Photo: Sagano Bamboo Forest at Arashimaya – Ray in Manila / CC BY 2.0

100 Soundscapes of Japan

Exploring Japan through its sounds

Photo: Sagano Bamboo Forest at Arashimaya – Ray in Manila / CC BY 2.0
By Sleiman Azizi    - 2 min read

It may take a while to visit them all but the 100 Soundscapes of Japan offer a most unique opportunity to visit and appreciate the country and culture of Japan.

You see, heading off to experience Okinawa's pristine tropical waters, the magnificence of Matsumoto Castle in Nagano or the historical elegance of Kyoto's Kinkakuji is no difficult thing. They are all stunningly beautiful, a visual treat for the eyes. But to visit a place because of its sound, well, that is a truly marvellous idea.

In 1986 Japan's Ministry of the Environment decided to do something about noise pollution and came up with the idea of creating a national list of sounds representative of the nation, its environment, culture and heritage. Putting it to the people, thousands of entries were whittled down to a final 100 sounds.

With an aim to increase awareness, respect and pride in the local environment, the 100 Soundscapes of Japan come from all 47 of the nation's prefectures and represent all four seasons, the natural world, intangible historical artefacts as well as local crafts and cultural traditions.

Steam train
Steam train (Photo: JNR D51 194 in Tsuwano DSCN7329 20090821 – Ogiyoshisan / Public Domain)

The rhythmical wood clapping of traditional ramie weaving from Showa village in Fukushima is listed. So too are the steam engines from the Yamaguchi Line running between Yamaguchi and Shimane prefectures. Water is strongly featured with Tateyama's Shomyo Falls in Toyama prefecture and the sounds of Rurikei stream in Kyoto.

Shomyo Falls in Tateyama
Shomyo Falls in Tateyama (Photo: Falls basin of the Shomyo-daki – kahusi / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Culturally significant events like Tokushima's Awa Odori Festival and the horse festival's Bells of Chagu Chagu Umakko in Iwate are listed. Kumagaya in Saitama prefecture features its Arakawa River insects singing their summer songs while the cicadas at Yamadera in Yamagata, immortalised in Matsuo Basho's famous poem, do the same.

One Japan's most famous sounds
One Japan's most famous sounds (Photo: Large Brown Cicada (Matsudo, Chiba, Japan) – t-mizo / CC BY 2.0)

There is, of course, much more to this list than the sounds mentioned. Animals, plants, oceans, and local life are all represented. But even the 100 sounds themselves can only ever be a small proportion of the many more that are possible.

Even if you can't get to all of the sounds listed, you can still take full advantage by creating your own list and listening to the Japan - if not the world - that is around you.

For the complete list of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan, please click the below links:

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Sleiman Azizi

Sleiman Azizi @sleiman.azizi

I'm a Japanese Permanent Resident with over 600 published articles on Japan as well as 5 English language books inspired by traditional Japanese literature.I'm also the Regional Partner for Tokyo, so if you've anything to say about Japan's never ending capital - or just Japan in general - don't be shy and contact with me via sleiman.azizi@japantravel.com

Join the discussion

Lynda Hogan 9 months ago
Phew, Saitama got a mention. Often it doesn't! I had never heard of these soundscapes. Thank you so much for introducing them to me. I will definitely try and incorporate some of these to future trips.
Lynda Hogan 9 months ago
We maybe the only two people who feel that way!!
Elena Lisina 2 years ago
I also wonder if tere are many singing birds in woods? Here in spring if you go to a wood it 'rings' with numerous birds, but by autumn they calm down.
Sleiman Azizi Author a year ago
It would depend, I think, on which woods you visit.
Elena Lisina 2 years ago
I've never seen or heard cicadas in my life yet! Crows in Japan produce different sounds than Russian crows - I found it interesting. Japanese sound like a laughter! :D
Elena Lisina 2 years ago
They're not everywhere? Of course, I don't expect cicadas in the center of Tokyo! : )
Elizabeth S 2 years ago
When planning trips, I often glance at this list.

Two of my favorites on the list are the Bell of Time at Kawagoe City and the Toyohashi waterfall bridge at Sawara City.
Sleiman Azizi Author 2 years ago
It's a fascinating read. I'm partial to the sounds of crafts.
Kim 2 years ago
This is such a unique way of promoting tourism!
Sleiman Azizi Author 2 years ago
You're reading it correctly!