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Sakura – Traditional Japanese Song on Koto

The day I finally discovered what “that song” was, I celebrated. It had haunted me for literal decades. More people have heard the song Sakura Sakura than anyone realizes.

Take a quick listen as you continue reading. You’ll be like “oh yeah, I’ve heard this before.” I’ll show you where you probably know it from as well…

About The Sakura Song

Take a listen to the song below as you read through the rest of this article:

Sakura the song is a celebration of the beauty of what the Japanese word means in English, which is Cherry Blossoms. For the uninitiated, cherry blossoms are the gorgeous leaves of the Japanese tree in bloom. Let me show you:

cherry blossoms

They are incredibly beautiful and it’s no surprise that a culture based on the calm and collected psychologies of Shinto and Zen would notice, write a song about it, and continue to honor that song for centuries on a traditional instrument such as the Koto. The koto is a classical Japanese stringed instrument akin to a lap steel guitar.


Just for the sake of saying it, the Japanese also have a stringed instrument more like an acoustic guitar called the shamisen.

Sakura was written during the Edo period of Japan, roughly around 1600 to 1850 when the Tokugawa shogunate ruled the land. This folk song was just your typical urban melody until the Tokyo Academy of Music used it as a beginner’s song in their 1888 Collection of Japanese Koto Music for koto students.

Sakura Lyrics

This song actually has one original verse and a second verse added in 1941 by the Japanese Ministry of Education. The original lyrics in Japanese are:

sakura sakura
yayoi no sora wa
mi watasu kagiri
kasumi ka kumo ka
nioi zo izuru
izaya izaya
mini yukan

Which translates into English as:

Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
Across the spring sky,
As far as the eye can see.
Is it mist, or clouds?
Fragrant in the air.
Come now, come now,
Let’s go and see them!

The lyrics are simple and descriptive with tons of imagery that evoke all of the senses. We just don’t do it like we used to.

Where You’ve Heard Sakura Before

Now as you listen to Sakura on koto above, imagine hearing it as a faster version, with a more MIDI synthesizer type of sound… like something you’d hear out of a 1980’s NES video game.

Now imagine you’re this little white dude with bright green boxing gloves about to face the Minor Circuit champion straight out of Tokyo so you can win your first belt…

That’s right! Sakura is the entrance theme for the first real boss, Piston Honda, on the original Punch Out on NES! Listen closely…

If you’re my age, about 30 years old, and a male, and fortunate enough to have owned a Nintendo, then this is what burnt the melody of Sakura into your brain for forever. You learned to hate it as Piston Honda treated you like Glass Joe round after round until you figured out his patterns.

I fear, unless someone includes this song as the entrance theme for some fighter in an MMA video game, kids will never learn about the beauty of the cherry blossom. I’ve done my part. Help me share the good word. Or listen to eight more classic video game songs.