Big (Only) in Japan? ‘Greensleeves’

June 21st, 2010 by Daniel Morales

Please hold and listen to "Greensleeves" on an endless loop

Please hold and listen to “Greensleeves” on an endless loop

Japanese bureaucracy is one of the most efficient (and at times efficiently frustrating) in the world. If you know the rules of the game – registering as a foreigner, paying for national health insurance and pension, registering a personal signature stamp, etc. – then you should have no trouble with life in Japan. However, if you don’t know or don’t like the written (and unwritten) rules, then you may chafe under the societal differences, and when you call the local office to ask why you’ve received yet another bill to pay, your frustration may only increase when they put you on hold and you are forced to listen to a MIDI version of the famous English folk song “Greensleeves.” Video gamers will recognize the tune from the “King’s Quest” series of games, and history buffs will be well familiar with the 16th-century ballad that is referred to in Shakespeare and Chaucer.

For whatever reason, the tune is one of the default melodies on telephone systems in Japan. Not that the tune is the only one available; this Brother fax machine, for example, offers over 30 different selections, including “fun” songs like “It’s a Small World” and “seasonal” songs such as “Hotaru no hikari” (also known as “Auld Lang Syne”). But Greensleeves is listed in the “soothing” category along with classics like “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” and “My Old Kentucky Home.” A closer look reveals that this particular model is advertising melodies for the arrival of faxes – not necessarily hold music. Whether or not Greensleeves deserves to be put in the “soothing” category is a debatable issue, but another model from the same company, however, makes it very clear that in Japan, Greensleeves = hold music.

Perhaps there is some unknown connection with “King’s Quest.” Perhaps a freelance MIDI artist was just producing a ton of different music and Greensleeves tested very “soothing” in the market studies. Even Japanese are baffled by this. On Yahoo Japan, a questioner asked “Why is ‘Greensleeves’ so frequently used as hold music?” The single response says, simply, “Maybe because average people like it.”

Whatever the reason, “Greensleeves” approaches a sort of symbolic value much like “Auld Lang Syne,” which is bigger in Japan than “Greensleeves” and used across the country at stores just before closing time (to signal that they are closing) and at graduation ceremonies (to signal that the kids are finished). “Greensleeves” signals, soothingly to some and annoyingly to others, that the caller is being made to wait. Just a few more seconds and they’ll be back. Almost there. Wait for it. Wait for iiit – omatase-shimashita.

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.

RSS

Recent Posts

  • Marketers capitalize on university entrance exam time

    This week there is something weighing heavy on the minds of many students who’d like to advance to college: the National Center Test for University Admissions. It’s being held Jan. 18-19. Those with their heart set on a particular school who don’t get a good enough score may choose to spend a year, or in [...]

  • Pulsations 1.13.14

    The first batch of Pulsations in 2014 features a twist on chopstick design, a spectacular holiday illumination in Osaka and more.

  • Feelin’ lucky? The highs and lows of ‘fukubukuro’

    Whether you count fukubukuro “lucky bags” as a thank-you to shoppers, a scheme to unload less popular merchandise at the end of the year or just a way to kick off the New Year’s sales, buying a mystery pile of stuff worth [hopefully far] more than the price tag is a tempting offer to many. [...]

  • Pulsations (12.6.13)

    This collection of Pulsations brings holiday cheer in bento form, a must-see project for font-lovers, a solo stop-motion animation effort and more!

  • Joysound’s top 10 karaoke songs of 2013

    Joysound karaoke announced their top songs of 2013! However, just because they’re popular does not mean they came out this year . . .

  • Tokyo Eggs Benedict Bingo

    Eggs Benedict with awesome bacon, with a near lack of eggs, with raw tuna! Wait, raw tuna?! We sample a handful of Tokyo’s Hollandaise sauces.

  • Pulsations (11.19.13)

    Fashion, art and snacktime collide in this collection of Pulsations! Plus: Doraemon makes his 3D film debut!

  • J-blip: Tsutaya launches one-stop ‘lifestyle’ bookshop

    Bookseller Tsutaya moves into the lifestyle business and gives consumer more ways to use T-points.

  • Autumn crop of pumpkin, purple potato and pear products

    The change of season prompts a change of snack flavorings – great for those with a pumpkin craving.

  • Tokyo Designers Week 2013

    This year’s Tokyo Designers Week gets its creative juices flowing with more markets, music and a festival vibe.

Read more:
Japan by the numbers (2.23.10)

Our survey says ... 78% of all surveys have an agenda: Japan by the numbers.

Close