It may safely be said that nursery rhymes, which in the United States are commonly called “Mother Goose songs,” have penetrated extensively into the daily and cultural life of the people of the English-speaking countries and have become almost an indispensable part of their life.
Nursery rhymes are as often quoted in English literary works as the Bible and Shakespeare’s works — especially in juvenile literature and sometimes also in mystery stories. Lewis Carroll and Agatha Christie effectively quoted nursery rhymes on various occasions.
It is uncertain when nursery rhymes were first introduced into Japan. They were introduced into this country as quietly as they have been handed down from generation to generation in the English-speaking countries.
According to my research, several illustrated books entitled “Mother Goose，” including The Real Mother Goose， were first introduced into this country as Christmas gifts， as indicated in the December 1918 issue of the GAKUTO， a Maruzen publication. As far as the Maruzen Bookshop is concerned， “Mother Goose” books were imported here for the first time in late 1918.
Mr Keiichi Hirano infers in his Mother Goose No Uta (1972) that the oldest Japanese translation of nursery rhymes was done by Hakushu Kitahara in the January 1920 issue of the Akai Tori. Mrs. Ann Herring, however, insists that five rhymes had been translated earlier by Yumeji Takehisa in the Utai Dokei (Chime Clock) in 1919. I discovered translations of additional two rhymes in this book.
The first work in this country on nursery rhymes was published by Hakushu Kitahara in 1921, with 130 rhymes translated into Japanese. His Mother Goose should be highly valued although it does contain several mistranslations.
The Sekai Doyo Shu (Anthology of Children’s Songs in the World) done by Yaso Saijo and Masaru Mizutani in 1924 includes 116 nursery rhymes. Meanwhile, Michitomo Matsubara translated 248 rhymes in his Mother Goose Kodomo No Uta (Mother Goose Songs for Children) in 1925.
Since then various translations of nursery rhymes have been published here, and they have won general popularity.
Incidentally, in many respects Japanese nursery songs are similar to English nursery rhymes. For instance, children talk to crows, snails and other animals. This might show that children’s mentality is the same all over the world.