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Japan…where the traffic lights sing

street crossing japan has a fun article on Japan’s Musical Street Crossings which made me to start thinking about how odd they sound.

Listen to my podcast remix of the ubiquitous sound of Japan— musical pedestrian crossings. (streaming or MP3 format, 2.3MB, 1 minute 34 seconds) To skip all the ambient noises of Japan in the remix, listen to this upbeat MP3version. Or, check out the following Youtube:
(Update via

Most larger crossings in Japan play this electronic tune, called Toryanse (通りゃんせ ) when it’s safe to cross. Ahh, Japan…where the traffic lights sing.

The children’s song Toryanse literally means “Please Let Me Pass” in Japanese. However, it’s really just plain kimoi—creepy in its melancholic minor key….especially so when you think about the words that reference times of high childhood mortality in Japan:
Going is easy / Coming back is fearful / Although I feel fearful, please let me pass / Please let me pass

For the full lyrics and more info, go to: Toryanse” in Wikipedia.

For good laugh, watch the video of Japanese language study dorks in the States doing the kindergarten song and dance of Toryanse.
Toryanse song and dance by anime dorks in the States (In the Quicktime .mov format, 40 seconds approx.)


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4 Responses to “Japan…where the traffic lights sing”

  1. Taro Says:


    The idea of Japanese Toryanse in a weird way sort of mirrors the East German pop-culture phenomenon “Ampelmanchen” —the walk/don’t walk men at cross walks.

    ped-xing East German nostalgia – Ampelmännchen
    East Berlin crosswalk manännchen
    “Following German unification in 1990, there were attempts to standardize all traffic signals to the West German forms, leading to calls to save the East German Ampelmännchen. It thus became a kind of mascot for the East German nostalgia movement, known as Ostalgie. The protests were successful, and the Ampelmännchen returned to pedestrian crossings, including some western districts of Berlin. Some western German cities, such as Saarbrücken, have since adopted the design.”

  2. Taro Says:

    Japanese Toryanse
    There are many theories to the origin of the song, but all agree that it is a portrayal of an exchange between a civilian and a guard manning some sort of a checkpoint – at Kawagoe Castle according to one theory. In the olden days when infant mortality was high, people celebrated when a child survived to reach the age of 7 (as well as 3 and 5 – see Shichi-Go-San), and ordinary people were only allowed to visit the shrine within the castle compound for special occasions.
    This particular warabe-uta (Japanese children’s tune) is sung as part of a traditional game identical to “London Bridge Is Falling Down”. Two children facing each other link their hands to form an arch ‘checkpoint’, and the remaining children walk through underneath in a line (and back round again in circles). The child who happens to be under the arch when the song finishes is then ‘caught’.
    The tune being played at Japanese pedestrian crossings is an analogy to this game; i.e. it is safe to cross until the music stops.

  3. Faller Says:

    I’ve written an article on this:

  4. Tokyo Scum Brigade's "Creepy Kids Songs" Says:

    Here’s more Toryanse fun..

    Creepy Kids Songs Part 1: Toryanse
    Tokyo Scum Brigade | August 30, 2012
    Summertime in Japan belongs to the ghouls. Dead ancestors return to visit the living during the O-Bon festival, and spine chilling ghost stories are the best way to beat the heat
    Continues with videos…


    Creepy Kids Songs Part 2: Kagome Kagome
    Tokyo Scum Brigade| September 4, 2012
    Our second dreadful dirge warns of murderous in-laws, global conspiracies, and treasure best left buried. You're never too young to learn that someone is always watching you, so fit in or pay the price… 
    Continues with videos…

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