City Sounds

There are lots of sounds I’ve become accustomed to after years of living in Japan.

The nasally, high-pitched calls of Irasshaimase! when you enter a store.

The sounds of crosswalk signals, train crossings, and buzzers for people who are cutting it too close.

The almost silent sound of approaching cars with their noiseless engines.

There’s a sing-song tone played at 4:30pm in the winters and 5:30pm in the summers, alerting kids that are out playing that it’s time to head home.

The heart-attack-inducing, wake-you-up-from-the-dead alert on cell phones that an earthquake is imminent.

There’s another tone that is played over loud speakers that announce when schools are dismissing and kids will be walking home. Evacuation announcements if a mudslide or flooding seems possible. Announcements made by city officials in case there is a missing elderly person who has wandered away or if there has been a pervert or a suspicious person reported in the area. This happens sometimes.

(That’s one thing I appreciate is that all parents are alerted on cell phones as well).

These announcements are often a bit difficult for me to understand a distance. There’s a bit of an echo effect happening… and it’s a loud speaker. They’re hard enough to understand in English.

The other day I heard a sound coming from the loud speakers. I was inside in our home office working, and the sound seemed… ominous.

Like… do you remember when we all used dial-up? And that sound while it was connecting– well– if that sound went bad– that’s what this sound reminded me of.

I tried to listen carefully… to no avail. I checked my phone… was N. Korea sending over missiles? I’ve heard recently of people getting alerts on their phones to that effect.

No, no alerts. People weren’t rushing around in the streets.

Everything just seemed… normal.

But what could it all have meant?

It reminded me of the days after the big earthquake in 2011. Everyone was in a calm-sort of panic… the way it seems to be done here. People were lined up in advance of store openings and shelves were empty. Train routes were unpredictable, rolling black-outs were happening in light of the Fukushima Nuclear meltdown. Everyone in masks, worried about radiation poisoning. Constant aftershocks literally gave me motion sickness, as it felt like we were on a boat…. for days.

And there were frequent announcements over the loud speakers about these things.

My Japanese at that time was not near good enough to be able to understand them. So, to say the least, there was a bit of unease.

Anyway, this new noise brought me back to those days.

I sent over a message to two nearby moms to see if they knew what was going on. One hadn’t heard it, and the other had found out that it was a earthquake alert testing system that had happened. She also agreed that it was a terrible noise she’d never heard before.

I was relieved, but surprised at the memories it brought back. Of course, absolutely nothing was wrong. It also got me to thinking about all the noises I’ve come to learn what they mean and the ones I don’t even hear anymore.

What are sounds that stand out to you in your life?

2 thoughts on “City Sounds

  1. The sounds that stand out to me are the sound of birds chirping and soft flowing water…the sound of quiet. I don’t hear it nearly often enough as I’ve become habituated to the drone of constant noise.


  2. Oh wow. That is a lot of sounds! I’ll have to think on the ‘sounds’ that bring up memories or recall things. It’s some great food for thought.


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