Dec 20, 2017

BGM in Japan

BGM in Japan photo

In Japan, one of the cultural differences I often notice and appreciate is the background music, or BGM. It creates never ending entertainment or frustration. There is of course, background music of another style in the states as well, too much it seems.

(I feel like the background music played in restrooms in the US is just too much, but I guess we don't have the fake trickling water sound effects we get in Japanese restrooms, which I also hate.)

I chose three strange categories of background music played in retail stores in Japan.

Muzak: From Keyboards to Music Boxes

Step into just about any supermarket in Japan, and you're likely to hear the cheesy 80s style instrumental keyboard renditions of pop songs, which you may or may not recognize. Some are so different it takes a while to pick up on which song you're hearing.

My favorite of these experiences is when I was picking up groceries and heard a way too happy sounding rendition of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, with the vocal melody blazing in on the keyboard.

In fancier establishments (think museum gift shops or high end stores) I've often heard a lovely grandma style 'elevator music,' where the pop songs sound like they are coming from a music box.

When you realize that music box song is Celine Dion or the theme song from Totoro, it's a strange experience. (When the elementary school where you work plays these tracks during cleaning time, it's also a weird experience.)

Scandinavian Indie

Yep, who would have thought that Scandinavian songs in English would be so popular in Japan. If you are at 100 yen shop Seria or Fashion shop Shimamura, this is likely what you'll be listening to.

I don't mean pop artists like ABBA that most people would know, but artists from Sweden and Norway are especially appreciated in these stores. Usually the tunes are relaxing and sometimes enjoyable, but not quite recognizable artists. Some of the songs are covers, but unless you normally listen to The Cardigans and The Kings of Convenience, you probably won't know who the singers are.

(I have sometimes heard songs I really liked, but been unable to figure out what they are without asking staff in the moment.)

Looping Special Tracks

This category is branded songs you can hear at stores like Book Off and 7-11 (Daydream Believer). If they think it is pleasant to hear one song non-stop, I feel so bad for their employees.

I either go crazy and leave immediately or go into a strange zombie-like mood where I can't escape the store. I don't understand why they want you to get their song stuck in your head or be super annoyed while shopping, but maybe some stores want you to purchase and leave quickly.

(I will spare you an example from this category, but you can easily look up the song played at Don Quijote if you feel like hearing something annoying.)

If possible, I want to capture some of the songs I can hear at home from passing trash and propane gas trucks, as well as the occasional tofu or yaki imo sales trucks. This is something I couldn't 'enjoy' back home, strange and fun to me, if only sometimes alarming or obnoxious.

Some people also love the songs playing at stations as trains prepare to depart. I enjoy how the songs are slightly different at each station, but the same tune along each line.

What is your favorite background music in Japan?



What if whales don't communicate with whale calls & they're just farting?