Uguisu-Bari: Floors That "Sing" the Presence of Intruders
Security in Japanese castles takes on a simplicity and elegance that still amazes
Traditional Japanese architecture reflects functionality and sobriety. Temples and castles, and the fortresses of the Shogun, remain exquisite for their use of wood even after centuries. But visitors may feel embarrassed when walking on the creaking wood floors which seem to interrupt the architectural complex’s overall tranquility.
The truth is these types of creaking floors are actually one of the simplest and most ingenious intruder warning systems of ancient Japan.
Screeching floor staves are known as uguisu-bari, or “nightingale floors.” The sound effect produced by the footsteps is not that of a simple squeak, but rather a sound like birds chirping, as though a bird had snuck into the house.
The effect is achieved by arranging floorboards in such a way that some are slightly uneven and joined to a beam that serves as a shock absorber. The device doesn’t compromise the safety of the floor nor make an intolerable noise, but it makes moving silently through corridors extremely difficult.
In ancient times, it was assumed that people who worked in the same castle had a particular “rhythm” and regularly walked its corridors. Thus, when an intruder came in, the “nightingales” could alert the guards that something was not right. It’s a simple and elegant solution for dealing with a security problem. Once again, traditional Japanese architecture amazes with its combined intelligence, sophistication and beauty.
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