Eki Melo: Train Melodies in Japan

train tokyo Culture

Trains are a popular and important aspect of daily life in Japan. From the high-speed Shinkansen to the TV filled Yamanote Line, Japanese trains allow visitors to enjoy all of the latest technology. But there is something else that will surprise you when you visit Japan. These are the different melodies that are played at train stations. In this article, we will introduce everything you need to know about Eki Melo’s from their roles to some well-known and unique melodies that are played at various stations

The History and Roles of Eki Melo

In Japan, departure bells were originally used to signal the departure of trains. However, in 1989, in an attempt to play a more pleasant sound than boring old bells, new train departure melodies were put in place at JR East’s Shinjuku and Shibuya stations and are still played today. Since this change over 30 years ago, Eki Melo’s have spread throughout the country. Nowadays, the melodies are played not only when trains depart, but also before the announcement of the train’s arrival or in place of the annoying alarm sound when trains get into the station. 

Eki Melo Characteristics

temple bell

Eki Melo’s must combine the characteristics of being harmonious, being audible over a long distance even at a low volume, and being able to withstand the test of time. Surprisingly, the key to achieving this was found in temple bells. The sound of a bell has a component called an overtone, and although a bell might only sound like one constant sound, it is actually composed of multiple sounds, and even if the sound of a bell resonates with other sounds, it is not an unpleasant sound to most people. Taking this characteristic into consideration, electronic sounds were used for train melodies because it was easy to artificially produce overtones and control the interplay of sounds. 

Let’s look at some Eki Melo that you might hear in Japan!

Popular Eki Melo in Japan

1. JR-SH1 (Tokyo station, Shibuya station, Yokohama station, among others)

2. JR-SH2 (Tokyo station, Yokohama station, among others)

These two melodies are popular and played all the time in the Tokyo JR-East line stations. If you live in Tokyo, then you have definitely heard them before! 

3. Osaka Melody (Osaka station among others)

As opposed to the two melodies above, this one is often heard in the Kansai (especially in Osaka) region JR-West line stations. This melody is used as the alarm sound when a train is pulling up to the station.

World Famous Songs Used As Eki Melo 

1. I’ve Been Working On The Railroad (Osaka-Umeda station, Sakuragicho Station, among others)

I’ve Been Working On The Railroad is a well known American folk song that has appeared in various movies and TV shows, and is used as an Eki Melo in several places, including on the Hanshin Electric Railway and at the JR East Sakuragicho station. 

2. Zip A Dee-Doo-Dah / It’s a Small World (Maihama station)

Maihama Station is the closest station to Tokyo Disney Resort in Chiba prefecture, and various different Disney songs are used as Eki Melo here. Normally, the two songs mentioned above are used, but other songs such as “Brand New Day” and “Let It Go” are sometimes played for limited periods of time on the special occasion that there is a Disney event going on. You can get into the Disney mood right here at the station on your way to and from Disney!

3. The Four Seasons (Oimachi station,Takao station, among others)

Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ was chosen as an Eki Melo for Oimachi station simply because the stationmaster liked it. Later on it was also added to Takao station. 

4. I Met a Bear (Morinomiya station)

In Japan, ‘I met a bear’ is the name of a song called ‘Mori no Kuma-san’. “Mori” in both Mori no Kuma-san and Morinomiya station in Osaka means forest, and therefore this song was chosen.

Japanese Songs Used as Eki Melo

1. Tetsudo Shoka (Railroad song) (Shinagawa station)

Tetsudo Shoka is a famous Japanese railroad song. Shinagawa Station was serviced by the Tokaido Line(the first railroad in Japan) and was one of the earliest stations to open. For this historical reason, this song was chosen.

2. Yumewo Kanaete Doraemon / Doraemon No Uta (Noborito station)

The Fujiko F. Fujio Museum was built near Noborito Station in Kanagawa prefecture as the place where Fujiko F. Fujio, the creator of Doraemon, spent a good chunk of his life. For this reason, various features of Noborito Station, such as the Eki Melo and the station interior, have been designed to match Doraemon’s specifications.

3. Kiseki (Koriyama station)

This melody was chosen for Koriyama Station in Fukushima prefecture because Koriyama was where it all started for GReeeeN, a Japanese vocal group who wrote one of J-POP’s most popular songs, Kiseki. If you have any interest in Japanese music, you should check out this song/Eki Melo!

Eki Melo are something that you may hear at various stations throughout the world, but Japan has a very unique mixture of melodies at different stations all over the country. Did you hear any that you like in particular? Next time you are in Japan we hope you listen closely for the different Eki Melo at every station!

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Shota Yasuraoka was born in Tokyo Japan, and lived in Indonesia and Kyoto in his childhood due to his father’s job. In the fall of 2022, he is off to a US university to broaden his global perspective while studying Computer Science. He loves traveling and working on his English skills.

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