Tokyo - planning for disaster

A nice piece on Atlas Obscura.

It describes a daily ritual which can be observed (or rather, heard) across Japan, at or around 5pm.

It's the shichouson bousai gyousei musen housou

It’s known as the ‘5pm Chime’ (五時のチャイム) or, more officially (and tellingly), the ‘Municipal Disaster Management Radio Communication Network’ (市町村防災行政無線). That should give you some clue as to what it is for, and why you’ve probably never really understood it. After all, if all you’ve ever heard is eerie chimes or music at dusk, that likely means you’ve not experienced any major disasters (a good thing!)

Officially then, the speaker network is part of a nationwide system set up around most villages, towns and cities to warn residents in the case of emergency – especially disaster warnings for tsunamis and informational broadcasts in response to earthquakes.

Some systems are also set up to broadcast announcements of severe weather, fire, suspicious persons, dangerous wildlife or simply just public announcements of community events or activities. It’s most often heard early in the morning or late in the afternoon and can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your sleep patterns.

But despite all these important uses, the one we hear most often is undoubtedly the 5pm chime. It’s an instrumental version of ‘Yuyaku Koyake’ (夕焼け 小焼け), a Japanese children’s folk song dating back to 1919. The beloved music is used as both a daily safety check to ensure the broadcast system and speakers are working correctly, and also to remind children that playtime is over and that they should return home before dark.


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