Recently more of the announcements being delivered to passengers on trains in the Tokyo area -- informing them of the next stop and giving data on transfers to other lines and so on -- are not recordings, but the actual voices of the driver or other staff.
J-Cast News (Feb 10) investigated the current situation and found, for example, that Tokyo Metro's subway trains had initially commenced recorded announcements in Japanese and English from Feb 12, but had also begun, during morning rush hours and during midday on weekdays, making live announcements not only in English but in Mandarin Chinese as well.
These announcements were not always made on every train, but the number has increased, and are spoken live by the driver.
The spokesperson who responded to J-Cast's query added that in addition to guidance of the destination and so on, staff were trained to notify foreign passengers of irregularities, such as schedule delays. The company added that in cases where times between two stations were short, recordings would be used instead of verbal announcements, but the aim was for their drivers to speak out "to the greatest degree possible."
The drivers are said to learn proper English that is incorporated into a part of their regular training regimen. They also to undergo pronunciation drills in foreign languages to enhance their linguistic ability. With Americans and other native speakers as instructors, they are trained to improve the level of their conversational English.
The spokesperson for Tokyo Metro added that along with dealing with the large number of inbound visitors at the time of this summer's Olympics, the introduction of the service is said to have other objectives, including reassuring passengers in the case of mishaps, preventing overcrowding and accidents and realizing basic safety.
While the company has not promoted the Chinese language as internal policy, the spokesperson explained, "There's a possibility that some individual staff will speak it out of their own volition." Staff are also believed to be working at acquiring other languages.
J-Cast News also queried the Keio Teito Electric Railway, which last year transported fans to Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu City for the Rugby World Cup, and the Seibu Railways, whose trains terminate in Ikebukuro, a district of Tokyo with a large Chinese population.
A spokesperson for Keio replied that the announcements in its trains are broadcast automatically, with basic announcements accessed from a hand-held tablet computer. Some drivers who have confidence in their language ability also make live announcements of conditions on the line when deemed necessary. For the Rugby World Cup last autumn, recordings in a number of different voices were supplied to the tablets, and these were played during the morning rush hours and on weekends and holidays.
According to a Seibu spokesperson, live broadcasts began from December 2018. As a part of boosting its "caring hospitality" to visitors from abroad, it engaged in drills for emergency situations, which might need to be conveyed to passengers in English, such as in the event train services are affected by a major typhoon hitting the greater Tokyo region.
Even when its announcements are recordings, the company seems keen on providing helpful information to foreign passengers. While signage on the platforms, on board the trains and elsewhere are now made in a variety of languages, Seibu continues to work at flexibility in its services ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, in the form of both audio and visual data.© Japan Today