Aug 31, 2016

Noisy Japan (But I’m Not Turning The Volume Down)

Noisy Japan (But I’m Not Turning The Volume Down) photo

I’m in bed last night, 5th floor, window fronting the street open so as I don’t suffocate from the summer’s humidity. From the street below, a gaggle of drunken voices (Japanese) echoing loudly and barging through my open window.  

Give it five minutes and they’ll be gone.

OK, maybe another five.

Is nobody going to go outside and tell these people to shut the f#@k up?!

Not likely. And herein lies the problem; nor am I!  

I have a fantasy in situations like this, where I rock up in front of a late night noisy crowd and use the element of unknown gaijin to startle them, get all up their face, maybe snatch the odd cigarette and extinguish it in the palm of my hand to leave them running scared. It remains just a fantasy. Usually what happens is that I fluster out of bed and out the door in my pants, and just peer over the balcony, looking annoyed.  

For a nation that is so polite, I don’t half find Japan to be a noisy place.  

My first apartment as a new arrival ‘in-country’, was in some nondescript suburb somewhere, but it had one of those tiny ‘urban’ farms to one side of it. It probably goes without saying that the people working this Lilliputian patch of land were at the kind of age where they should be participating in afternoon rounds of bingo. Instead, they were up at the crack of dawn, chatting loudly over pre-toil cigarettes. Again, I’d poke an angry face out of the window but never actually say anything.

The same area was also plagued by biker groups - the Japanese version. Usually skinny youths with pathetic moustaches and even worse haircuts who would vent their lack of worth by noise polluting the early hours of the morning. I never found out if anyone ever tried to do anything about them.  

One day, I went back to the rural area I once used to work in as an ALT. Now, to be fair, that was a quiet place (except for about an hour before and after school). Walking around on a Saturday afternoon, apart from the distant trains passing by it was largely peaceful … until some local election busy body politician turned up in a buzzy little van and flicked on the loudspeaker. In fact, they pitched up (three of them) right outside of some poor sod’s house. I was only passing by but it left me furious. On a serious note; what if someone in that house was a nurse working nights? Screw em! We need to scream about our new garbage collection policy!

There are myriad sources of noise in Japan. I touched on the subject in an earlier post here on City-Cost (Japan’s City Office Public Service Announcements: Distinguishable From The Din?), and just to reiterate, there are organisations out there trying to get the volume turned down.

Now, I’m hand on heart sure that, in the case of the local ‘political’ noise, back home residents would be out and telling culprits in no uncertain terms to clear off. I also remember a time when mums and dads would have done that with groups of youths. These days though you’d better call in a SWAT team for that (unless you want to be headline news the next day).  

In Japan, I’ve yet to see anyone confront noise (directly, at least). This in turn stirs up an incredibly stupid arrogance on my part, where I, as status ‘gaijin’, am somehow made from tougher stuff, willing and ready to get out there and shut people up (to glowing praise from bystanding hosts), and the only reason I don’t is because I don’t want to upset the norm. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a complete wimp, and would skitter off at the first signs of a confrontation.  

What noises in Japan (if any) bother you? Or am I just getting more grumpy in my old (undisclosed) age? I’d love to hear your rants.



Traveler, surfer, and scribe. Based in Tokyo for six years.


  • helloalissa

    on Sep 1

    Hahaha, yes, those motorcycle gangs...I think they're everywhere. The politicians drive everyone crazy and it doesn't make sense that it's legal. (We could say that for everything politicians do, right?) I also find a problem with the early Sunday morning recycle shop trucks driving around and announcing that they'll take old bicycles and refrigerators, etc. The little songs from trash trucks, tofu carts, kerosene trucks, etc. are usually more charming. I think being non-confrontational is fine and probably the right thing to do here. I don't mind noise here much - where semi might be the loudest thing. Back home there were all kinds of late parties, car alarms, and year-round ice cream trucks. Don't miss it.

  • KpQuePasa

    on Sep 1

    Those little speaker vans drive me up a wall. We're on the 11th floor and they're so loud when they drive by it sounds like I'm IN the van. I'm also too timid (and afraid of being *that* asshole american) to ruffle any feathers over neighbor noise. But I do revel in a big dog that has no such feelings - Mac has more than once quieted our upstairs neighbor by barking when they're tromping around in the middle of the night. It works like a charm. :)

  • Tomuu

    on Sep 1

    @helloalissa I'm from the countryside (back home) so that probably exacerbates things for me. I just find it odd that for the most part people here are at pains to be polite and not stick out too much. I suppose there's the reason/answer right there. All of my post being said, when I visit home, the silence freaks me out a little.

  • Tomuu

    on Sep 1

    @KpQuePasa Ha! That's good trick. When the people below us used to play their music really loud, we wrote a note about it and put it in their letter box. That worked really well. I'm not sure, but if I was back home, I think it would have been better to go round and say something.