Do You Know Who Is Behind the Train Melodies You Hear at Japanese Train Stations?

  • If you’ve ever been to the cities of Tokyo and Osaka, you’ll notice the melody being played when trains are about to arrive and depart from stations. They are called train departure melodies or “hassha merodii” in Japanese. These jingles that whisk commuters on their way were actually made by Japanese composer Minoru Mukaiya, who has created almost 200 train jingles in his lifetime.

    What are train melodies?

    Aside from Tokyo and Osaka, there are other cities around the world that use train melodies such as Budapest in Hungary and Seoul in Korea. First introduced by French classical pianist Charles-Valentin Alkan, these melodies or jingles are known to provide a feeling of relief when trains are departing and alertness when arriving. In 1971, they were introduced to Japan; and Keihan Electric Railway was the first Japanese railway company to use such train melodies.

    Bells were first used to mark the departure and arrival of trains. It didn’t sound calming and relaxing, thus certain criteria were used in creating the tunes. Later on, local train managers were able to customize the alarms into melodic ones. It created a positive reaction among passengers and quickly became popular, as passengers felt unhurried before disembarking. Most train melodies are related to Japanese history and are seven-seconds long.

    Who is Minoru Mukaiya?

    Minoru Mukaiya is a Japanese musician, game producer, and CEO. In 1979, he joined the Japanese jazz fusion band Casiopea as their keyboardist.

    As the CEO of Ongakukan, a Japanese company supporting railway safety around the world, Mukaiya also produced Train Simulator, a train simulation game series which started in 1995. He also worked on the soundtrack for Koei’s Samurai Warriors, a hack and slash video game.

    Minoru Mukaiya’s Train Melodies

    Some of Minoru Mukaiya’s notable works include announcement chimes in the trains of the Kyushu Shinkansen (2004), departure music at major stations operated by Keihan Electric Railway in the Kansai region (2007), approaching music and departure music at major stations operated by Hanshin Electric Railway in the Kansai region (2009), departure melody for Tokyu Toyoko Line Shibuya Terminal’s last two weeks of operation in 2013, and the onboard announcement chime for Seibu Railway’s “Fifty two seats of happiness” train (2016).

    You can listen to some of his train melodies here:

    Minoru Mukaiya’s train melodies have long been making millions of people in Japan happy during their commute, even at the busiest stations of the country. Besides serving people, Mukaiya thinks that composing train melodies allows him to combine his passion for trains and music.