The 5 o’clock bell, explained

5 o'clock bell
In my April 16 column in The Japan Times, I reveal the real rationale for the 5 o’clock bell. For the benefit of the uninitiated, I’m referring to a daily broadcast of music that is played on outdoor speakers in virtually every city, town and village in Japan. Most people assume the broadcast is to remind children to head home before dark, but that’s not the true purpose. To learn what is, please read the article; here, I’m just providing samples so you can hear the sounds for yourself.

Where I live the music played every day at 5 o’clock is “Yuyake koyake,” 夕焼小焼, a Japanese folksong written in 1923. Here’s how it plays in the city of Kashiwa in Chiba Prefecture:

Another popular choice is “Ieji” 家路, which means “the road home.” Some of you may know it as “Going Home,”based on a Dvorak melody (Largo, from the New World Symphony). Here’s a recording of it playing in Fukuroi City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Fujimi City in Saitama made a rather interesting selection:

That was “Love is Blue,” or 恋はみずいろKoi wa mizu iro.

And finally, here’s “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” as played at noon in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture. In Japanese, it’s called “Musunde hiraite” むすんでひらいて in Japanese.

There are hundreds of these videos on YouTube. I found one that had been viewed 37,976 times since it was posted four years ago.

Update May 8: As per a reader request, I’m adding a link to the blog mentioned in the JT column

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8 Responses to The 5 o’clock bell, explained

  1. Rita Tratt says:

    Alice san   Your posts are so interesting and quirky.  I love them.   I live in Sydney, have visited Japan many times and taught Japanese students.  Now, I’m retired and as a volunteer I run courses focussing on Japanese culture and events, for the University of the Third Age.  Ureshii desu.   Yorishiku   Rita Tratt

    ________________________________

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for the post! I have been living in Kashiwa for over 6 months and I always wondered and asked about the 5 p.m. bell, but no one seemed to know! Have a nice week and all the best!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Alice for such a great topic.

  4. Ichiro Yamanishi says:

    What about people’s freedom of individual consciousness or mind?

    Bōsai musen (a speaker system mounted on a huge pole right outside my apartment) system is a means of Japanese totalitarian soft fascism which rooted from Imperial dictatorship like Nazi era of Germany. http://www.historyonthenet.com/Nazi_Germany/propaganda.htm

    With standing huge speaker on every 600m, Japan is like a prison or concentration camp and intentional noise polluted country.

    Never necessary of speaker system mounted on a huge pole right outside house and never used more effectively than any other communication system of today’s individually available electric devises.

  5. Leah says:

    Regarding the JT article, I used to live in Anamizu! Could you link the blog with the person complaining about the bells? (I swear it wasn’t me, haha.)

  6. Alice says:

    Dear Leah,
    Link added to the end of the blog post. Thanks for the good suggestion.

  7. Pingback: Fun Link Friday: Town Bells | What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?

  8. Becca says:

    The old pop singer GWINKO has a cute little song about the 5 o’clock bell, and translating it led me to this blog ^_^ you can find if you type in “GWINKO 鐘がきこえる日々” on Youtube!

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