Museums and musical interludes

I suspect that most visitors to Matsumoto spend a few hours hiking up and down its five tiered Castle then head out of town.  Some of them probably don’t even spend the night there.

With two nights in town, we had the luxury of time.

A visit to the Matsumoto Castle Museum added to our already burgeoning knowledge of mediaeval weapons of mass destruction.

Is this a cattle prod or something intended to deter the enemy?  Or both?


I am reliably informed that the character of Darth Vader revealed itself to George Lucas when he saw this display.


It wasn’t long after we arrived in Matsumoto that I started hearing things.

I can chart my first singing pedestrian crossing experience to an otherwise unremarkable intersection one block back from our hotel.  The example here is from Kyoto, but the tune is exactly the same as the one I heard in Matsumoto.  Apparently one can see – hear? – them in Tokyo as well.

This is a Sydney equivalent [1].

I’m sure it works just fine and has saved many a visually impaired person from almost certain death or serious injury.  However, did its designers have to make it sound so….well…..pedestrian?

Much as they need all the help they can get, this post is not a pitch for making Sydney’s pedestrian crossings easier on the ear.

The next instalment of my favourite Australian designed products from the 1980s continues on with the transport theme.

The pedestrian button, found at a pedestrian crossing near you, was designed in 1984. But it is really the product of research and development done in the 1970s in response to public pressure on government.

In 1967 a member of the public asked the NSW Department of Main Roads (DMR), now the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), to introduce pedestrian traffic signals he could hear. At a city crossing, the RTA installed some bells and buzzers on both sides. Blind pedestrians were meant to cross when the buzzing sound replaced the ringing. Unfortunately they found that when the bells broke down they sounded like buzzers, which could cause deadly confusion in blind pedestrians.

The next version, installed in 1976, had a two-rhythm buzzer and included a vibrating panel to touch, because many vision-impaired people also have some loss of hearing. This new device was developed by acoustic and vibration engineers Louis A Challis and Associates. It had two different signals for ‘Walk’ and ‘Don’t Walk’, and the sound level was automatically lowered in response to background noise, reducing annoyance to people living near a crossing.

In the early 1980s Sydney consultants Nielsen Design Associates were asked to redesign the device to make it vandal-resistant. The new unit was made from cast aluminium with vandal-proof fixings. The large magnetic button (tested to withstand millions of pushes) is easy to find and push. A Braille arrow on the vibrating plate indicates the direction to cross. Listen to the different ‘Walk’ and ‘Don’t Walk’ sounds here.

More than 25 years later, the pedestrian button is still working well, and has been used in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, South Africa and the USA.

– See more at:


The clock on this building’s exterior is the largest pendulum clock in Japan.  Its host is the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum which has over 300 other timepieces spread across three levels.

Chikazo Honda – not to be confused with Soichiro Honda who founded the motor cycle and car company bearing the Honda name – donated his collection of old Western and Japanese timepieces in 1974.  The collection initially found a home in the Matsumoto City Museum.  As it grew with the contribution of other clocks, the search for new premises began.  In September, 2002, the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum opened its doors to the public.

The collection includes clocks from Japan, Europe, England and America, dating from mediaeval to modern times.  A third of them are working.

Fascinating as the clocks are, the highlight of the museum has nothing to do with time at all.  Almost obscured in a corner of the top floor is a collection of old gramophones.  At scheduled times, you can hear them play.  And as luck would have it, our visit coincides with the 11 a.m. “performance”.


We settle into a sofa in front of the cabinet.

An attendant emerges, unlocks the glass cabinet and opens up one of the gramophones.  He studies our profile for a couple of minutes then removes three records from their sleeves. He gives a brief introduction to each piece in Japanese.  We recognise the names Finlandia, Chopin and Strauss, and little else.  The last piece, much to M’s delight, is The Blue Danube Waltz.

After 15 minutes of listening to the seventy eights scratching away, the gramophone is closed and the cabinet locked.  The attendant disappears with a bow.

We wander down the street filled with music.  But we’re not done yet.  As we walk back to our hotel, the singing pedestrian crossing is in front of us.


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[1]               The YouTube videos of footage in Kyoto and Sydney are courtesy of MickeyTheFixer (9 July 2006) and MissChristina (2 April 2013).