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Music To My Tires: Japan's Melody Roads
LarryBlanken @ 07/ 21/ 2010

by Larry Blanken

Just when you think you've seen it all, or heard it all, the Japanese come up with something else. I'm not sure if you would classify this as wild, wacky or wonderful, but they have roads that sing to you in Japan. A team from the Hokkaido Industrial Research Institute has built several "melody roads" that use cars to play music as they travel.

This is a strange and peculiar piece of performance art where the audience participates. The road is prepared in such a way that by driving over it, real melodies are resonated into the vehicle through vibrations from the tires. No, I'm not kidding and yes, it is odd. However, it is oddly intriguing enough that I had to check it out.

In a roundabout way, this works much like the "rumble strips" along the edge of highways that let you know you've left the pavement. Some roads also have groves that provide extra traction and produce a weird whine when driven across. Believe it or not, the Japanese have found a way to make it entertaining.

It seems that a fellow named Shizuo Shinoda accidentally scraped grooves into a road with a bulldozer and then drove over them. He realized that it was possible to vary the depth and spacing of the grooves to actually create tunes.

The Hokkaido Industrial Research Institute developed Shinoda's design to create what is known as the Melody Road. It works by cutting groups of grooves in the road that are close together for high pitched tones and grooves placed further apart that will create lower pitched sounds.

Of course, the distance covered by each group determines the duration of a note and the arrangement determines the tune. The result of the roadwork in Gunma is a distinct rendition of “Melodies of Summer,” that really does have to be heard to be believed.

Naturally, this novelty roadway is not quite the Boston Symphony and was just designed to attract curious tourists. However, it is humorous and unusual enough to merit the quick trip over the more than 2,500 grooves that hum a tune you have trouble getting out of your head.

The road in Gunma, north of Tokyo, is one of three currently constructed in Japan. The others are in Hokkaido and Wakayama. The next time you’re near these cities, instead of taking the scenic route, take the musical one.


What were the WOW moments you experienced?
I like the strange and unusual, and this is it.
Japan, Gunma, 

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