The Deserts of the Moon

...the Deserts of the Moon, or the Deserts of the Blog-Tick Phenomenon? Yeah, we know we've been delinquent on posting more translations, and we've been so bad at blogging for so long now that apologizing feels pointless (sorry anyway, though). Unfortunately our health is still fragile (though getting better!) But no, we do not and have not had "The 'Rona," though thanks for your concern. We hope y'all are managing to stay well, physically and mentally, during these trying times (if the virus doesn't kill you, the loneliness and boredom will, eh?)

Anyhow, enough blubbering! We are pleased to announce that the kanji, romaji, and translations for "Tsuki no Sabaku" and "Maimu Maimu" are now up over on This is NOT Greatest Site, along with copious notes. This, friends, is, as we said before, one of the big reasons why it's taking us so long to translate the new album this time around. There's a LOT to unpack. Shirts, trousers, satin knickers, lace stockings, and garters galore... plus layers upon layers of veiled references and allusions. We wanted to let it all sink in and process before we attempted to translate it, because we wanted to do justice to the depth and complexity of the songs, and we didn't want to miss anything. We probably did miss things anyway, and we'll have to go back and add them later, but that's always how it goes. 

It's been a question for us this time, whether to write separate anaylsis articles for each song, save one big analysis article for the end, or include extra analysis in the notes for each song, since based on the feedback we get from readers, it seems many of y'all have a little trouble figuring out what Buck-Tick's lyrics mean, even in translation, and would appreciate a little guided analysis. The reason we didn't include more analysis in our translation notes prior to this album was because we wanted to let y'all interpret them for yourselves, without pushing our interpretation on you. Sakurai has stated again and again in interviews over the years that he doesn't want to explain his lyrics in too much detail, because he'd rather that listeners find their own meaning... but that was also our view of art even before we got into Buck-Tick. 

There's a tendency for critics to argue about what the "correct" interpretation of a work is, but in our view, that's silly. Every work of art is a kind of dialogue between the artist and the audience. When the audience experiences the work, they add to it, with their emotional responses and individual interpretations that perhaps the artist himself never considered. In our view, that's what art is. It's malleable. It's cumulative. It gains meaning over time, and the meaning changes over time. You can't put it in a glass case and label it with a specimen tag of absolute truth, nor should you try - at least, that's our opinion. So we kept most of our analysis out of our translation notes, in order to give you the raw facts and let you decide what to do with them.

However, so many of you have written to us over the years saying that you can't make heads or tails of most of the songs, and requesting more analysis. And it's true that in our own experience, some astute critical analysis by someone deeply familiar with the artist and the work can be extremely helpful in unlocking your own personal interpretation of the work - especially one as dense as Abracadabra. So this time, we've changed our style and added a lot more in the way of critical analysis to our translation notes. We also hope to write a more in-depth article on the whole album... and that Six/Nine article y'all requested back before we got sick... so sorry to keep you waiting, we haven't forgotten (in fact, we've been thinking about what to write for several years). We hope you enjoy this new, more in-depth commentary, and please do feel free to share your thoughts on the songs in the comments, if you feel so moved.

In some cases, though, extra background info on the songs just isn't appropriate for translation notes, and "Tsuki no Sabaku" is one of those cases.

The original "Tsuki no Sabaku," translated as "Moon Desert," is a work by Japanese poet and artist Katou Masawo. Katoh Masawo was just the sort of gender-role-bending multi-talented artist the Buck-Tick members seem to be drawn to - born in 1897, his claim to fame was poetry and illustrations for children, especially girls, among whom he had an ardent fan following. It's hard to find much information about him, but according to Japanese Wikipedia, he often interacted with his fans (presumably through correspondence, since it was the 1920's), and he was well-versed in all the things the kids were doing in those days - clothes, hair, and so forth - and they loved him all the more for it. Reportedly he also played violin and cultivated roses. One wonders whether if he'd been born in a later era, he'd have worn red lipstick and garters, too.

Katou Masawo, tuning a violin

Looking at Katou's illustrations, it's easy to see why he was such a hit with young girls. His adorable flower fairies and lyrical images of young women daydreaming, reading, or playing music call to mind a gentler, more watercolored version of Brian Froud mixed with John William Waterhouse - he captures both the dreamy enchantment and the sadness of being a girl with a purity and sensitivity devoid of objectification or gimmicks. Like Sakurai, it seems that he wished he could live in a more beautiful world.

"Heart of the Flower"


"Flower Fairy"


"Letter - Spring Night's Dream"


"Feelings 2" (this is probably Orpheus)


"Moon and Girl"


”In the Shade"


"Night Melodies"


The poem "Tsuki no Sabaku," which became his most famous work, was first published in the March 1923 issue of the girls' magazine Shojo Club, accompanied by an illustration, which Katou also drew. 

"Tsuki no Sabaku" illustration on the poster for a Katou Masawo exhibit

"Tsuki no Sabaku" commemorative postage stamp

Katou Masawo's "Tsuki no Sabaku"
(translated from Japanese by Cayce)

Across the Desert of the Moon, far, far away
Traveling camels journeyed on
Bearing saddles of gold and silver
Two in a line, they journeyed on

In the saddle of gold, a urn of silver
In the saddle of silver, a urn of gold
The two urns each
Bound up in twine

In the first saddle sat a prince
In the second saddle sat a princess
The pair of them together
Dressed up in white robes

Across the wide desert, in single file
The two of them went - where will they go?
Through the misty haze of the moonlit night
The pair of camels trudge along

Across the sand dunes, they journeyed
Silently crossing, they journeyed on

Young composer Sasaki Suguru then set the poem to music. The song version of "Tsuki no Sabaku" was used by Sasaki in his music lessons for children, and the sheet music was released as part of his Bluebird Songbook for children's musical education. The song became popular enough that it was aired on the radio in 1927, then released as a record featuring singer Matsushima Utako (credited on that release as Yanagii Harumi) on vocals. Since then, the song has become a standard, and many other artists have recorded it over the years.

"Tsuki no Sabaku" original Yanagii Harumi recording


"Tsuki no Sabaku," Baishou Chieko version


Katou said that his song was inspired by his fantasy of a prince and princess traveling through an Arabian desert with gold and silver treasures. Wikipedia points out that he got a number of technical details wrong, since he was relying purely on his own imagination, having never visited a real desert.

Katou's "Tsuki no Sabaku" became so famous that a museum, the Moon Desert Museum, was erected in its honor next to Onjuku Beach in Chiba prefecture, where Katou spent summers recovering from tuberculosis. Katou mentioned later in his life that the sand dunes of Onjuku were part of his inspiration to write "Tsuki no Sabaku." The Moon Desert Museum at Onjuku is surrounded by a park featuring statues of the prince and princess on their camels walking across the beach as if it were a desert, as pictured in Katou's illustration. The museum itself features vaguely Middle Eastern architecture and whimsical art installations of traditional fabric handicrafts.

Moon Desert Museum camel statues

Moon Desert Museum camel statues with crescent moon monument

Moon Desert Museum camel statues with the museum building in the background

Daytime view of the Moon Desert Museum

Moon Desert Museum installation exhibits (cute, eh?)

Sakurai stated in Rock & Read 91 that his inspiration for Buck-Tick's "Tsuki no Sabaku" came when he heard a kerosene vendor truck playing "Tsuki no Sabaku" as it drove by. Kerosene vendor trucks playing tunes advertising their wares are commonly seen in the winter in Japan, because many Japanese homes lack central heating, and people often rely on kerosene heaters for warmth in the winter. Usually the songs played by these trucks are advertising jingles. Sakurai said that hearing "Tsuki no Sabaku" as a choice of song made him think "This town is beyond surreal," and continued, "If I ever run into it again, I'll go ask them why [they chose that song]." 

Sakurai borrowed a number of phrases from the original "Tsuki no Sabaku" for the lyrics to his own "Tsuki no Sabaku" - the opening phrase, "harubaru to yuku," and the image of the prince, princess, and camels. However, in Sakurai's version, the prince becomes a lonely, nameless king - clearly a stand-in for Sakurai himself, and the journey through the desert is transformed from lyrical fantasy to a not-so-subtle metaphor for the loneliness, difficulty, and uncertainty of existence - the search for meaning, or a destination, amid a life that feels like a lonely journey from nowhere to nowhere. The moonlight can also be seen as a metaphor, like the Moon card in the tarot - a journey into the subconscious and the shadowed parts of the soul, through one's own doubts, fears, and repressed or unprocessed emotions. The beautiful princess appears to be separated from the king, otherwise, why would the king be so lonely? Though draped in gold and silver, she's sunburned and weary, with a scorpion - yet another metaphor. Scorpio is the zodiac sign which represents digging under the surface into the dark depths, in search of the deepest, rawest emotions. It's the sign that deals with death, hidden desire, and possessive need. In modern astrology, Scorpio is ruled by the planet Pluto (still a planet you fucking pedants) - Pluto, king of the Underworld, god of death, secrets, and buried treasures.

And here we get to the thing Sakurai left unstated in his quip about the oil truck playing "Tsuki no Sabaku" - an oil truck playing a song about a Middle Eastern romance is driving around with some pretty heavy baggage other than oil. Oil - the Middle East's own Plutonic buried treasure. Oil - the main reason why places like California and Australia are drying up and burning into desert. When the silver and golden treasures become oil money, they don't seem quite so romantic anymore. Sakurai made a lot of remarks about watching the news and being angry about events and issues in the world as part of his inspiration for Abracadrabra ("Villain" tackles cyberbullying, "Urahara-juku" tackles sexual assault). He also mentioned spending most of the spring lockdown period revising and re-revising his lyrics. There's no way all these various levels of meaning aren't deliberately intentional. In fact, war and strife in the Middle East are a long-running theme of his - he's written a lot of anti-war songs over the years (see "Rakuen," "Muchi no Namida," "Revolver," and "Guernica no Yoru"), and while only "Rakuen" directly touches on the Middle East as a location of the war (through its use of an Arabian-style melody and verses from the Qu'ran), Buck-Tick have pulled out their repertoire of anti-war songs again and again to make comments on specific events related to that region of the world - the set list for Mona Lisa Overdrive Xanadu was partly a comment on the Iraq war, while the set list for Devil & Freud Climax Together was in part a memorial to the 9-11 bombings of the Twin Towers. 

Considered from this angle, "Tsuki no Sabaku" becomes not only a song about personal struggle against a sense of futility or meaninglessness, but also a pointed question to society - how long can we go on like this, desertifying our world for the sake of money? Even the camel reference develops a double meaning. In Japanese, the word for camel is "rakuda," but the phrase "raku da" means "it's easy," with the implication of convenience. In the parts of the world that run on oil and oil money, "convenience" has become one of the major excuses for not taking action on the environmental and economic problems that require urgent action. People haven't wanted to give up their cushy lifestyles or make an effort to make a change - but maybe things are finally changing now. 

It's just a coincidence that the moon is also a symbol of Islam, but it sure adds to the mood, when you think about how all the unrest in the Middle East and the havoc wreaked by ISIS led to the destruction of so many precious ancient treasures in a region that for many thousands of years was one of the main epicenters of human civilization. Sakurai's invoked ancient Babylon in a number of songs, mostly in the context of the Tower of Babel ("Lady Skeleton," "Babel") - which has now become a symbol of human hubris and the origin of "us vs. them" divisions among human groups, and the name Babylon itself has come to represent both unsustainable hedonism and moral corruption, and also (in the Rastafarian tradition), the white male capitalist patriarchy currently hard at work digging up the oil and destroying the planet (and, of course, a major instigator of all those Middle East wars, ISIS included).

It's also interesting that this is the only song in which Sakurai has explicitly noted that the heroine as having a brown skin tone. In every other song he's ever written about a woman that mentions her skin tone, she's pale. Maybe we're reading too much in, but we know he chooses every word for a reason and it seems to us like there might be a very slight hint in here to solidarity with the struggles of brown women. In any case, it's an interesting touch.

Whew! From flower fairies and children's songs to peak oil and ISIS, all in one article! That sure was a big trunk full of garters! Please feel free to respond with your own thoughts in the comments. If you enjoy these translations and articles, please also consider supporting us on Ko-fi. It really helps!

Disclaimer: All images used in this article were shamelessly stolen off the internet. We don't own any of them.