Why Is There Music At Japanese Train Stations?

There’s nothing that calms me down more than being at a Japanese train station. Why? Because there are music and other sounds everywhere. There is music when a train arrives, there is music when a train leaves and there are also birds chirping. It basically feels like being in an orchestra. In Switzerland there is neither music nor an announcement when a train arrives. The only time when you might hear an announcement is when your train gets cancelled. So I wanted to find out: why is there music at Japanese train stations?

Music When A Train Is Arriving

The music that plays when a train is approaching the station

The first time I went to a Japanese train station it felt like being inside a disney movie. When the train was approaching the station suddenly a nice jingle started playing. After that a voice of a Japanese women made clear that you should now step back because of the approaching train. In Switzerland there’s neither music nor an announcement. So obviously came up the question: “Why is there music at Japanese train stations? “

In Japan you don’t say things directly. You have to say things in a kind way. Especially complaints, your own opinion and things that could inconvenience somebody should be said rather indirectly (read why). That’s why on all prohibiton signs there’s always some cute character. And for the same reason does the music at Japanese train stations exist. It kindly makes you aware that you should now step back because a train will be arriving.

Either that or Japanese people just love music.

Why Are There Birds Chirping At Japanese Train Stations?

Whenever I go to a Japanese train station, I feel connected to nature. Because I’m breathing fresh air, I’m outside feeling the sun and there are birds chirping. But actually nothing of that, except for the part of being outside, is true. The air isn’t really fresh and the birds aren’t real either. The chirping sounds come from speakers placed at the station exits.

At first I thought these bird sounds where there to calm down tired salary man rushing home from work. But that’s not actually the real reason.

The chirping bird sounds at Japanese train stations are there to guide blind people. Just like the yellow tactile paving you see everywhere, they help blind people to navigate. The speakers are located at the exits, so it’s easier for visually impared people to locate them. That’s why you can hear bird sounds at Japanese train stations.

Why Is There Music When A Train Is Departing?

There isn’t only music at Japanese train stations when a train is arriving though. There’s also music playing when a train is departing. And on some lines this music will also differ from station to station. So once again came up the question: Why is there music at Japanese train stations?

The departure jingle is there to make you kindly aware of the fact that the train doors will now be closing. And I find that quite convenient. In Switzerland I often ran to try to catch a train. But hardly ever did I actually catch the train. In Japan I don’t have that problem. I always know if I should run or not. When I hear the music playing I know that running is unnecessary. That said I’ll still try, despite hearing the music playing. But at least there’s a cute jingle to calm me down when I didn’t catch my train.

Btw. the melody once reminded me to get off at my station. Weren’t it for the cute melodies they have at Japanese train stations I would have missed my stop.

Why Does The Music Differ From Station To Station?

Before doing some research I had now idea for why there’s a different jingle at every station. But maybe the people of Osaka know better. So I went to ask them, listened to all jingles myself and also did some research. But first I’ll introduce the real reason for why the music differes from station to station.

JR West wants improve the Osaka loop line and its surrounding areas. So they introduced the Osaka loop line renewal project. In order to improve customer satisfaction JR West (West Japan Railway Company) tries to make their stations and trains cleaner and better. But they also want their customers and Osaka citizens to feel connected to the Osaka loop line and its surrounding areas.

That’s why they introduced different jingles for every train station. For example near Tsuruhashi station you find many yakiniku restaurants (like BBQ). So the corresponding jingle comes from a song called yo-deru tabehodai (yodel all you can eat). Or at the Osaka station the train jingle is a famous song called yappa sukiyanen (after all I love you) from a famous singer born in Osaka. Or the jingle of a station called Tenma refers to a yearly firework festival at a near shrine.

If you want to read more about the stories behind the jingles of the Osaka loop line, you can do that here.

Important: Not every train station in Japan has its own jingle. Only a few lines have a different jingle for every station. The other ones all have the same one.

What Do Japanese People Think About The Music At Train Stations?

I didn’t know why the jingles at Japanese train stations existed. But I’m also not a real Osaka citizen. But I am trying to be one (read more). So I went to ask the people of Osaka why there is music at Japanese train stations. And also why there’s a different jingle for each one.

Most people had no idea why the jingles existed, but they all like them. Many people guessed that the jingle might make it easier to know at which station you are. But when I asked if they actually use the jingle as a guide to where they are, only two people answered with yes. Another answer I got a lot was that if you compine all they jingles, you get a complete song. You could argue that but it wouldn’t be a nice song.

I also went to the towns surrounding the stations. And there, suddenly most people knew why the jingles existed. Furthermore most people also knew the meaning of their train jingle. That’s also how I got to know that the firework festival near Tenma station is hold at a local shrine. Most people were very fond of their station and happily told me a lot about it.

And almost everybody in Osaka knows the song of Osaka station. It’s a song called yappa sukiyanen by Yashiki Takajin a now dead singer who was born in Osaka.

Personal Thoughts About The Music At Japanese Train Stations

I really enjoyed writing this article. When I first thought about the topic “Why is there music at Japanese train stations?” I wasn’t sure if it would be that interesting. But when I looked up the topic, talked with many different people and also went to some of the Osaka loop line stations, I realised that it’s more than just a jingle.

Another reason for why I liked making this post is that I am very interested in town planning and what makes a city a city. It’s the people and their stories that make a city special. That’s what I got to know this week. And I now like the jingles even more.

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One Response

  1. I really like the train jingles here in Japan and I find that in Zurich every tram station could have its own little melody.
    But maybe the residents of houses nearby will complain about the noise…

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