Housou – Neighborhood Broadcasting

CONTRIBUTED BY JANNINE MYERS

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Last summer we moved to a new residence to get away from the irritating drone of jet-planes taking off and landing right beside our house, and while we now enjoy living in a relatively quiet and peaceful neighborhood, we aren’t entirely noise-free.

Our new home happens to be situated right beside three strategically placed outdoor PA speakers, which very definitely break the silence with twice-daily musical interludes. Those of you who live off-base probably know what I’m talking about; I’m referring to the daily melodies (or ringing bell tunes) that you hear every day around lunch-time and late afternoon (we get a lunch-time bell tune, and an afternoon rendition of Edelweiss from The Sound of Music).

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Not every town in Okinawa has an outdoor PA system, but almost all of the smaller and more rural areas do. The musical tunes played each day are basically to inform residents that a) it’s lunchtime, or b) it’s time for young children to start making their way home before it gets dark.

If you’re wondering why a lunch-time announcement is necessary, I believe it is a tradition that started some time ago, before much of Okinawa was built up; many of the locals were farmers at that time and quite easily lost track of time as they ploughed the land and harvested the crops. I imagine the local PA system (housou), enabled the farmers to manage their time a little more efficiently, as well as ensure that they kept themselves replenished.

The word housou means to broadcast an announcement, and in addition to the lunchtime and afternoon reminders, each town or village uses their PA system to announce various happenings, such as upcoming town meetings, or sports and community events. You may have also noticed that announcements are made quite frequently during the pending arrival of a typhoon.

In the more rural areas, announcements of a more “specific” nature are sometimes made. When I lived on Yoron Island several years ago, I remember being at work one day when a public announcement was made requesting community members to be on the look-out for a runaway cow. Even more amusing (at least it was to me), was an announcement made early one morning, asking if anyone had seen a certain woman’s husband who hadn’t yet returned from an apparently wayward drinking spree.

I suspect we won’t hear too many of those types of announcements here in Okinawa, but you will inevitably hear more of the informational-type broadcasts. And although most of you don’t understand what’s being said (I had to rely on coworkers and neighbors for translation), the main thing is that you now know that the PA system in your area is not just an instrument that bellows out daily tunes and bell-rings.

Sidenote: I could have sworn we would have heard a few announcements after this morning’s earthquake and tsunami warning, but nothing? Glad we’re all okay though and no major damage done! Have a great day all.

4 COMMENTS

  1. It is so good to finally know what the loudspeaker situation is! When I visited Okinawa in July ’08, there was one very close to the inn where I stayed and I found it totally and completely charming, even trying to capture its music and announcements with the audio on my video camera. Of course, I was charmed by just about everything I encountered while I was on Okinawa. It is nice to know more about the housou. Thank you so much for this post!

  2. I live in Awase and heard several announcements this morning, but I honestly couldn’t understand what was being said because we live just far enough away that the echo is very distorting and my Nihongo is not that good..

  3. Up at McT we have 7 am bells, 5:30 pm music and anouncements (our kids refer to it as the dinner bells) and 6 pm bell. We also had some sort of announcements 20 min after the earthquake.

  4. My neighborhood PA broadcast this morning what I think was a Tsunami warning roughly 20 minutes after the earthquake…at least that is what I think they were saying! I HATE the thing on most days, because it is right next to my bedroom window and usually has a wake up call in addition to the lunch and dinner songs, but this morning I did think it was pretty cool!

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