Photo/IllutrationEiko Kawasaki, right, speaks on Aug. 20 after filing a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court against the North Korean government. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

There are tunes that appease people’s feelings when they sing them to themselves in times of hardship.

For 76-year-old Eiko Kawasaki, it was “Echigo-Jishi no Uta” (Song of an Echigo lion), a 1951 hit by Hibari Misora (1937-1989), known as the “queen” of ballads.

“Wherever you are, you always find/ A shower of rain of human kindness on your sleeves,” part of the lyrics says.

The “shower of rain” refers to teardrops that fall on sleeves. The tune is about the sad feelings of an infant in an itinerant lion dance troupe on the road far from home.

Kawasaki was born to Korean parents in Kyoto during World War II.

When she was in high school, she joined a repatriation program to North Korea by herself with a dream of helping to build her “homeland.” But North Korea, which was being touted as a “paradise on Earth,” turned out to be an extremely poor nation under a reign of terror, where one could not speak out freely.

One of her few fun moments was when she met up with trustworthy friends at home in private and sang Japanese songs, which were so dear to her. Misora’s repertoire was Kawasaki’s forte.

Of course, Kawasaki and her friends could not have escaped punishment if the authorities were to learn about what they were doing. So they shut all the windows and curtains to make sure that nobody could tell from the outside when they sang in secrecy.

“But that was really fun,” Kawasaki said. “Someone even danced with a tray put on the head in the shape of a hat.”

Kawasaki later defected from North Korea and returned to Japan in 2004. In late August, she took the unusual step of filing a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court against the government of North Korea, which she said “forced her to live an appalling life.”

North Korea celebrated the 70th anniversary of its national foundation on Sept. 9, with a military parade staged in Pyongyang.

I wonder if a singing voice, low and sorrowful, could be heard somewhere in the country behind the pompous roar of jackboots. I prick up my imaginary ears softly, giving thought to the feelings of ordinary citizens over there.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 9

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.