Accepted Paper:

Cultural components of sound environments and the management of uncertainty in Japanese public transportation  


Pierre Manea (Keio University)

Paper short abstract:

By describing sound practices and hearing modalities in contemporary Japan public (transportation) spaces, this paper will show both passengers and transportation companies willingness to manage uncertainty and disquiet through various and numerous melodies, announcements and sound signals.

Paper long abstract:

Japan Railways East (JR East), the largest railway company in Japan and in the world, uses a highly advanced and dense sound information system in its network: localized departure melodies, fine-tuned automatic annoucements, detailed real-time annoucements by employees, sound signals illustrating states or mechanical functions are part of the daily life for 16 milion passangers only in the Tokyo area. They represent an exhaustive attempt to tackle uncertainty of transportation.

But there is more here than a mere information system. Speakers, megaphones and mics (as well as visual informations and advertising campaigns) are also used to manage public/personnal behavior. Historically, there was a need to soften disquiet due to new forms of social contacts in shared spaces. It was the result of the aggressive developments of railway companies around 1900, allowing people from different social backgrounds to share the same spaces in extreme proximity for long distances. Passengers claims met the company policies for rationalization, and today, the public itself seeks out for sounds as space markers, but also as social guides.

Still, as highly and precisely coded as it is, this sound environment is also predictable. Its impact on listening modalities, the reassuring ambiance it creates, will be discussed in this paper, mainly in the light of Japan cultural and social characteristics. We will show how sound was perceived as a mean to manage complexity, dramatically changing the daily environment, and gaining social functions that enables it to be, in modern Japan, a preferred tool to manage public attitudes.

Panel W088
Sound environments: forms, perception, and meanings