko kane ga naru
pitchi pitchi, chappu chappu, ran ran ran
ara ara ano ko wa zubunure da
yanagi no nekata de naiteiru
pitchi pitchi, chappu chappu, ran ran ran
kāsan boku no wo kashimasho ka
kimi kimi kono kasa sashitamae
pitchi pitchi, chappu chappu, ran ran ran
boku nara iin da kāsan no
ōkina janome ni haitteku
pitchi pitchi, chappu chappu, ran ran ran
Rain, rain, come, come
My mother will pick me up with an umbrella
Pitch pitch, chap chap, run run run!
With my bag on my shoulders, I follow my mother
A bell is ringing somewhere
Pitch pitch, chap chap, run run run!
Oh dear, that girl is dripping wet
She is crying under the willow
Pitch pitch, chap chap, run run run!
Mom, mom, I’ll lend my umbrella
“You, you, use this umbrella,”
Pitch pitch, chap chap, run run run!
I am all right, don’t worry
Mother will take me under her big umbrella
Pitch pitch, chap chap, run run run!

“Amefuri”, or “Rainfall”, is a nursery rhyme about helping others in need. Cheerful even on a rainy wet day, our protagonist is happily walking home in the rain with his mother. He offers his own umbrella to a girl who is wet from the rain and crying whilst taking shelter. 

2. Zou-san ぞうさん (Mr. Elephant)

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
ぞうさん ぞうさん
お鼻が  長いのね
そうよ 母さんも
長いのよ
ぞうさん ぞうさん
誰が 好きなの
あのね 母さんが
すきなのよ
zousan, zousan
ohana ga nagai no ne
sou yo, kaasan mo
nagai no yo
zou san, zou san
dare ga suki na no
ano ne, kaasan ga suki na no yo
Elephant, elephant
You have such a long nose!
That’s right, my mom too
Has a long nose
Elephant, elephant
Who do you love? 
Well, I love my mom!

“Zou-san”, or “Mr. Elephant”, is a simple but adorable Japanese nursery rhyme. It was first broadcast on NHK radio in 1952. In the first verse of the song, the elephant is being teased for its long nose. However, the elephant is impervious to the bullying as his love for his mom makes him proud and happy to have the same long nose. It is a cute nursery rhyme with a strong message of love and acceptance of oneself. 

3. Tonbo no Megane とんぼのメガネ (The Dragonfly’s Glasses)

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
とんぼの めがねは
水いろ めがね
青いおそらを
とんだから とんだから
とんぼの めがねは
ぴか ぴか めがね
おてんとさまを
みてたから みてたから
とんぼの めがねは
赤いろ めがね
夕焼け雲を
とんだから とんだから
tonbo no megane wa
mizuiro megane
aoi osora wo
tonda kara tonda kara
tonbo no megane wa
pikapika megane
otentosama wo
miteta kara miteta kara
tonbo no megane wa
akairo megane
yuuyakegumo wo
tonda kara tonda kara
The dragonfly’s glasses are
Light-blue coloured glasses
Because he flies, because he flies
Under the blue sky
The dragonfly’s glasses are
Shiny glasses
Because he looks, because he looks
At the sun
The dragonfly’s glasses are
Red coloured glasses
Because he flies, because he flies
Under the sunset clouds

A wonderful nursery rhyme that describes the scenery of nature as reflected in a dragonfly’s eyes. For children, this is a cheery song that is accompanied by fun gestures like forming circles with your hands and bringing them up to your eyes to imitate the dragonfly’s glasses. For adults that understand the deeper meaning behind the song, it inspires them to think about what kind of life they want reflected in their own eyes. 

4. Ai Ai アイアイ (Aye-Aye)

(Japanese)

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
アイアイ アイアイ
おさるさんだよ
アイアイ アイアイ
みなみのしまの
アイアイ アイアイ
しっぽのながい
アイアイ アイアイ
おさるさんだよ
アイアイ アイアイ 
おさるさんだね
アイアイ アイアイ 
きのはのおうち
アイアイ アイアイ
おめめのまるい
アイアイ アイアイ 
おさるさんだね
ai ai ai ai
osarusan dayo
ai ai ai ai
minami no shima no
ai ai ai ai
shippo no nagai
ai ai ai ai
osarusan dayo
ai ai ai aii
osarusan dane
ai ai ai ai
ki no ha no uchi
ai ai ai ai
omeme no marui
ai ai ai ai
osarusan dane
Aye-aye Aye-aye
It’s a monkey
Aye-aye Aye-aye
On a southern island
Aye-aye Aye-aye
With a long tail
Aye-aye Aye-aye
It’s a monkey
Aye-aye Aye-aye
It’s a monkey
Aye-aye Aye-aye
In a house made from tree leaves
Aye-aye Aye-aye
With round eyes
Aye-aye Aye-aye
It’s a monkey

“Ai Ai” is a simple nursery rhyme that introduces a monkey that lives on a southern tropical island. The monkey in question is a type of lemur called “Aye-aye” that is native to Madagascar. Although portrayed as an adorable creature in this nursery rhyme, in its native country, it is actually considered an unlucky or demonic creature! 

5. Donguri Koro Koro どんぐりころころ (Rolling Acorn)

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
どんぐりころころ ドンブリコ
お池にはまって さあ大変
どじょうが出て来て こんにちは
坊ちゃん一緒に 遊びましょう
どんぐりころころ よろこんで
しばらく一緒に 遊んだが
やっぱりお山が 恋しいと
泣いてはどじょうを 困らせた
donguri korokoro, donburiko
oike ni hamatte, sā taihen
dojō ga dete kite, konnichi wa
botchan, issho ni asobimashō
donguri korokoro, yorokonde
shibaraku issho ni asonda ga
yappari oyama ga koishi to
naite wa dojō o komaraseta
Acorn is rolling, “splash!” he goes
Fallen Into the pond, oh no
Loach comes swimming, “Hello,
Young master acorn, let’s play together..”
Acorn is rolling, and having fun
Playing together for a little while is fun but
So sad, still wanting to go home to the mountain
Crying, loach becomes troubled

”Donguri koro koro”, or “Rolling Acorn”, is a popular autumn nursery rhyme in Japan. It was written by Aoki Nagayoshi (青木存義) based on his own personal experience. This nursery rhyme is very well known having been published in 1947 in elementary school textbooks. Written during the Taisho period, at that time it was common for children to leave their parents for work. The song reflects the fear and anxiety of children that have no choice but to leave the comfort of their homes, but the loach, which represents relationships they make on the way, is a source of comfort. The song has no end, leaving listeners to make up a happy or sad ending themselves.

6. Usagi no Dansu ウサギのダンス (Rabbit’s Dance)

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
どんぐりころころ ドンブリコ
お池にはまって さあ大変ソソラ ソラ ソラ うさぎのダンス
タラッタ ラッタ ラッタ ラッタ ラッタ ラッタラ
足でけりけり ピョッコピョッコ 踊る
耳にはち巻 ラッタ ラッタ ラッタラ
ソソラ ソラ ソラ 可愛いダンス
タラッタ ラッタ ラッタ ラッタ ラッタ ラッタラ
とんではねはね ピョッコ ピョッコ 踊る
足に赤ぐつ ラッタ ラッタ ラッタラ
sosora sora sora, usagi no dansu
taratta ratta ratta ratta ratta rattara
ashi de keri keri, pyokko pyokko odoru
mimi ni hachimaki, ratta ratta ratta ra
sosora sora sora, kawaii dansu
taratta ratta ratta ratta ratta rattara
tonde hane hane, pyokko pyokko odoru
ashi ni akagutsu, ratta ratta rattara
Sosora sora sora, the rabbit’s dance
Taratta ratta ratta ratta ratta rattara
Legs a-kicking, pyokko pyokko [it] dances
Headband around its ears, ratta ratta ratta ra
Sosora sora sora, a cute dance
Taratta ratta ratta ratta ratta rattara
Hop jump jump, pyokko pyokko [it] dances
Red shoes on its feet, ratta ratta rattara

Not rabbits dancing, this nursery rhyme is actually about young children dancing as lively as rabbits. Also the Taisho period, it was a time of Western influence. “Headband around its ears” actually refers to “headband around the children’s heads” and “red shoes on its feet” refers to “red shoes on the children’s feets” as part of their dance costume. It is a lively lovely song to dance along to with lots of onomatopoeia; “pyokko pyokko” means “hopping” used frequently to describe the movement of frogs and rabbits.  

7. Teru Teru Bouzu てるてる坊主 

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
てる てるぼうず てるぼうず
明日天気に しておくれ
いつかの夢の 空ように 
晴れたら 金の鈴あげよ
てる てるぼうず てるぼうず
明日天気に しておくれ
私の願いを 聞いたなら
甘いお酒を たんと飲ましょ
てる てるぼうず てるぼうず
明日天気に しておくれ
それでも曇って 泣いたなら
そなたの首を チョンと切るぞ
teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
ashita tenki ni shite okure
itsuka no yume no sora no yō ni
haretara kin no suzu ageyo
teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
ashita tenki ni shite okure
watashi no negai wo kiita nara
amai o-sake wo tonto nomasho
teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
ashita tenki ni shite okure
sorede mo kumotte naita nara
sonata no kubi wo chon to kiru zo
Teru teru bouzu, teru bouzu
Make tomorrow a sunny day
Like the sky I saw in a dream
If it’s sunny, I will give you a golden bell
Teru teru bouzu, teru bouzu
Make tomorrow a sunny day
If my wish comes true
I’ll serve you lots of sweet rice wine
Teru teru bouzu, teru bouzu
Make tomorrow a sunny day
If the sky is cloudy and crying
Then I’ll cut your head off with a snip

The “Teru Teru Bouzu” nursery rhyme is the Japanese equivalent of “Rain Rain Go Away”. Teru Teru Bouzu is a simple handmade rain charm made from white paper or cloth and string. It is hung at the window to pray for a sunny day tomorrow. In this nursery rhyme, what started out as a hopeful prayer for good weather tomorrow, ended scarily as a death threat. It is a popular rain nursery rhyme in Japan and nobody really pays attention to the lyrics to notice how horrifying it actually is. 

8. Kotori no Uta 小鳥の歌 (Little Bird’s Song)

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
小鳥は とっても 歌が好き
母さん 呼ぶのも 歌で呼ぶ
ぴぴぴぴぴ ちちちちち
ぴちくりぴい
小鳥は とっても 歌が好き
父さん 呼ぶのも 歌で呼ぶ
ぴぴぴぴぴ ちちちちち
ぴちくりぴい
kotori wa tottemo uta ga suki
kaasan yobu nomo uta de yobu
pipipipipi chichichichichi
pichikuripii
kotori wa tottemo uta ga suki
tousan yobu nomo uta de yobu
pipipipipi chichichichichi
pichikuripii
Teru teru bouzu, teru bouzu
Make tomorrow a sunny day
Like the sky I saw in a dream
If it’s sunny, I will give you a golden bell
Teru teru bouzu, teru bouzu
Make tomorrow a sunny day
If my wish comes true
I’ll sThe little bird really loves to sing
Calling his mother, he also sings
Pipipipipi Chichichichichi
Pichikuripii
The little bird really loves to sing
Calling his father, he also sings
Pipipipipi Chichichichichi
Pichikuripii

The meaning behind the song is… just as its lyrics say. An honest and straightforward nursery rhyme, sing it cheerfully and chirpily just like the little bird. 

9. Biwa びわ (Loquat)

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
びわはやさしい 木の実だから
だっこしあって うれている
うすい虹ある ろばさんの
お耳みたいな 葉のかげに
びわは静かな 木の実だから
お日にぬるんで うれている
ママといただく やぎさんの
お乳よりかも まだあまく
biwa wa yasashī kinomi dakara
dakko shi atte urete iru
usui niji aru roba-san no
omimi mitaina ha no kage ni
biwa wa shizukana kinomi dakara
ohi ni nurunde urete iru
mama to itadaku yagisan no
ochichi yori kamo mada amaku
Loquat is a gentle tree fruit, that’s why
They are happy to be held
A faint rainbow can be seen
In the shadow of its donkey’s ears like leaves
Loquat is a quite tree fruit, that’s why
They are happy to be bathed in sunlight
Eating them with my mom
Sweeter than goat’s milk maybe

Loquat fruits are called “biwa (枇杷)” in Japanese, and this nursery rhyme is about them. In Japan, loquats are in season from March to July, and are mainly produced in Nagasaki and Chiba prefectures. Biwa and Kotori no Uta (above) are nursery rhymes used in Japan’s 2022 Nursery Teacher Qualification Exam.

10. Chouchou ちょうちょう (Butterfly) 

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
ちょうちょう ちょうちょう 
菜の葉にとまれ
菜の葉にあいたら 桜にとまれ
桜の花の 花から花へ
とまれよ遊べ 遊べよとまれ
chouchou chouchou 
na no ha ni tomare
na no ha ni aitara sakura ni tomare
sakura no hana no hana kara hana he
tomare yo asobe, asobe yo tomare
Butterfly, butterfly
Stop on a leaf
If you get bored with the leaves, then stop on the cherry blossoms
From one cherry blossom flower to another
Stop and play, play and stop

A nursery rhyme for spring, “Butterfly” is sung to an old German tune called “Hänschen klein”. The lyrics depict a peaceful, beautiful spring with butterflies, green leaves and cherry blossoms, the symbol of spring in Japan.

11. Oni no Pantsu おにのパンツ (The Ogre’s Pants)

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
鬼のパンツは いいパンツ
つよいぞ つよいぞ
トラの毛皮で できている
つよいぞ つよいぞ
5年はいても やぶれない
つよいぞ つよいぞ
10年はいても やぶれない
つよいぞ つよいぞ
はこう はこう 鬼のパンツ
はこう はこう 鬼のパンツ
あなたも あなたも あなたも あなたも
みんなではこう 鬼のパンツ
oni no pantsu wa ii pantsu
tsuyoi zo, tsuyoi zo
tora no kegawa de dekiteiru
tsuyoi zo, tsuyoi zo
go-nen haite mo yaburenai
tsuyoi zo, tsuyoi zo
ju-nen haitemo yaburenai
tsuyoi zo, tsuyoi zo
hakou, hakou, oni no pantsu
hakou, hakou, oni no pantsu
anata mo, anata mo, anata mo anata mo
minna de hakou oni no pantsu
The ogre’s pants are good pants
They’re strong, they’re strong
Made from a tiger’s pelt
They’re strong, they’re strong
Wear them for 5 years still they don’t tear
They’re strong, they’re strong
Wear them for 10 years still they don’t tear
They’re strong, they’re strong
Let’s wear, let’s wear, ogre’s pants
Let’s wear, let’s wear, ogre’s pants
You, you, you, and you
Let’s all wear ogre’s pants

The same tune as Neapolitan folk song “Funiculì funiculà” but with different lyrics. “Oni no Pantsu” is a favourite Japanese nursery rhyme that is always sung in kindergartens and nursery schools in Japan on Setsubun (節分) – a traditional celebration involving throwing soybeans to repel Oni. It is an energetic song with accompanying fun gestures. 

12. Amefuri Otsuki 雨降りお月 (Rainfall Moon)

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
雨降りお月さん 雲の蔭
お嫁にゆくときゃ 誰とゆく
ひとりで傘(からかさ) さしてゆく
傘(からかさ)ないときゃ 誰とゆく
シャラシャラ シャンシャン 鈴付けた
お馬にゆられて 濡れてゆく
いそがにゃお馬よ 夜が明けよ
手綱(たづな)の下から ちょいと見たりゃ
お袖でお顔を 隠してる
お袖は濡れても 干しゃ乾く
雨降りお月さん 雲の蔭
お馬にゆられて 濡れてゆく
amefuri otsukisan, kumo no kage
oyome ni yuku tokya, dare to yuku
hitori de karakasa, sashite yuku
karakasa nai tokya, dare to yuku
shara shara shan shan, suzu tsuketa
ouma ni yurarete, nurete yuku
isoganya ouma yo, yoru ga akeyou
tazuna no shita kara, choi to mitarya
osode de okao wo, kakushiteru
osode wa nuretemo, hosha kawaku
amefuri otsukisan, kumo no kage
ouma ni yurarete, nurete yuku
Rainfall moon, hidden behind clouds
When I am a bride, who shall I go with?
Alone holding a paper umbrella
If I don’t have a paper umbrella, who shall I go with?
Shala, shala, shan, shan, goes the attached bell
Jostled on the horse’s back, I go drenched 
Oh, please hurry horse, the night is ending
From underneath the reins, you look back
I hide my face with my sleeve
Even if my sleeve gets wet with my tears, it will dry
Rainfall moon, hidden behind clouds
Jostled on the horse’s back, I go drenched

“Amefuri Otsuki” is a nursery rhyme first released in 1925 during the Taisho period. It is quite similar to another nursery rhyme called “Kodomo no Kuni” by the same lyricist and songwriter duo. There are 2 theories about the rhyme’s plot. 

The first is that it is a song that reflects an old custom in Tochigi prefecture where brides ride on horseback to the groom’s village where the groom and his family are waiting to welcome her. And, it is about the lyricist’s own personal experience of having his bride travelling in the rain to be wed, and his feelings of wanting to care for her after a difficult journey.

The second theory is that it is about a deceased woman and the horse’s bells represent the prayers during a memorial service. It also explains why the woman is crying whilst hiding her face with her sleeve, or perhaps her face cannot be seen.

Conclusion

These are just 12 of many beautiful, wonderful, and sometimes mysterious nursery rhymes there are in Japan. The short and easy Japanese verses and simple melodies make them easy to learn and memorize. Knowing some Japanese nursery rhymes also makes for a good conversation topic with other Japanese learners or even local Japanese who will be happily surprised by your hidden talent and knowledge!

If you’re interested in having your children learn Japanese, Coto Academy offers Japanese courses for kids in Tokyo and Yokohama. With passion and expertise, we deliver students a learning experience that is highly effective, engaging, yet fun. Learn more here!

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