A Singing Bird

Pretend you have a bird in front of you. You really need this bird to sing for a bet you recently made with every friend you have. However, this darn bird won’t make a peep. Not one. What would you do?

There is a famous poem every school child in Japan learns. It goes like this:




nakanu nara koroshite shimae hototogisu

nakanu nara nakashite miseyou hototogisu

nakanu nara naku made matte miyou hototogisu


Before getting in to the English translation let’s set the stage.

The three most powerful men in Japan gather together and begin talking.  During the course of their conversation a topic comes up. What if they were faced with a bird who wouldn’t sing? How would they handle the situation? What tactic would they use to ensure the bird began to sing? As the three talk, it becomes very clear that each has their own very unique way of handling the situation, none necessarily any less effective than the other. After all, they didn’t become the three most powerful men in Japan by chance.

The first man to speak up looks like he’s lived a life time of fighting and war. He speaks with authority, yet not all-together uncultured. It is immediately apparent he is a natural leader. He steps forward and declares the following:


If the cuckoo doesn’t sing, kill it!


The second man to speak up has a glint of crazy in his eye. He’s a little shifty but still commands respect. He seems like the kind of man you wouldn’t want to wrong as he might spend the rest of his days seeking revenge. His dialect gives away his humble origins as he says the following:


If the cuckoo doesn’t sing, coax it.


The third man, who has been watching all this unfold without betraying any thoughts he might have, slowly stands up. He’s obviously in no rush. He slowly contemplates his speech, forming the words in his brain so he makes no mistakes. He appears to have paid little head to the other two’s speeches, instead focusing all his thoughts on his own words, making them perfect.  Slowly, he announces the following:


If the cuckoo doesn’t sing, wait until it does.


If you haven’t yet figured it out (or heard this all before), the three men in question here are as follows:

Oda Nobunaga

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Tokugawa Ieyasu

These three men were the three most powerful men in Japan, ruling in succession. They also happen to be perhaps the three most famous men in Japanese history to anyone not raised in Japan.

The poem provides a brief glimpse into each personality. Nobunaga, the warrior, had a reputation as a violent man who preferred to use force to achieve his objectives. Hideyoshi, more of a tactician, preferred to use clever planning and maneuvering to achieve his objective. Tokugawa was patient. His best gift was his ability to wait out all the trouble and then emerge unscathed and in charge.


So, what would you do with this bird? Which path would you take? Or would you make your own path?

It’s a nice little poem, don’t you think?


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