100 Soundscapes of Japan

Exploring Japan through its sounds

By Sleiman Azizi    - 3 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 in Shimane Prefecture (Photo: Ogiyoshisan)
Steam train in Shimane Prefecture (Photo: Ogiyoshisan)

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 (Photo: kahusi (會話))
Shomyo Falls in Tateyama (Photo: kahusi (會話))

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.

The sound of the cicada is one Japan's most famous (Photo: t-mizo)
The sound of the cicada is one Japan's most famous (Photo: t-mizo)

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.

Getting there

The Ministry of the Environment has a downloadable pamphlet (Japanese only) listing all of the sounds, some information about them and how to visit them.

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Sleiman Azizi

Sleiman Azizi @sleiman.azizi

A Japanese Permanent Resident, I drool over proper soba and sushi while Japanese aesthetics ticks all the right boxes for me.With over 100 published articles on Japan as well as 5 English language books written in a traditional Japanese style, I also happen enjoy writing. Funny that...I'm also the Regional Partner for Tokyo, Japan's never ending capital, so if you've anything to say about Tokyo - or Japan in general - don't be shy and contact with me via sleiman.azizi@japantravel.com

Join the discussion

Elena Lisina 4 weeks 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.
Elena Lisina a month 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 4 weeks ago
They're not everywhere? Of course, I don't expect cicadas in the center of Tokyo! : )
Elizabeth Scally a month 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 a month ago
It's a fascinating read. I'm partial to the sounds of crafts.
Kim B a month ago
This is such a unique way of promoting tourism!
Sleiman Azizi Author a month ago
You're reading it correctly!