Accepted Paper:

Sound publics: imaginations of the public inscribed in a Japanese public loudspeaker system  


Naoki Matsuyama (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

The public loudspeaker system in Japanese cities does not only warn of disasters but also plays a role in the mundane formation of togetherness through diverse functions. This paper analyzes the imaginations of the public inscribed in this system through interviews of the actors involved.

Paper long abstract:

The public loudspeaker system installed in Japanese municipalities is a significant part of the experience of daily life in Japan. This is because the system is used not only to alert the public of oncoming threats, but also for more mundane tasks such as signaling a time of the day with a melody, announcing a local event, or sharing the death of a local resident. Thus the system does not only contribute in the formation of publics awaiting disasters, but it also connects the residents through selected messages and modes of signification, while inducing a semiotic consistency with the country's cultural history, for example with the choice of music from the era in which Japan underwent rapid Westernization.

This paper borrows from two burgeoning but rarely overlapping fields of study, which identify infrastructure on one hand, and sound on the other, as political sites where togetherness is tacitly formed, while problematizing the notion of the public or publicness in relation to them. By focusing on the sonic infrastructure of the loud speaker system, this study aims to identify the imaginations of the public inscribed in it through interviews with the involved actors, including municipality officers and developers of the equipment. Adopting the conceptual lens of Actor Network Theory to discern the intricate web of associations that involve the local and the national, the mundane and the extraordinary, and the natural and the social, the loudspeakers emerge as an important site of public formation in a country that lives with disasters.

Panel C17
Moving together: problematizing the makings of togetherness