National / Media | Japan Pulse

Discovering who's behind Japan's English rail announcements

by Zoe Ariyama

Contributing Writer

Tokyo’s train system is considered to be one of the most expansive and most reliable in the world, but it can be pretty intimidating for anglophones trying to navigate the city.

Thankfully, announcements in English can be heard on many railway lines, with narrators providing information about upcoming stations in a deliberately enunciated fashion.

Such announcements have helped people for years, but who are the people behind the voices? Thanks to a recent post on social media, we can finally put faces to the voices we’re hearing while traveling.

Donna Burke, an Australian narrator who provides announcements in English on the Tokaido Shinkansen, posted a video on Twitter of herself with fellow narrators Chris Wells and Christelle Ciari taking turns to recite their most recognized lines on Feb. 8.

“Thank you for riding JR East,” says Wells in a deep, clear voice that is instantly recognizable. “The train arriving on track 9 is bound for Shinjuku.”

Since it was posted on Twitter, the video has received around 40,000 retweets and 75,000 likes, plus dozens of comments from fans expressing their amazement at hearing the three announcers together.

Twitter user @hikigatarijames simply said, “BEST CROSSOVER EVER.”

Another user, @xkaratepathfinderx, wrote: “Thank you for helping me get off at the right stop in Tokyo for years. Would have been screwed without the clear (and) calm English.”

“Is it only me who thinks they are in Tokyo when they hear these three voices?” asked @taka2754.

This friendly exchange with fans is exactly why Burke maintains her Twitter presence. Initially, she signed up to the social media platform as a way to stay updated following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 but has since used it as a way to interact with people from around the world.

“I like hearing what fans have to say after my concerts and live jazz gigs,” Burke tells The Japan Times. “And with Google Translate to help, I can even write back!”

Besides her narration work on the shinkansen, Burke is a vocalist and voice actor for several anime and video game series, including Tokyo Ghoul, Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill. She is also part of a quintet called Ganime Jazz, which arranges and performs songs from the games and anime worlds — Ganime, get it? — as well as producing her own solo recordings.

The nature of voice acting leaves Burke somewhat disconnected from her fans, but her viral tweets are helping more people to finally see who is speaking. She says that she’s glad she can bridge this gap using social media.

“I have always loved to bring a smile to people’s faces and spread some joy, so being recognized and perhaps recording a video with fans of either my video game songs and voices or the shinkansen voice is an extension of that,” she says.

Burke posted a video on Twitter last year of her mother riding the shinkansen, and her reaction upon hearing Burke’s voice on the train went viral and received nearly 200,000 likes on Twitter.

Burke’s mom can be seen clapping and smiling, then turns to the camera and says, “That’s my daughter talking!”

“It’s amazing for her to get such attention after working hard as a mother, grandmother and great grandmother without much of a fuss from anyone,” Burke says. “Then, finally, she got the spotlight at 84!”

Burke sometimes tries to show off her goofy side online, including a tweet from October where she tries to parrot her own shinkansen announcements. The video has so far received more than 11,000 likes.

Burke says that the best part of being active online is her followers.

“It makes me happy to make others happy and give them a giggle,” she says.

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