In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a new transit gate alarm sound going around. It sounds like this:
Yeah, that sound. I hear it more and more these days but what does it mean? We already have the bing-bong alert sound when there’s a transit IC card error or low fare, in which case the gate says, “insufficient fare”. Unlike those alert sounds however this new one is not a new alert for transit users…it’s an alarm sound for station staff, There was also the mystery surrounding the new alarm name: rainbow. Why do they call it the rainbow alarm?
It took some digging to find the answer: 「キセル防止」”fare evasion prevention“. The Japanese word for fare evasion “kiseru” has an interesting but murky history dating from the early pre-war Showa era. And the rainbow connection? All the lights on the transit gate flash. So when station staff hear the head turning rainbow alarm they can easily see which transit gate caught somebody attempting fare evasion.
A distinctive alarm sound for fare evasion has advantages. A few years back I was inside Shinjuku station walking directly behind a gaijin gal who exited JR Shinjuku without a ticket or Suica, completely ignoring the standard bing-bong alert without breaking stride. She then entered Odakyu Shinjuku without ticket, again completely ignoring the bing-bong alert without breaking stride, walking on to the train with attitude. Two fare evasions in a row. With the rainbow alarm, and ubiquitous station video surveillance, that kind of stunt will be much harder to pull off, especially for ‘gomi gaijin’ playing dumb to break rules and get their way.