“Well . . . I can definitely feel a bit of adrenalin,” says Yukari Sendo, savouring the mobile phone ringtone like a fine wine, “but it really doesn’t make me want to do any housework.”
She flicks through a menu of alternative tunes and settles on one that offers to improve her skin tone through the power of alpha-waves.
Ms Sendo and her friend Ayaka Wakabayashi are among an army of young Japanese drawn to the allure of “therapeutic ringtones” — a genre of melodies that promises to ease a range of day-to-day gripes, from chronic insomnia to a rotten hangover.
Japan is no stranger to bizarre phone fads but the popularity of the ringtones is perhaps surprising given the flimsiness of the science behind them.
Much of the tones’ credibility rests in the solid reputation of Matsumi Suzuki, the head of the Japan Ringing Tone Laboratory, an eight-year-old subsidiary of the Japan Acoustic Laboratory.
Mr Suzuki’s adventures in the realm of mood-altering ringtones follow a career at the National Research Institute of Police Science, where he made award-winning advances in the field of voiceprints. One of his proudest achievements was the development of a synthetic mosquito noise that is inaudible to Japan’s over-60s but supposedly discourages teenagers from “congregating in parks at midnight”.
A spokesman for Index, the giant Japanese mobile phone content provider that sells Mr Suzuki’s ringtones, explains that while there is a shortage of actual experimentation, “the number of downloads suggests the ringtones must be working to a certain extent”. Index’s other innovations include an iPhone application that translates your dog’s bark; the “Bowlingual” automatic canine interpreter draws on an database of woofs from dozens of species.
The first therapeutic tone, a high-energy rhythm, tested for The Times by Ms Sendo and Ms Wakabayashi, was supposed to provide a sudden burst of impetus to sluggardly housewives. Yukari and Ayaka had their doubts.
The tone that is said to improve skin mixes a burst of electro-Schubert with woodland noises such as birdsong and streams. “I suppose it might subconsciously make you think of washing your face, and that is good for the skin,” said Ayaka. “At least, it would certainly send you towards the bathroom.”
Ms Sendo and Ms Wakabayashi were marginally more impressed by the sleep-inducing and sleep-preventing tones, suspiciously akin to a lullaby and a dance track. The one with most practical use, they concluded, was the tone that scares away crows — the sinister jungle ravens that terrorise the dawn streets of Tokyo by pecking at bags of rubbish.
Mr Suzuki’s latest ringtone has been timed to coincide with the Japanese hay fever season. The Ohana Sukkiri Melody emits a series of sounds at different frequencies “so that people can choose the sound that resonates most to their sinus and causes pollen lodged there to fall from the nasal cavity”.
Index admitted that it had not conducted any research on how great a pollen deluge would be induced by the ringtone but said that it was “generally understood” that resonance would help hayfever sufferers if they brought the phone close to their noses.
When it came to testing the hangover chaser ringtone, Yukari and Ayaka were relieved from experimental duties. This popular application works through what Index describes as a careful selection of “pulse-melodies” chosen for their astonishing atunement to the body’s “medical rhythms”. Testers concluded that a fried breakfast, though less portable, still had the edge.