Japan: “Not That Sound Again”

This post is part of our special coverage on the Japan Earthquake 2011.

The all too familiar sound of Japan's Earthquake Early Warning system (緊急地震速報 Kinkyū Jishin Sokuhō) has become stuck in people's heads after being regularly broadcast on television and via mobile phone alerts, as aftershocks continue in the days following the major earthquake on March 11, 2011. The regular warning tone is played a few seconds before each tremor:

The Warning is broadcast by the Japan Meteorological Agency:

The Earthquake Early Warning system provides advance announcement of the estimated seismic intensities and expected arrival time of principal motion. These estimations are based on prompt analysis of the focus and magnitude of the earthquake using wave form data observed by seismographs near the epicenter.

The Earthquake Early Warning is aimed at mitigating earthquake-related damage by allowing countermeasures such as promptly slowing down trains, controlling elevators to avoid danger and enabling people to quickly protect themselves in various environments such as factories, offices, houses and near cliffs.

The sound is starting to wear on citizens, as these comments on microblogging site Twitter show:

@murashan: 緊急地震速報がトラウマレベル

The Earthquake Early Warning is becoming traumatic.

@fuhikoo: 地震速報関連の音がやばい怖い。なんなのあのやたら注意をひく不協和音は・・・

The sound of the Earthquake Early Warning is extremely scary. Did they have to make it such an inharmonic tone?

The sound brings up memories for @UnConiglioNero:


I duck underneath the table every time I hear the Warning. It's like an air-raid siren. Securing food, trying to confirm the safety of loved ones, unfounded rumors, a feeling of scarcity… it's like the world of the wartime stories that my grandmother used to tell me. Yesterday, I threw away some refrigerator coolant by accident, and it reminded me of the mottainai [‘waste not, want not’] spirit of my grandmother, who never threw away anything.

@NaokoBrigid covers her ears:

@NaokoBrigid: 怖い(>_< )(>_< )(>_< )地震警報(>_< )

Scared (>_< )(>_< )(>_< ) Earthquake warning (>_< )

Mobile alerts

Mobile phone companies have been offering a service that alerts mobile phones whenever the Warning goes out:

Screenshot of Earthquake Early Warning function by mobile phone company 'au'.

Screenshot of Earthquake Early Warning function by mobile phone company 'au'.

@masiro: 未だに緊急地震速報の音が怖くて、TVと携帯がダブルで鳴ると手が震えてしまうんだ。

The sound of the Earthquake Early Warning still scares me, and my hands start shaking when the television plays it and my cell phone starts buzzing.

@nico_okinawa: 疲れたあ・・。今もまた、長野県での地震速報。携帯に通知される音が、本当に「警報」という感じでビクッとする。起こってみると、震度はそれ程大きくなかったのだけれど、いつ、ドカンと大きな地震が起きるかホントに分からないからこの携帯の「警報音」が鳴る度にすごい気疲れをするように…

I'm so tired… just heard the Earthquake Warning again in Nagano Prefecture. The sounds coming from my cell phone really are the essence of “warnings” and they scare me. The magnitude isn't always big but we don't know when the next big one will come. It frays my nerves each time the Warning on my cell phone rings…

@mamamamadomado: 怖いよねあれ。うちの方、あの曲に加え、男声の低い機械音でジシンガキマスって言うんだ。( TДT) RT @highme_karan: それ間違いない。あの音怖い。RT @mio2mio: 緊急地震速報の音を、ドリフの退場するときの曲にかえてくれないかな。

It's scary, isn't it? A low, mechanical-sounding male voice says “Earthquake incoming” on my phone. RT @highme_karan: For sure! That sound is frightening. RT @mio2mio: Wonder if they could change the sound of the Earthquake Early Warning to the jingle that the Drifters [Japanese comedy group] use when leaving the stage?

Here's an iPhone app that offers a similar alert system:

Screenshot of the iPhone app 'YureKuru' (Quake Coming).

Screenshot of the iPhone app 'YureKuru' (Quake Coming).

@kiske suggests an alternative to the Warning that would be easier on the ears:

@kiske: 緊急地震速報のアレ恐いから ブライアン・イーノに新しいの頼んで

The sound of the Warning is so scary. Can we get Brian Eno to compose a new melody?

@kotetsu1968: そういえばさっき京急の中で一斉に緊急地震速報の音が色んな人の携帯から鳴っていた。凄い緊迫感だった。

Oh, and when I was in the Keikyu Train, different earthquake warning sounds started ringing from everyone's cell phones at the same time. An extreme sense of urgency filled the train.

@sheriii_m: 仕事中に今まで聞いたことのないような音がみんなの携帯から鳴った。地震速報でした。怯えるように仕事を続けたけど、みんな無事。生きてるってすばらしいね!

In our workplace, everyone's cell phones started ringing at once, making a sound that had never been heard before. It was the Earthquake Early Warning. We continued to work although we were terrified. Everyone is okay. It's wonderful to be alive, isn't it?!

This post is part of our special coverage on the Japan Earthquake 2011.


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