In recent days, my ears have become increasingly exasperated with the constant and ubiquitous cacophony for which the Japanese seem to have a superhuman tolerance. Everything is noisy here and silence is a luxury.
This first came to the conscious fore of my brain at Linden Hall. As we do thrice a week, we were sitting twiddling our thumbs in the school’s staff room. I had just poured three cups of barley-tea (which, I assure you, has not the slightest bit of euphemism about it) when a sick-making, crushing, piercing noise exploded through the air. The Japanese secretariat was wholly unphased. At first it crossed my mind that this one of those noises that only young people could here, of the sort that Spa employs to keep toddlers from playing in its automatic doors. Then, and only fleetingly, I thought that there might be a physiological factor that meant that the western ear suffered more in the presence of such sonic bombardment. After a few minutes my ears began to ache and I asked one of the “home-room” teachers what the hell it was. It was the laminator and she switched it off.
I spoke to said teacher later on and she told me of her views on Japanese racket-resistance, telling me that I would be “amazed” at how much noise a Japanese person could put up with.
And it’s true:
- On the trains, you are constantly force-fed information. My Japanese is, of course, not good enough to understand fully what is being said, but I can make out place names, platform numbers, arrival times and the like. On a ten minute journey from Asakuragaido to Shimo-Ori, I do not need to be told the temperature, and I can check my watch if I want to know the time.
- Pedestrian crossings in Japan don’t just beep to tell blind people that it’s safe to cross. In Fukuoka prefecture, at least (I’ve not had the same experiences when in Saga, just to the south) there are two little tunes that play. On repeat. They’re annoying electronic tunes that make you feel like you’re living inside a game-boy, which is cute and retro for the first hundred encores, but gets frustrating soon after. I said there were two tunes, and I suspect that there’s a rhyme and a reason as to when each is played though I’ve not yet worked that out.
- Every time one goes into a shop, one is greeted with a lung full of welcome from the entirety of the store’s staff, or at least those who see you walk in. This is often not just a welcome, but an entire stream of pronouncements punctuated with several “hai!”s. And even then it doesn’t end. Staff seem to just be shouting to themselves at all times. Perhaps they’re advertising or something, but it just never ends. Then as you leave, they talk you through your purchases, as if this were the amazon.com check-out, and give you a second chorus of salutation to see you on your way again.
- On the street in Tenjin today, we were struck, not for the first time, just how noisy a Japanese city can be. Of course, cities the world over are buzzing places, but in Japan there seems to be no law against pumping volumey “music” onto the streets day and night. The aeroplanes fly low into the centrally located airport, and street performance is common. This can add atmosphere, but if your ears are tired from a few minutes of retail dystherapy, then it can be a bit much.
- And as for that retail dystherapy, this is where Japanese loudness-lovin’ reaches its peak. Today we were in a cool vintage shop in Tenjin core. The cacophony was such that I had to cover my ears and am considering buying some earplugs (they’re available at Family Mart, just down the street from Cambridge House). Standing in the queue to buy a belt, I realised that my ears where under attack from two TV sets at high volume, two conflicting pieces of music, staff members shouting whatever it is that they shout, and someone on microphone also, it would seem, announcing prices for things.
My ears are still hurting.
OK, we're going clubbing now.