Premodern Sonic Security Systems: the Nightingale Floor

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 often built into buildings of importance, such as headquarter temples and aristocratic residences. The nightingale floors were constructed with nails that scraped against metal clamps when the boards were trod upon. This scraping created a not unpleasant but clearly audible and certainly unavoidable noise; in other words, it acted as a medieval alarm system which sonically exposed would-be intruders -- a predecessor of today's sonic security alarms! It is fun to imagine how stealthy ninjas had to outwit the uguisubari through quasi-magical skills, which in this case were concerned with disguising the sound of their footsteps.

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