Sounds abound in Tokyo, from the blaring advertisements in busy shopping areas like Shinjuku to the stream of announcements on trains.

They annoy people like Takafumi Fujita, who said his ears and nerves are assaulted every time he goes out.

“It’s amazing how much sound is being forced on us that no one appreciates or even pays attention to,” said Fujita, 33, who formed the group Noise Fighters five years ago with the aim of reducing the din in public places.

Fujita, a timpanist with the Komaki City Symphony Orchestra, said that as a drummer he feels the need to raise awareness about unnecessary sounds in everyday life.

“I’m the noisemaker in the orchestra, but that makes me all the more sensitive to sounds that have no purpose or beauty,” he said, citing as a case in point the music piped into shopping malls.

Among the sounds Fujita describes as “particularly meaningless” are department store announcements advising people who ride the escalators to stay inside the yellow line and look after their kids.

Indeed, people observed at the Mitsukoshi department store in the Ginza district recently seemed to be paying little heed to the warnings repeated above their heads, with only about one person in 10 actually holding onto the handrail as requested.

But Mitsukoshi spokesman Jiro Nagumo said the announcements are necessary for safety reasons, adding, “An important part of the message is the request not to use baby strollers. We don’t want any accidents that would spoil the shopping experience of our customers.”

Mitsukoshi’s stance is shared by almost all other department stores, with the exception of Matsuya Co., according to Fujita.

Matsuya’s Ginza store has never used taped announcements in more than 40 years since its escalators were first installed, company spokesman Tsuneo Fujioka said.

“We have stickers on the escalators asking people to be careful, but we never saw the need for announcements. Fortunately, there have been no accidents.”

In the hope that more stores follow Matsuya’s example, Fujita said he is thinking of publishing a Michelin-style guidebook, rating shops and eateries for their quietness.

“Just as there’s now information about smoke-free environments, we need data on places free of sound,” he said. “We need to spread the notion that silence is one aspect of good service.”

Members of Kakuseiki So-on o Kangaeru Kai, a Tokyo-based group that seeks to curb music and announcements in public places, agreed in a recent meeting that not just shops and restaurants but also train stations should be made less noisy.

They said it would be ideal if all Japan Railway stations were as peaceful as JR Chiba Station, which in 1988 was one of the first to do away with the bell signaling a train is about to depart.

Most JR stations now signal departures with a jingle. But Kenji Yoshida, a university professor, said he is bothered by it. “The music is played far too loud and the way it abruptly stops halfway through a melody gets on my nerves.”

Members want to see an end to many platform announcements, including those calling on passengers to keep behind the white line. They also feel there is no need for many announcements heard on trains, including the request to passengers to turn off their cell phones.

However, it seems unlikely these announcements will be terminated anytime soon.

Toru Ishida, a spokesman for East Japan Railway Co., said passengers are divided on the subject and the carrier has no plans at present to stop such announcements.

“We get complaints from people who say there are too many announcements, but just as many say they want more information,” he said.

On the newest trains, taped announcements are now played in both Japanese and English, replacing announcements made by the conductor, Ishida said.

As for platform music, people have welcomed it ever since it replaced the shrill buzzers and bells 14 years ago, the spokesman said.

“People say the music is nice and refreshing,” Ishida said, adding that many passengers have inquired about the melodies recently introduced at JR Takadanobaba Station, which are based on the “Astro Boy” cartoon series theme song.

The favorable reception given such tunes shows how sounds have become a form of therapy for many people, said Kyoka Yamagishi, a singer and head of Kakuseiki. “People appear to be seeking to fill an inner void with sound wherever they go. They seem to think that any kind of music is fine.”

Back at the Kakuseiki meeting, members pondered why people have become indifferent to sound. They think one large influence may be television, with its noisy commercials and programs filled with sound effects.

While some members express pessimism that peace and quiet will ever prevail in public places, Yoko Suematsu, a nonfiction writer, said she is encouraged by the trend toward quieter gadgets like household appliances and fuel-cell engines.

She said the recent popularity of hand-bell performances may indicate more people are tiring of loud noises.

“People used to want to hear the piano being played forcefully, but there’s a new appreciation for softer sounds,” she said. “I take that as a good sign.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.