It appears that ambient noise in the train could be pretty loud during the Meiji Era (1868-1912) because of train passengers reading aloud.

An educational magazine of the era noted that in any train, there invariably would be "two or three smarty-pants young boys holding magazines and reading them aloud."

In fact, this happened in train station waiting rooms as well and was done by children and adults alike, according to "Zasshi to Dokusha no Kindai" (Magazines and readers in the modern era) by Shigetoshi Nagamine.

Perhaps this was a holdover from the old concept of reading which, for the illiterate, meant listening to literate people reading books aloud to them.

But this custom died out eventually with reading implying a silent, solo activity.

Probably for many people, the last time they read a book aloud was when they were in primary school. But it's not a bad idea to revert to that from time to time.

Yuko Aoki, director of the Karuizawa Rodoku-kan (Karuizawa Reading Pavilion) facility, was recently quoted in The Asahi Shimbun's Nagano Prefecture edition as stating, "Reading a book aloud is a different experience from reading the same book silently."

"The human voice brings the story into a 3-D world," she explained. "A new 'space' is born, just like when a stage play creates its own space."

I can see that this "space," created together by the reader and the listener, offers an exciting experience that differs from what one gets from reading a book silently.

Takashi Saito, a Meiji University professor who encourages reading aloud, likens it to "thawing." He explains that works by authors of a generation who were familiar with the custom of reading aloud are particularly suited for the purpose. Such works, says Saito, are "delicious" when "reheated."

"Dokusho Shukan" (Book Week) ended in Japan on Nov. 9, but we still have long evenings ahead to curl up and read.

If you overcome your shyness and try reading a book aloud--whether to yourself or to an audience--who knows, it may become a habit to enjoy.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 10

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.