Imagining Sonic Flaneurs from the Past

Recently, our book Sound, Space and Sociality in Modern Japan was reprinted in paperback. In the introduction (co-authored with Sonic Japan team member Joe Hankins), we wrote about how sensory experiences had been described in the past:

"the notion of the public gaze has been much discussed in social theory...Social theory as generated by Western scholars has prioritised the visual; influenced by the primacy of literacy as an indicator of 'civilised' understanding...' (p. 6)

The city was thus seen in the early 20th century as a social and environmental construct, described by the flaneur, an educated person who “observes everyday life on the street, digests it and spits it back out in the form of essays, poetry and other writing." (ibid).

It's interesting to think about how sensory life was described in the past compared to the kind of work we are doing on this website. Japanese cities at this time were wonderfully described in the literature at that time by flaneurs such as Nagai Kafu (1879-1959) who saw himself as Baudelaire’s Japanese counterpart, and Tanizaki Jun’ichiro (1886-1965), who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature multiple times. Their writings about sound in the early modern Japanese city give us some idea about what places like early modern leisure spots such as Ginza (featured here) would have sounded like then. Who knows… if Nagai and Tanizaki had had access to digital recorders, and the ability to embed sound files in their writing as we do in this blog…what would their essays, short stories and novels have “sounded” like?

Explore Sonic Japan

More in Ginza

More on nature

More on public space

More on streetscapes

Recent posts

Premodern Sonic Security Systems: the Nightingale Floor

Wed Nov 13 2019 by Carolyn Stevens

This a recording of a temple located in Ohara, just outside Kyoto, named Sanzenin. An important site for the Tendai school of Buddhism, this large complex houses many artistic and religious treasures. One of the compound buildings featured a uguisubari (translated as ‘nightingale floor’). This kind of flooring was...>>

Kyoto Jazz Club

Wed Jul 10 2019 by Carolyn Stevens

Last May I travelled to Japan to participate in Professor Hosokawa's 'Otomimikai' (sound and listening research group) at Nichibunken, and as luck would have it, I was there at same time as Professor Merry I White from Boston University. Many know her work Coffee Life in Japan and Perfectly...>>

Pokemon Go

Fri Dec 07 2018 by Richard Chenhall

Public places in the crowded streets of Shinjuku in Tokyo are usually filled with movement, talking and the sounds emanating from shops. Whilst walking through West Shinjuku, I was minding my business walking to my destination. I stopped when I saw a sea of people standing outside Yodabashi camera. There...>>