Music in Japanese train stations   駅メロディ

Date of publication :

Yamanote Line alarm clocks

Tokyo subway lines

The Tokyo subway system.

The Fukutoshin line at its terminus, Shibuya.

Railway Jingles

Do you know about "eki-melody", the music played in Japanese train stations? These easily recognizable melodies are a quirk of stations in Japan.

In Japan, each station has its own little jingle, which is played when a train enters the station. Imagine if this happened in your country - what kind of tunes do you think would be played? In Japan, train fanatics, densha otaku in Japanese, travel across the country to record these famous eki-melo. On the internet, entire blogs are devoted to cataloguing them. It speaks volumes about their popularity!

By ear

But why is there such a need to play a cute little jingle each time a train enters the station? Remember, we're talking about Japan, THE country of excellent service. These melodies simply allow busy travellers to recognise where they are, without needing to take their eyes off their book or smartphone... or continue their nap!

The major stations like Tokyo or Shinjuku station even have different music between platforms and direction of the train.

Music first appeared in August 1971, an initiative of the private railway Keihan Electric Railway that runs between Kyoto and Osaka.

Soundscapes

The melodies are fun to listen to, and easy to remember. After a few days in Tokyo, for example, you might find yourself humming the eki-melo of the Yamanote Line (山手線), the major circular line in Tokyo, one of the busiest in Japan.

Video by Orioristation

There are some interesting facts about some of these tunes, too. Did you know for example that the jingle played at Ebisu Station (恵比寿駅) is used in commercials for the famous beer of the same name? It's none other than the music from the film The Third Man.

If your trip in Japan is coming to an end and you feel like you'll miss the eki-melo, you can buy small keychains that play the music from your favorite station. Or even better, buy an alarm clock that lets you wake up to the melodies of an entire train line!

Eki-melo are elements of the Japanese soundscape, which proves to be particularly strong and creative. Outside the rail network, you can also hear more music like birdsong, played to create a peaceful atmosphere in the streets, or melodies that play when traffic lights turn green to let pedestrians know they can cross. These sounds are everywhere in the streets of Japan. The music brightens shopping streets and traveling vans, like the local tofu seller, also play their own tunes to alert the neighbourhood to its presence.

There's plenty to discover in Japan with your ears as well as with your eyes!

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