The Music of Japan’s Metro – Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts

January 31, 2020

This week’s entertainment fact comes all the way from Japan, where commuters are treated to a fun jingle each and every time that the train departs a station. We delve in to this phenomenon to see who composed these jingles, why they exist and what they mean.

If you have ever visited Japan and taken a Metro train, you may be familiar with the fact that each train station has its own distinct jingle that sets it apart from every other station. Similar to the way that older tube stations in London have distinct tile patterns on the wall (which originated from the fact many who took the tube when it first started couldn’t read – the markings allowed them to know they had reached their stop), Japan’s stations may feature an electro tune or perhaps the sound of an organ. You never know what you are going to get.

The person behind these compositions is Minoru Mukaiya, a former keyboard player with jazz-fusion band Casiopea. His Hassha Merodii (translated as ‘train departure melodies’) are played each and every day, over and over again, making him one of the world’s most played artists. Having composed tunes for over 170 stations, he is certainly in high demand and every single tune delivers a story.

Devised because train operators were looking for ways to make their stations stand out from one another, every tune is capped at just seven seconds – the amount of time it takes for people to be crammed onto commuter trains before a departure. Allegedly they were also composed to stop people dashing for a train; the music ensures that people don’t rush for a train that has already arrived and will be moving imminently.

To add to the fun, each of Mukaiya’s tunes has a story behind it. If a station is known for being the birthplace of a popular character in Japan’s culture, the music may nod to that (as at Takadanobaba – home of Astro Boy). At Shibuya, the music is a nod to the fact the train is about to head uphill – a such a rapturous crescendo is played.

Although perhaps most famous now for his train jingles – Mukaiya can sometimes perform his jingles live though is banned from playing at Ginza station again due to bringing trains to a standstill such was the pandemonium to see him play -  Mukaiya is also famed for coming up with the first Train Simulator game in the 1990s. It’s fair to say he is now combining his love for music and trains in other ways.

If you are interested in learning more about Minoru Mukaiya, there are a number of YouTube videos that cover his works whilst he has recently found fame on this side of the pond after appearing in James May’s Our Man in Japan series. 

Photo by Ken Wang on Unsplash


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By Henry Fosdike