What Is That ‘5pm Chime’?

Note: Update at the bottom.

One thing that has been extremely clear since we got here is that Japan and its people take rules and procedures very seriously. Whether it is on the simple things like not crossing the road at a red light (even when the road are empty) to lining up in a single file when boarding the subway.

One of the first things I noticed since moving here was a chime that would go off day, around mid-afternoon/early evening time. As I began to pay more attention to the timing of the chime, it turns out that it was being played every day at exactly 5PM and hence it is known as the goji no chaimu (the 5PM chime) but the proper term is more of a mouthful: shichoson bosai gyosei musen hoso (local government disaster administration wireless broadcast).

The chime does serve multiple purposes. Primarily, it is the local government’s daily check of the emergency broadcast system to alert its citizens of dangers such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and any other major accidents. The secondary purpose, according to The Japan Times, is “that as long as there’s going to be a daily test, it may as well be timed so it serves some other purpose, and reminding kids to head home before dark is a popular one. In many localities the evening broadcast is timed to 5 p.m. in the winter months and 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. as the days get longer.”

Fortunately, they are using a relatively friendly tune that we get to hear every day instead of some ominous, impending colossal doom.

You can listen to a sample of one the broadcast chime/test below:

Update: Twitter follower @sjplep sent me a link which states that it is a poem written in 1919 by Nakamura Ukou, and later song-ified in 1923 by Kusakawa Shin. Now it’s played as a signal that its time for schoolchildren to head home.

A loose English translation:
When the sun sets and it gets dark
And the bell from the mountain temple rings
Let’s hold hands and go home
Let’s go home together with the crows

After the children have returned home
Shines the big round moon
When the little birds are dreaming
Golden stars twinkle in the sky

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