Japan’s trains are iconic parts of the daily lives of If you’ve ever ridden these vital links between work and home for Japanese residents, you’ve noticed people are perfectly comfortable sleeping, reading, or standing trapped in a crowd of dozens with no way to see where they are. How do they know when their stop has arrived?
There are approximately 160 million people using trains around the world on any given day. Of this, there are over 60 million people in Japan who use trains – Japan is an extremely train-centered society with Japanese passengers comprising one-third of world’s train passengers. While Tokyo’s official population hovers around 12 million, during the day there are as many as 15 million people in the city; each day over 3 million people are travelling into the capital from the outer suburbs, and most of these people take a train.
Did you know that in Japan many train stations have theirf the train close? Call it a signature tune or a theme song…the Maihama Station on the Keiyo line is the stop for Tokyo Disneyland and the tune you hear is It’s a Small Word. Just a few stops down the same line you will find the Chiba Lotte Marines (a Japanese professional baseball team) song playing at Kaihin Makuhari Station.
Once upon a time, a bell was used to signal impending departures. Then this evolved into an electric buzzer, and later a computerized melody. In Tokyo, computerized melodies were first used in 1989 at Shinjuku and Shibuya stations. In the early days, it was common for the melody to be comprised of a single instrument, such as the harp or bell, but now simple bar melodies are the norm.
One of the most famous train lines in Japan is the Yamanote Line, a circular route operated by the JR East Japan Railway Company that traverses 34.5 kilometers (22 miles), has 29 stops and provides transportation to approximately 3.5 million riders each day. Trains depart every two to four minutes in each direction from 4:30AM to 1:20AM daily and it takes approximately one hour to complete a ride around the Yamanote Line.
A ride around the Yamanote Line will take you to some of Tokyo’s best sightseeing spots and will also give you an opportunity to listen to some of the distinctive train station melodies. The melody at Takadanobaba station is the Atom Boy theme, in honour of creator Tetsuka Osamu (known as the ‘father of Japanese animation’), who had his studio nearby. Passengers at Komagome Station will get serenaded by ‘Sakura, Sakura’ (‘Cherry Blossom, Cherry Blossom’), tipping its hat to Komagome being the home of the famous somei yoshino varietal of the Japanese national flower, the cherry blossom.
Of the 29 Yamanote stations, the only stations that are still in need of musical enhancement are Ueno and Shin Okubo. In the meantime, you can hear selections such as the theme song from ‘The Third Man’ at Ebisu Station, which was the song used in the Ebisu Beer commercial. While you may have heard a version of ‘Sakura Sakura’ at Musashi Koganei Station on the Chuo line, the version at Komagome Station on the Yamanote line sounds very different. The ‘Astro Boy’ theme playing at Takadanobaba Station was only supposed to be temporary, but fans felt otherwise and clamored for it to be permanent. Today you can still hear the theme at the station.
Want to hear more?
You can click here for an audio journey along the Yamanote line:
Or you can learn more about each station, including the theme music, along the Yamanote line here:
The Nihon Sun