Japan: 5 o’clock song

Every day, at 5 o’clock in Japan, a song will be played on the public speakers on the streets, to remind everyone that it is time to wrap-up and go home. Though no one seems to follow the suggestion as Japanese people tend to work very late, I find this custom to be an endearing but yet communistic (in the social sense, not the political sense) one. It does not account for individuals or different personal schedules, rather just assumes that since everyone should be leaving work and school and whatever they are doing at 5pm, it will be played in public.

When we first arrived in Japan and at the first time I heard this song, I thought it was just a coincidence that it was 5pm. No one had told me about this practice. After hearing it a few more times, always at 5pm, I started wondering about it and asked my Japanese friends. There are various stories behind it, but the general message is that it marks the end of a work day. What I was surprised about was that it is also played in the weekends.

Some days, I find that the 5 o’clock song is a welcome reminder that I should wrap-up whatever I am doing and start thinking about dinner and a relaxing evening with my husband. Some days though, if I am in the middle of something important or I am concentrating hard on my work, I find the song annoying as it just adds further pressure, even if there isn’t a time pressure on what I am doing. It seems to say, “stop what you are doing, you shouldn’t be working, shouldn’t be working anymore today!”

Would you like to have a permanent 5pm alarm set that is not cancellable? It is just another Japanesey thing, I guess, where people don’t complaint about things that may annoy them; or they just like conformity and knowing that everywhere in the country, the same thing is happening at exactly the same time.

I am thinking of creating a new ritual everyday at 5pm… perhaps it could be having a cup of coffee? And if I do that enough times, I could be conditioned into craving a cup of coffee every time I hear that same music. Hmm…. now perhaps that would be an interesting experiment?


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