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The Bells

Illustration by Dot.

Between the incessant bells in one ear and the recorded voices laughing at me in the other, if I don't go insane it's because I already have.

Sometime before the New Year, the train stations on the JR lines all seemed to switch their automated recordings. I don't know if the message itself is different - my translation ability is still at the "nice weather we're having" phase - but I can't help noticing that the young lady who recorded the announcements seems to be suppressing a grin with every word. I'm serious; she sounds like she had just watched a really funny episode of The Simpsons before stepping up to the microphone, and this comes through sounding like she knows something that I don't. Well ma'am, for the record, you probably know a lot of things that I don't, and I'm already feeling insecure about it, so I wish you wouldn't rub it in. According to the song, "Irish eyes are smiling." Evidently in Japan they manage it with tone of voice.

And yet the mocking recordings are merely a pleasant interlude to the electronic torture that is the warning system for the blind. Every ten seconds - and believe me, I've timed it - this diabolical device sends out its distinctive "ding" which hangs in the air like a promise of the coming "dong." Musicians will tell you that the interval between these two notes is a minor third, exactly the sound of the taunting "nyah-nyah" song of children that has irritated adults for centuries. Could they possibly have chosen a more annoying sound for the subway warning system? I realize that blind people need this so they don't fall down the stairs, but for crying out loud! Pay me what you paid for the ding-dong system, and I'll stand there warning people about the stairs.

The very worst is Yabashira station in Chiba, a transfer I am obliged to make several times a week. Here we have one of these infernal ding-dong devices on each side of the tracks, plus another at the top of the stairs, all timed within two seconds of each other. In the two minutes it takes to catch my train I am subjected to 36 dings and as many dongs, all played in a satanic roundelay, until I feel like Quasimodo ("The bells! The bells!"). Just don't be surprised when, after hearing the recording of the young lady chuckling that my train is coming, I tear the loudspeaker off the wall and wrestle it to the ground, yelling, "All right, what's so funny???"

Many thanks to reader Richard Schwartz for this Rant.

Metropolis Online
349: Life in the cycle lane
Playing chicken with a ladybike
348: Daisuki na Tokyo
Tokyo's my favorite!
347: Nihongo dake!
Why am I not fluent in Japanese yet?
346: People make the city
The beauty of Tokyo's people
345: Cross Training
Commuting by train in Tokyo
344: Yellow Line Fever
A guide for the blind... and a pain in the neck
343: Welcome to Tokyo
What did you bring me?
342: Positive thinking
Three reasons why we love Japan
341: I'm a rounder...
Veterans of Japan vs. Japan rookies
340: Discard your bank cards
The labour of replacing lost bank cards
339: Shoganai...
It can't be helped
338: Respect your environment
Poluution problem in Tokyo
337: Strike Three - You're Enlightened
How omiyage ruins a vacation
336: Missing manners
No manners outside of Japan
335: Goodbye jitensha
Is stealing bikes a popular pastime in Japan?
334: War of the Words
English borrows from other languages too!
333: ENGLISH ONLY, please
Don't bother writing your name in Japanese
332: A menu carved in stone
No special requests for lunch!
331: The Zen of Looking Busy
The art behind faking work
330: Lyrical Phlegm
Japan's spitting dilemma
329: Rock harder, Japan
Big, bad and ugly concerts
328: Noise Deficiency
The unrelenting quiet that is not Japan
327: Chopstick Diplomat
Constant questioning = constant answering
326: Game over
Cutting off the game for regular scheduled program
325: Grown pains
The hooligan behavior of middle-aged salarymen
324: The Price of Fame
Young teen actors light up on-screen
323: A Customary Affair
The universal language of consumerism
322: Robber barons
JR steals from the rich.. and the poor
321: Tegami Or Not Tegami
Deny the letter to save money
320: The Garbage Men
Variations of the "salaryman"
319: Holidaze
Japan - Home of the lamest holidays in the world
318: Box your ears
Be the karaoke star you've always dreamed of
317: The winter of my discontent
No oden if it's spring please!
316: The Bells
Going insane from bells and voices
315: The Big Tokyo Trash Mystery
No garbage cans + too much garbage= a clean city?
314: The Kamikaze Spirit
The war may be over but the spirit lives on
313: Movie Mania
Laughing alone in the corner
312: Geek parade
What's going on with gaijin men?
311: Gleaming gomi
Rinse it out before you throw it out
310: Lower Mathematics
Teaching practical mathematical equations
309: Escalator clots
Blocking the flow of escalator traffic
308: Sky's the limit
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307: Bring on the studmuffins
Thanks to the "Men looking for women"
306: Burning Rubber
Narrowly averting bicycle collisions
305: Fishy Business
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304: The Invisible Gaijin
When gaijins collide
303: Talk work only
The Japanese perception of idleness
302: From kotatsu, with love
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300: Why 2K?
The millennium bug ain't no big deal

ISSUES 350-381
ISSUES 250-299

ISSUES 233-249