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Why must Tokyo’s railways engage in aural assault?

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By Philip Patrick

They say the infant Mozart had such a delicate ear that any discordant sound would make him physically sick. If true, I imagine Shinjuku station would probably have killed him. There can be few noisier places on the planet than Japan’s largest station, which is, to a degree, unavoidable given the volume of traffic that thunders through it.

But what’s less excusable is why rail companies choose to add to this cacophony by bombarding passengers with yet more noise in the form of maddeningly repetitive announcements and infantile jingles. Railway officials in Japan seem to believe that their trains and platforms are full of bewildered, vulnerable children, possibly using a train for the first time, and in urgent need of endlessly repeated “guidance” delivered to them by the tyrants of the tannoy at an eardrum-perforating fortissimo.

Let’s start with the safety announcements: endless pleas to “Take care,” “Watch your step,” and “Be careful.” Not only are these annoying and largely unnecessary, they may actually be dangerous. Tom Vanderbilt, in his book "Traffic," points to research showing that, at best, safety announcements make no difference whatsoever, and, at worst, they can actually lead to an increase in accident rates because people may modify their natural behavior as a result of listening to them (“risk homeostasis,” if you’re interested). That is, if you consciously attempt to “Watch your step,” you’re more likely to stumble than if you had trusted your inbuilt hazard detector to do the job for you. And how many times do we need to be warned that “The doors are closing”? I’d argue the answer is once, or even not at all, given that a buzzer alerts us to the fact. But for the zealots manning the speakers on the Keio line, five or six times per departure seems to be the going rate.

Rather than endlessly repeating the same stale old advice, would JR, for one, not be better employed doing something practical to improve safety, such as narrowing the treacherous chasms between train and platform at many of their stations (Yotsuya, Ichigaya, Iidabashi)? I once saw a toddler almost disappear into such a gap until snatched in midair by his horrified mother.

Then there are the jingles. Now, I know I am bringing a Western sensibility to bear here, and the Japanese seem to have a much higher tolerance for repetition, but surely the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” has some resonance in any culture? What purpose do jingles serve? Some claim these cheerful little melodies discourage suicide attempts, which strikes me as ironic, as I have never felt more like topping myself than when I’m standing on the platform on a cold Saturday morning with a full day’s teaching ahead of me and those infuriatingly over-familiar chimes are struck up for the zillionth time. Others have told me the jingles are intended to hurry people up, though this seems sinisterly Pavlovian and, once again, an insult to our intelligence.

Now, all of this may sound a little petty, and I am aware that there are more important things in life. Furthermore, as a former long-term resident of London, I readily acknowledge that in every other respect, the transport network in Japan is just about peerless. And I realize, too, that the visually impaired should be given due consideration. But if you think this really is a trivial issue, it might be worth reminding yourself how much of your life you actually spend on trains and in stations. I realized with a gulp that I clock up about 14 hours a week, or around 25 full days a year, which works out at… well, I’ll stop there before I feel like throwing myself in front of an express. Let’s just say I spend an unavoidably substantial, but by no means exceptional, amount of my waking hours in trains and stations.

In an effort to discover whether I was alone in my feelings, I canvassed a number of Japanese on how they felt about the number and volume of announcements on trains and in stations. The results were interesting, if inconclusive. The young people I spoke to were, on the whole, unmoved, shrugging their shoulders and giving me that glazed “whatever” look I’ve come to know so well. But the oldies were another story, often and enthusiastically agreeing with me. In fact, one man—a professor at Tokyo University, no less—practically foamed at the mouth as he ranted, “I don’t need to be told how to use a train!” Obviously, my complaints can’t be ascribed solely to cultural differences.

So if this plea reaches the ear of any station officer above the hellish din, I would urge you to think again (or even just think): how about at least reducing the volume and frequency of your announcements to the level that most other transit systems around the world find sufficient? True service, at least if I understand the term correctly, has at its heart a consideration of the feelings of the customer, which in this case means considering the possibility that on a cold, joyless morning we might, just possibly, be grateful for a little peace and quiet. In short, it’s surely time for the train companies to change their tune, or preferably silence it altogether. Less sound, less fury—now that would be service. And that would signify something.

The author works for the British Council in Tokyo.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp)

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

82 Comments
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This sounds like it was written by a poster here...

Now, all of this may sound a little petty

Yeah, it is, especially

Others have told me the jingles are intended to hurry people up, though this seems sinisterly Pavlovian and, once again, an insult to our intelligence.

Really? An insult? I think they are useful. Sometimes I am in my own world reading a book and I don't realize I am at my stop. I hear the music and "Oh crap!" I better get off. And with the music you know the doors are really and truly closing right then.

The young people I spoke to were, on the whole, unmoved, shrugging their shoulders and giving me that glazed “whatever” look I’ve come to know so well.

What do you expect? It's not that noisy. I would probably give the same response.

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treacherous chasms between train and platform at many of their stations (Yotsuya, Ichigaya, Iidabashi)? I once saw a toddler almost disappear into such a gap until snatched in midair by his horrified mother

WTF? That's the first time I've heard parental neglect being blamed on train x platform gaps. What was the devoted mother doing while her delightful toddler was boarding the train unassisted I might ask? Keitai? Mascara? General yak to other neglectful mothers nearby?

Perhaps Philip Patrick should quit complaining about SAFETY announcements for a while and look around him. Most of the dangers in such places are caused by the idiocy or thoughtlessness of human beings, and if he really lived in London for such a long time then how come he isn't moaning about Please mind the gap. Please mind the gap. Please mind the gap. Over and over. Or even Please mind the gap between the train and the platform. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.

I was at Shinjuku station recently, and didn't find the announcements over the top. But then, I'm neither as sensitive as Mozart, nor as delicate as Philip.

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Shinjukuboy goes through Shinjuku Station every day. At most you spend about 5 minutes on a platform before a train arrives and takes you away from the noise (unless you are there late at night - in which case you deserve the noise). Look on the bright side and don't be a whimp. Actually, in the early 90 JR (then called JNR) tried dropping all announcements etc. during rush hour when presumably most of the people knew where they were going. The main reason this was dropped was because the platform personnel felt uncomfortable just standing around doing nothing (according to a weekly rag at the time).

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japanese are extremely uncomfortable with silence....

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I'm sure the blind would love the silence and lack of warnings that trains are about to arrive or doors close...

Get over it.

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japanese are extremely uncomfortable with silence....

And yet oddly enough when they need you to do something the question hangs in the air with everyone looking at you until you are the only one squirming in your seat in the heavy silence before bleating out "OK, I`ll do it".

I agree with our Philip her the noises are annoying, but they have just become part of the fabric of Tokyo life now, and after a recent trip back to London - my god, give me the Tokyo transport system any day, even with the jingles.

If you want to complain about sensual assault go hang out in Bic Camera for the afternoon. No studies have yet been done as far as I know, but I swear there must be a link between that place and people then offing themselves.

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This isn't just train stations. It's the supermarkets, shops, escalators. Everywhere in Japan there are these announcements, either warnings or greetings. When I go back home, I really enjoy shopping in supermarkets where they don't blare out music or irasshaimase every damn minute. Yes, I know there needs to be some announcements for the blind, but this is so OTT.

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I happen to really enjoy the jingles. Can't remember how I did it but you can actually download all the Yamanote station jingles to your Ipod from the East Japan Railway website. I know that sounds anal but I'm one of those people whose brain thinks in terms of sounds and music.

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what a bunch of nonsense! japanese trains are some of the quietest in the world. and station sounds are there for safety and convenience. don't like it get an ipod... or drive a car!

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If you want to complain about sensual assault go hang out in Bic Camera for the afternoon. No studies have yet been done as far as I know, but I swear there must be a link between that place and people then offing themselves.

have to pay that one.... i pity the people who work there...

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That's what iPods are for, no? Selective aural assault.

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If you want to complain about sensual assault go hang out in Bic Camera for the afternoon. No studies have yet been done as far as I know, but I swear there must be a link between that place and people then offing themselves.

100% true. Every time I enter Bic/Yodobashi/Yamada/Ks/etc I get their jingle burned in my brain. It's super annoying when you are there less than an hour, I can't imagine all day, every day, week after week after week...

But the trains? I can't see how those are even slightly annoying.

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If you jack up the volume of an i-Pod to block these sounds, tinnitus will soon ensue, and then you will have a constant ringing in your ears. Pick your poison.

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I agree with you Phillip in that the announcements (everywhere, not just the stations) are over the top from frequency and amplitude point of view.

But I have to remind my self I live in a country (nanny state) were (most) people even refuse to cross a very quiet street when the 'red man' is displayed. In my humble opinion, from a very early age it would appear that the Japanese have been taught to virtually give up thinking for themselves and always follow/listen to instructions and orders.

This then spills over into adult life, and when Mr Taro becomes a senior official at the railway company, he too will continue with the delusional belief that people need or rely upon repetitive rules, orders and announcements (hence we are all treated like children whether we like it or not).

As an experiment, I would love to see what would happen (peoples reaction) if they turned off all of the annoying jingles, p.a. announcements and the even more annoying JR platform attendant who then repeats verbatim what the p.a announcement just said before he starts his robotic routine of talking and pointing to his imaginary friends :)

Would people run around in circles bumping into one another and not knowing where to go or what to do? I doubt it very much. The JR officials would see that people can and do think for themselves, and hopefully they would begin to realize that the childish repetitive jingles and announcements are unnecessary and down right insulting to peoples intelligence. Of course this is just my humble opinion...

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I love the noise.

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Word up, bro!

"The young people I spoke to were, on the whole, unmoved, shrugging their shoulders and giving me that glazed “whatever” look I’ve come to know so well."

That "whatever" look appears for any question you ask them.

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I don't mind the announcements.

No announcements and there will be fun come April when all the new hires & students arrive who don't know yet to do navigate the Tokyo public transport system.

Jingles are actually helpful when you are reading, etc as each station has it's own jingle.

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"That's what iPods are for, no? Selective aural assault."

pamelot: And I can listen to those door jingles on my ipod if I want!

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Oh dear. Another brit complaining about something in Japan. What else is new? I suppose poor Philip would like to do away with all forms of noise or announcements, but that's not his decision to make.

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Try to go and enjoy "nature" at a Japanese ski area and instead find out that you are constantly blasted by annoyingly bad music.

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If you jack up the volume of an i-Pod to block these sounds, tinnitus will soon ensue, and then you will have a constant ringing in your ears

cactusJack : I'm hip! didn't mean it literally. iPods at reasonable levels can still block out "Popeye the Sailor Man" doing the routine route information...

I can listen to those door jingles on my ipod if I want!

paulinusa : Wow! Kind of surreal in a good way, outside Japan...

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There are really more serious noise pollution troubles in Japan than complaining about a noisy train station! Take the plenty of Hahin Kaishu that drive around your block 5 days a week with yelling loudspeakers turned on! THAT is true aural assault! Don't complain about noise in such public places like train stations! You don't sleep there, do you?!

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The JR officials would see that people can and do think for themselves, and hopefully they would begin to realize that the childish repetitive jingles and announcements are unnecessary and down right insulting to peoples intelligence.

How is an informative and useful jingle insulting to your intelligence? How is it childish? No announcements and doors shutting without warning is more mature? Safer? I don't think so.

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Come on, you cannot disagree with the fact that Tokyo has possibly the highest amount of noise polution known to modern man. The daily assault on the ear drums is unending. Hell, you even get shouted at here when you enter a restaurant. And, reversing that trend has to start somewhere. So it might as well be with these needlessly repetitive announcements.

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When I first started reading this article, I thought that the author was a country boy who first traveled to a big city and is surprised by the noise and bright lights. Turns out that he is an ex-London resident and has complaints about the Tokyo Metro. Interesting. Firstly to compare the two in regards to "treacherous chasms" and pointing fault to the Tokyo metro is preposterous. Anyone who has ever been on the "Tube", even going from central London to Heathrow, can vouch that at one station the platform will be 1 foot below the train's entrance and at the next 1 foot above. I personally have never seen such poor construction on any of Japan's train platforms. Moving on to the incessant sounds and announcements. London has it's "please mind the gap" warning blasted and repeated at every station. Makes you think what this fellow is on about. In different ways, every metropolis has a lot of noise pollution. The more advanced the technology gets, the more machines tell you what to do. Been to Hong Kong? The escalators tell you that you are about to arrive at the end of the path in both English and Cantonese. Other cities have close to as many announcements on the train. The newish NYC subway - same deal. However, the major difference in noise pollution is that it is mostly artificial on the Tokyo trains and in others it is the actual people yapping away on their phones or with each other in baritone.

Infantile jingles - another point. Notice how Tokyo's metro is the largest in the world and some people commute for 3 hours each way for a total of 6 hours a day? Notice how many people opt to sleep in the trains due to this. The jingle is not just for entertainment, but for the sleeping passenger to recognize that it is their stop. Makes sense, doesn't it?

The few people that he asked with inconclusive results is hardly worth mentioning.

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Ah how cute, some brit who got out of bed the wrong side and needs to go back to dull UK litter filled train service and listen to the sounds from anti social fellow passengers and their cheap ipod headphones, etc..

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arn't the jingles, each one different for the blind? its nice that Japan is so musical..better than dull UK.

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Talking further of unwanted noise....one of the best things about Japan trains I notice compared to UK or London is that they are pleasantly quiet and well behaved places...that is compared to the noisy selfish passengers you get too much on UK trains.

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the even more annoying JR platform attendant who then repeats verbatim what the p.a announcement just said before he starts his robotic routine of talking and pointing to his imaginary friends :)

Yes to this. You forgot how they shout into peoples faces asking them to watch out for their bags getting caught in the closing doors because they don't have the brains or manners to change the level of their voice.

I hate the stupid way they point down the tracks from end to end in some kind of silly dance. I know they're checking for things on the track, but most of them don't seem to even look at the track.

Also, they do repeat stuff too much. "The doors are closing" should be said once or twice at the most. And telling people not to rush onto trains as the doors are closing but not trying to stop them is just idiotic. On-the-spot fines should be introduced.

I saw a guy barge his way onto an already overpacked train and the doors wouldn't shut because he was in the way. The station staff did nothing just repeating "wait for the next trian please" about 5 times. Some guy near the door just shoved him out of the carriage and the doors shut. I felt like clapping, but couldn't because it was so packed.

This just shows that announcements muean nothing if they are just repeated.

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I'm going to agree that the stuff in the stores annoys me far more than anything in the station. I don't need to hear "irrasshaimaseeeee" over and over in a loud, nasal tone. I'm in the store. We're in the store. In some stores where the staff just never shut up, I can't stay in there more than five minutes or so. There's one clothing store in Sunshine City where the staff are always shouting about something (sale, time sale, whatever), and I just ... can't ... stand it.

Also, those yobi-komi guys shouting on the street. I want to knock them off their ladders.

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What has worked for me is over-the-ear noise cancellation earphones, without any music playing or even a cord attached. Maybe I look like a DJ in a business suit, but the over-the-ear part blocks out a lot of outside noise, while the cancellation circuitry reduces it a lot more. A very peaceful commute, except for the badgering announcements. It's so quiet and peaceful that when I arrive at work and people actually start talking to me and the phone rings, it is very annoying to leave the bubble of calm. Perhaps I should've been a librarian--the one who doesn't have to answer questions or talk.

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I barely notice the background noise at Shinjuku station, and I sure as heck don't get irritated by it.

Just tune out and chill out.

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I remember once when I went hiking in very rural Kagoshima and I actually thought I was in another nation -- there was no sound at all except the leaves from a light breeze.

As I said only yesterday or the day before, Japan has got to be the worst nation in the world for noise pollution. As one poster above said, Japanese seem to be extremely uncomfortable with silence.

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I agree totally with everything this write said. The announcements on and off trains are irritating and mostly unnecessary. I particularly dont like the American woman`s horrible Japanese pronunciation on the Chuo and Sobu Lines. I often hear Japanese people mimicing and mocking her accent. Also, another pet hate is the endless and meaningless, tatemae "apologies" for when the trains are delayed, something which happenes more and more frequently these days. The trian system used to be more reliable, but sadly it is not any more.

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smithinjapan Totally agree. The only time silence is required in Japan is on trains, when we are not allowed to use our mobile phones or even speak in a loud voice, in case we might disturb the sleeping masses! This country is definately the worst in the world for noise pollution.

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Actually the woman making the announcements is probably Canadian.

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"There are really more serious noise pollution troubles in Japan than complaining about a noisy train station! Take the plenty of Hahin Kaishu that drive around your block 5 days a week with yelling loudspeakers turned on! THAT is true aural assault! Don't complain about noise in such public places like train stations! You don't sleep there, do you?!"

Completely agree with this - drives me completely insane when they drive around my neighbourhood on weekend mornings. The drivers would be linched in any other country.

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Love the subways in Hong Kong and Singapore, so quiet.

People manage to get on and off, and arrive at their destinations successfully too...

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As I said only yesterday or the day before, Japan has got to be the worst nation in the world for noise pollution.

I think China beats the heck out of Japan for noise pollution, personally. Everybody is very very very loud. Japan is pretty bad for the noise pollution too, I just don't think the trains are bad at all, especially since the interior of the trains is generally quiet enough to hear yourself think.

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Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world, and many if not most of its residents rely on public transportation. I'm sorry, but the noise from trains has never been a nuisance.

And as far as the warnings - I know this is probably the American in me, but they could be played for legal reasons. Like when that woman spilled hot coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonalds for not warning her it was hot. Yes, most people know to watch their step and be careful, but what's to stop someone from complaining to JR they tripped and hurt themselves because there was no warning, just because they want to make a quick yen?

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I like the station jingles. I even have an alarm clock that plays verious jingles from Chuo Line stations.

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I agree that the stations and trains are too noisy, the speakers on the platform are usually low quality and the sound is distorted, which is bad for your ears. Provision should be made for the blind but the volume over all should be turned down and the sound quality improved. The stations are also too brightly lit, they are lit up even during the day. it's a huge waste of electricity.

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Don't even notice it anymore really. It serves to pacify the masses.

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The incessant foreigner complaining about everything Japanese.

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Just to add, they need those announcements, otherwise how will the commuters know anything? They just walk about with their gaze fixed on their phone, or their book, anything other than the world about them and the people they're shoving through. If you don't tell them about the gap, the low beam, the doors closing, they'll crash into everything and break a leg or something. Not to mention they'll miss their train if you don't tell them it's in front of them.

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JR is often worse than private railways. Sound level is way too high in some stations. I can understand station announcements to some extent, but there are so many you end up not listening to anything anymore. Same inside trains. If you take the Sobu local line, for example, since each station is close from the next one, there are almost incessant announcements inside the cars, both in English and Japanese (plus the announcements from the employee repeating word for word what the PA system just announced).

I think the problem is not the announcements per se, it is the sound volume and the repetition of the same thing over and over.

By the way, there are also many big cities without any announcements in the subways and suburban trains (for example, Paris), except for emergencies, strikes and unusual situations.

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What a lame article.

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Obviously, my complaints can’t be ascribed solely to cultural differences.

Yes. Whining at everything because you got up the wrong side of the bed is universal.

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The writer should realize in some countries you go around with a donkey and cart, and take hours to get anywhere, going over dangerous mountains etc. We've all seen it on TV even if we haven't been there in person. Be glad you have the nice trains to ride on. Get into a positive vibe.

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in some countries you go around with a donkey and cart.

You mean Kagoshima?

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@paulinusa: hah same geek here. After I came back home from a trip in japan 5 years ago I really missed those sounds so I also downloaded them hah.

In Osaka its not so noisy actually. However they dont have jingles only loud beepers/alarms which is less pleasant. But there are things FAR worse than that.

for example:

100% true. Every time I enter Bic/Yodobashi/Yamada/Ks/etc I get their jingle burned in my brain. It's super annoying when you are there less than an hour, I can't imagine all day, every day, week after week after week...

imagine the people who work there. After 2 hours I could kill on that sound.

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My comment which was critical of this article has been removed for being off topic. And I am absolutely and genuinely stunned about it. It would seem that this 'opinion' board is only for those who share the same opionion as the authors and any other feedback is an irritation at best. I would have thought that a comment from the target audience would have been useful to any organization for them to improve (if needed) their product. However unless I am not regarded as the target audience (long time resident, small business owner) they simply don't want to hear opinions.

Stunned.

Moderator: Your message was removed because it had nothing to do with the commentary. Try posting something pertinent about the subject of the article - the noise on trains.

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i think although the train station noise may be overwhelming for some who come from quieter locations, for me who has ridden on Australian rail, it is luxury! In Australia, there are many dangerous gaps between train and platform that takes even a long legged person like me a jump to cross (fortunately lots more gentlemanly types there in Oz to hold said ladies hand) Sometimes the train doors do not close, there is graffiti and last nights drunk covering the old vinyl chairs (not to mention the springs that dont quite spring anymore inside the chair!) the aircon on the train, which doesnt really work But still you see people having a laugh and sometimes really loud conversations NOISE IS NORMAL if you want to be a hermit,,,go live in a cave , or maybe in Okinawa where they dont have trains,,,,,but then you might not like the soundcars,,,,

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The train noise is more pleasant than the noise of brits complaining.

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Come on, you cannot disagree with the fact that Tokyo has possibly the highest amount of noise polution known to modern man. The daily assault on the ear drums is unending. Hell, you even get shouted at here when you enter a restaurant. And, reversing that trend has to start somewhere. So it might as well be with these needlessly repetitive announcements.

Nonsense! Have you ever been to NY, London, Moscow or any other big city? Hell, Honolulu is louder than Tokyo!

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The noise of real life (people talking, laughing, even cell phone use) is more pleasant than the noise of PA announcements:

"Thank you for using JR. This train is bound for XXX. Please refrain from using your cell phone. The train will soon change track. Please hold to prevent any injury. The next station is XXX, connecting to the JR XXX line, the JR XXX line, the JR XXX line. Right door will open. Please don't make noise and refrain from using your cell phone. We are arriving at XXX. Please go to platform 1 for JR XXX line, platform 2 for JR XXX line, platform 3 for JR XXX line, platform XXX line. The train for XXX will leave at 20:15, platform 2. Please refrain from using cell phones. Please respect priority seats for the elderly and pregnant women. Please watch your step. The doors are closing, please be careful. Thank you for using JR. This train is bound for XXX. Please refrain from using your cell phone"

and so on, almost uninterrupted on some lines.

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There are other sounds not mentioned in and around train stations, like a slow "ding...dong" at the foot of stairwells(for the blind I assume) and even bird chirping from the ceiling(artistic reasons?). Ever been on the Shinkansen and heard the singsong sales pitch of a young woman selling refreshments? And did someone mention the high pitched female voice saying "Arigato Gozaimasu" after buying your train ticket? How about the nasal voice of conductors. I could go on and on. But I think the author misses the fact that the vast majority of people simply don't notice the sounds that aggravate him. I find it all fascinating.

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So how can we put JR in manners mode?

Piglet, you forgot the message telling everyone everywhere on the train that they need a Green Car ticket if they are sit in the Green Car. At the moment announcements are only in Japanese and English. Just wait until they add Chinese, Korean and Portuguese.

Then what is the point of fake bird noises, some of which actually sound more like rats? Are they used to give the impression of being surrounded by nature or to scare real birds away?

Being surrounded by all these announcements is eerily reminiscent of Patrick McGoohan's Village in the 60's Prisoner series.

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nisegaijin -- actually I have been to all those places you mention, except Moscow. Plus a lot of other "big cities". And I stand by my statement. Tokyo assaults the hearing like no other city I have ever been to or lived in. And the narrowness of the streets -- hemmed in by high-rise buildings -- just makes it worse.

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Some may find the announcements annoying, but my ears were really ringing every time I stepped off the NY City subway when I was there a few months ago (not to mention everything is dark and narror and dreary - and why can't you swipe your cell phone to get into the stations? Primitive.). I prefer the Tokyo prattle anytime.

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I think sometimes it can be a little overdone, but if you understand what they are announcing, it can actually be very helpful. I for one like to know what track and time I can catch my connecting train. Or if I am mid-ride and am told that the train is about to take a different route than I expected, or not stop at my station, it's much better finding out then before I'm way out in the boonies. Other noises have their legal purposes I am sure. I just take it all in as city noise...and if you don't like it, there is a whole load of cities that one could move to.

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it might be worth reminding yourself how much of your life you actually spend on trains and in stations

Very little, actually.

Guess I'm one of the lucky ones.

I have to say though, that when I do travel by train, the jingles and announcements don't really bother me. As sakurala says, it's useful to be reminded of the details of any connections that must be made, or of any unexpected changes. The rest doesn't really bother me, though I can see it might grate more if you had to put up with it on a daily basis.

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trains and platforms are full of bewildered, vulnerable children.

A supremely accurate and penetrative understanding of Japan's train platforms.

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"Thank you for using JR. This train is bound for XXX. Please refrain from using your cell phone. The train will soon change track. Please hold to prevent any injury. The next station is XXX, connecting to the JR XXX line, the JR XXX line, the JR XXX line. Right door will open. Please don't make noise and refrain from using your cell phone. We are arriving at XXX. Please go to platform 1 for JR XXX line, platform 2 for JR XXX line, platform 3 for JR XXX line, platform XXX line. The train for XXX will leave at 20:15, platform 2. Please refrain from using cell phones. Please respect priority seats for the elderly and pregnant women. Please watch your step. The doors are closing, please be careful. Thank you for using JR. This train is bound for XXX. Please refrain from using your cell phone" and so on, almost uninterrupted on some lines."

...a common complaint I hear from Japanese using other cities train systems is the lack of information or announcements or information boards ( silent)...thats why their train systems are rubbish and make it difficult for you to get places, etc, etc...

So information is good for some and done right makes the place brighter.

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@888naff

However, too much information can also make it unusable. How many people do you think really listen to the announcements?

There is a good balance to be found between the need to inform passengers and the risk of saturation.

The same problem also exists for many written notices / information boards in Japan. You often have a lot of information presented in a very confused way.

There is a science of presenting the information in a synthetic way, linked to psychology. For example, there are different theories about how to present a transportation map (colors, symbolism, 45 degrees angles when representing lines, etc...). From what I can see in Japan, most of this is not done by professionals in Japan, but most likely employees of the company who don't have any specific qualification.

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I really have no problems with it.

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Aural assault is all part of the Japan Experience. Might I suggest earplugs or better, a music player. IMO the only announcement of any value is to announce the approach of a train, or the station the train is approaching. I even like the jingles that are signature to each station (I believe OP forgot to mention that part)

But since on many lines the announcer either has a mouth full of marbles, eats the microphone, or simply doesn't enunciate... I just plug in my iPhone and I'm good to go. For those not willing to spend money on a music player, ear plugs can be bought for about 300 yen.

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"Now, I know I am bringing a Western sensibility to bear here" - well thank you so much for having the aforethought to be so kind, I'm not sure how we would have coped without that here in the East!

I'm really not sure what the fuss is about. I use three lines each day and am rarely bothered by anything other than the sheer volume of people.

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yeah,,,and if something happens then you will blame JR for not giving enough warnings. So basically JR with all these announcements is protecting and covering your asses and its own.

Seems like the author has had too much of Japan.

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The answer to this problem is very simple. Don't take the train, walk everywhere. I walk 90 minutes to work every morning and back every night. I can't remember the last time I took a train. I walk in the relative quiet, immersed in my own thoughts and space and am much happier as a result of it.

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Dear Mr. Writer,

You, sir, are completely missing the point. I completely agree with you about the ridiculous noise levels on Tokyo's underground, but what YOU think about it is not terribly interesting to read about. Bring in the fact that loud, persistent noise levels are scientifically proven to cause depression, raise blood pressure, elevate stress levels and whatever else, and suddenly you're on to one of the main reasons why this society is one of the most stressed-out ones on earth, yet nobody is tackling this big contributing factor (the noise) because everyone is so accustomed to it. People say "I don't mind / I don't notice / it doesn't bother me" etc. BUT it does bother you physically even if you think you're OK with it. Bringing these facts into the article would have elevated it beyond a personal rant...

I wish we could all remember in this day and age that Silence is sometimes the sweetest music.

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Well it's not as bad as our local Fresco's supermarket electronic tunes- they are so loud you can't hear yourself think and so appalling it is hard to understand why it is played. It truly makes you want to leave as fast as possible!

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Hardly notice the noise, just need to learn to block it out without having to try. I guess this is something you self teach yourself early on. If you can do your homework while watching tv, listening to music, reading a book and talking on the phone at the same time then you should have no problem. Much like studying for an exam in Uni while the people upstairs or next door have a basketball match in their room. The human brain is very sophisticated and can block out meaningless drivel and home in on a word (like the station you get off) in a split second and wake up. How else do you explain how dogs can bare listening to the world go by when you can hear practically everything. My advice by some earplugs or a headset. I'm much more against light pollution where every building is so bright I need to wear sunglasses (trains, convenience stores, super markets, etc)

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If there are so many announcements, doesn't it make it useless? If there were a little bit less announcements, maybe people would start listening to it. My Japanese wife hates it too and does not listen to the announcements. I think this is a very Japanese thing to overdue things when trying to be useful, but it ends up being useless.

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As a tourist in Japan, having the announcements in both Japanese and English can help a great deal - but it's very noticeable that a LOT more niformation is provided in Japanese, even taking polite language into account. However, the English announcements are often much softer than the Japanese onces, making them hard to hear. Obviously, having announcements in two languages means more "aural assault".

The warnings on the bullet train stations to stand back are well warranted, especially if the platform is crowded.

The general announcements seemed to me to be consistent with trains in Australia or the UK. There's an announcement on the platform where the train is going to, just as it arrives. Given the complexity of the train/underground system in Tokyo, announcing possible line changes takes longer.

@Patrick - I believe the bird chirps are located above stairs, possibly to warn blind people of the danger?

My only frustration with anouncements was the softness of the ones in English and wondering what information I was missing because I couldn't understand the Japanese. If all the trains in Japan had screens like those on the Tokyo loop line, even foreigners have no excuse - the screens alternate between Japanese and English (romaji) and indicate where you are in the train relative to the stairs and lifts as well as where you are on the line, and what the next station is. It's an excellent system. I noticed that the ride in the Tokyo subway is excruciatingly loud as the trains navigate the tight corners. I found myself wishing for the rubber tyres on the Paris Metro. So I found the noise of the ride itself much worse than the white noise of announcements.

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I totally agree train companies should improve safety on the platforms. Other than that, the rest of the article sounds like a homesick gaijin complaining about stuff.

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Can't they provde us with a "MUTE" button?

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I'll second the comments here about safety, but I've got no problems whatsoeverw ith the number of anouncements on train platforms. Sure, they may be numerous and repetitive, but when I can't find information I need, I can't count the number of times it was thankfully provided by an announcement.

"...tyrants""...zealots""...maddening""...infantile""...infuriating"

And the zinger of the entire article when talking about something as serious and non-joke-worthy as suicide:

"... I have never felt more like topping myself than when I’m standing on the platform..."

Sure, hyperbole certainly can put some zing into what might otherwise be a boring, irrelevant fluff piece, but Mr. Patrick's obvious pleasure with his Thesaurus skills aside, it sound more like he needs to cut back on his morning cup o' Joe than anything else.

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I have a lot more to be concerned about than this type of thing. If it was near my house may be a problem though.

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I agree with this assessment of Aural Assault - the constant screaming has turned Japan into a nation of aural addicts, and the train companies into a grinding group of enablers. It's truly disgusting. Time to grow up.

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The birds above the stairwells is my favorite sound. I love watching the train platform uniforms doing their little dance, which must liven up their day. Love the individual train jingles. Often it is too crowded on the train the see the signs so the they are useful as can be, along with the announcements. Agree that the native English speaker needs to say the station names the Japanese way. Yotsuya station has daunting gaps. Try them on crutches. Otherwise, I pretty much enjoy swimming through the soundscape. So invigorating! I missed the racket when I am away. That's just me, though.

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What is up with the electronic bird calling AT NIGHT? Shouldn't birds be tucked in their nests by then?

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