China Night

By GySgt R. R. Keene

Originally published in the November 1979 Leatherneck

"Shina no yoru, shina no yoruyo..."-words to the Japanese song, "China Night."

There is no way to march to "China Night," an old Asian love song about China nights.

Although there may be several different versions of the love song about China nights, Marines who have served in the Far East will never forget its haunting melody.

The tune however, conjures up images of combat-laden Marines route-stepping in long, dusty columns past tiered, tiled, tired-lookirig oriental-style roofs and houses. It draws mental pictures of Kanji character writing and of dark-haired people waving from the threshold of their straw-matted homes.

"China Night" is the unofficial regimental song of the Fourth and Ninth Marines, who have both seen service at one time or another in China and are considered to be the Corps' old 'Asian Hands.'

There was a time when the Fourth Marines in particular could not move in formation anywhere without the band striking up the song.

While the song still can be heard occasionally on Japanese radio as a 'golden oldie,' it has taken on special significance to Marines stationed on Okinawa. Most Far East veterans, if they are worth their salt, can at least hum a few stanzas. For them, "China Night" is a memory mechanism.

The sing-song melody and the sound of oriental gongs trigger recollections of duty abroad; vignettes of the mind forever remembered and passed on as sea stories over countless bars and beers.

"China Night" brings back memories of a sew girl from Henoko who Worked in one of the Camp Hangen barracks. She used to sing the song while her Singer sewing machine kept time by mending, tailoring and replacing stripes on Marine uniforms.

Stripped except for tongs, towel and tattoos, the Marines regularly made it part of their after-duty constitutional shower routine to check on their uniforms, ask the girl for a date and hear her sing "China Night."

It was amazing how fast and professionally the sew girl could turn out a uniform, turn down a date and turn to singing "China Night."

This was back before stereo speakers took up more than a cubicle, even before there were cubicles, and back when Okinawa had two English language radio stations. One was the Armed Forces Radio Service and the other was civilian owned. Both stations played "China Night."

Afternoons in the open squadbay barracks were a pleasant time to hear such a tune. The smell of freshly ironed clothes mixed with the aroma of buffed, waxed floors, the scent of shoe polish, and linseed oiled rifle stocks.

Those who whistled "China Night" did it through an air of anticipation. There was a rumor of war looming further south in the Indochina country of Vietnam. More tangible was the anticipation of liberty call being sounded with the noise of metal wall lockers being opened and showers washing off Okinawa's red mud.

On liberty, a Marine with a few extra dollars usually made it a point, before his money was spent, to buy and send home one of those lacquered musical jewelry boxes. They were the kind that were decorated with mother of pearl inlaid scenes of the Far East and played "China' Night."

More recently, the song could be heard over the Camp Hansen loud-speaker after the National Anthem, the Japanese Anthem and The Marines' Hymn. It was somewhat of a camp joke to catch the newly arrived Marine standing at unsure attention as the song was played, and it gave shooters at the range something to listen to between rounds.

But, what does it all mean? It took one Marine more than a decade to find out for certain.

Legend has it that the song was written for a Marine in China about his Chinese girl friend. According to the sew girl, who, after turning down another request for a date, said: "That nice story, but no true. Really 'bout Japanese soldier in China, sing 'bout love for Chinese girl."

As it turned out, she wasn't far wrong. The music was written by Shinko Takeoka and Hamako Watanbe sang the first version. The words were written by Yaso Saijo in 1939 (it is uncertain if Saijo was ever a soldier or ever in China, but the sew girl would probably like to think he was). The Marines learned the words in Japanese.

Until recently, the Marine researching the song didn't have any idea of what he was singing, but he always got the admiration of a number of bar girls and even a few drinks on the house.

When the Marine finally found out the literal translation, he liked the song even more. To him, it's for the lonely one, far from home.



Apparently the sew girl didn't turn down everybody's offer for a date. She eventually married a Marine, from another barracks, gave up sewing uniforms, except his, and singing, except to his kids-who probably don't know the meaning of "China Night" either!