Pieces of War and the Call of Big Ben

Throughout Japan there are systems of air raid sirens set up that ring periodically throughout the day. It used to be that they would all just sound their unmistakable air raid screams whenever turned on, but these days they’re often used  for wake up, lunch, and end of the workday calls, so they’ve been modified to play the cheery little dings and dongs of Westminster Chimes (the Big Ben tune. you know it, I’ll attach a video clip below). There are still some towns, however, whose calls through the speakers retain their original air raid scream. I was near a friends house swimming in the river once when I discovered this. Goosebumps. It is frightening, and it is uncanny knowing that just over 60 years ago the calls of these speakers were used to signify my people were flying overhead in airplanes with the intent to bomb and kill the people below. These people are now my neighbors. The reality of this dark past is something that I think about every day, and indeed, Japan is a society still very much shaped and defined by the way that things were back during the war. We do some pretty screwed up things to one another, we humans, but the current US/Japanese friendship gives me hope in the world.

This is the chime played through the sirens now that ring throughout the day. Again, all of the sirens in the town just used to let out their typical air-raid scream until they modified them to be a bit less frightening and reminiscent of war.  My theory is that they couldn’t find a way to shut the damn things off so they just made the best out of the situation. The chime is also used as the bell for all of the class changes in schools throughout Japan. It pervades the days around here and it has come to punctuate my life.

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