Sounds of Safety 2: Fake Bird Sounds, Then and Now

Bird SoundsTwo hundred years ago, the sound of chirping birds alerted the Tokugawa shogun that ninjas had infiltrated his castle; today it guides individuals with poor vision along the train platform. In this week’s sound sample from safety conscious Japan: artificial bird sounds across the ages.

In 1601, all of Japan was united under the Tokugawa shogun, who decided to move the nation’s capital to present day Tokyo. At the same time, he also ordered his former rivals in western Japan to build him a castle in the old capital city of Kyoto. The Nijo Castle was completed twenty five years later, and though it was seldom used by the shogun himself, the buildings have survived four centuries in which virtually every other relic of feudal Japan has burned. In addition to walls, moats, gates, and keeps, the castle included an unusual security feature: squeaky floors. Apparently its designers were more concerned about ninja infiltration than a frontal assault. Every floor joint has a metal nail wedged between the boards, so that any pressure produces a whistling chirp. The style was aptly named: “nightingale floors.”Bird Sounds Joints

As I tiptoed across the shogun’s residence, I couldn’t help but think of the fake birds that follow me on my morning commute back in the modern capital of Tokyo. At each station, a tiny speaker plays a loop of chirping sounds. The speaker is placed at the foot of the stairs, so people can follow the sound to the exit. Between each chirp is a brief message that gives the station name and platform information Here are the birds of Jimbocho Station, where each night I board the second door of the third car of the 9:29 Mita Line train for Nishi-Takashimadaira. Boy I wish I didn’t have all those details memorized…

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