CHAPTER TWO : WIDENING THE BATTLEFIELD
SOUNDS THAT DRIVE YOU TO THE BRINK OF INSANITY
While looking at the MASSES who walk around oblivious to the speaker noise, the herds of people who would never protest it, I thought to myself, "I really feel like a stranger in my own country." Actually, that's too poetic. I'm just a weirdo.
When I began my activism, I was convinced that I was in the right, but my convictions are steadily being worn down. Now I just feel sick. My sickness is half spiritual (feeling alienated from my countrymen), but the other half is caused by the very specific kind of violence contained in the constant broadcasts. Imagine if your neighbor, Mr. X, had a dog which barked all day and all night. You can’t sleep during the night, and of course you couldn't sleep during work either. For a while you could try to maintain, but eventually when you couldn't take any more, you'd go to the neighborhood residential association and complain. But the association's representative only said, "Well now, let's send your neighbor a letter asking him to consider his actions." Of course such a letter will have no effect.
You played by the rules, and got ignored. Wouldn't you burn with humiliation? And more than that, wouldn't the sound of the dog's yapping fill you with an almost physical pain of hatred? So you finally go to the neighbor to complain directly. But the neighbor curtly replies, "You're the only one who's complaining. It's only natural for dogs to bark, after all."
Everyone else around the barking dog seems to feel it's none of their affair. You talk to another neighbor and he says, "Well, they have to put up with our crying baby, so it's only fair . . ." Your other neighbor says, "Well, I'm not often home, so I don't know anything about it. It should be illegal, but . . . ." Finally you realize that you are the only victim.
At this point, wouldn't your grip on mental health be slipping? The smallest woof would, in your head, turn into a great roaring howl. Even when it was quiet, you wouldn't be able to do anything but wait for the next bark, your heart pounding in your ears. And then you see Mr. X, having a cheerful chat with Mr. A and Mr. B, all laughing. And the disgusting, hateful dog scampers around them, as they pat its head and stroke its fur. Now you begin to despise your other neighbors as well.
The anger turns to a piercing pain, leaving your hands shaking so badly you can't hold things. Your hatred threatens to go out of control . . . You begin to have fantasies of killing the dog.
Wouldn't you, too, in the end, start feeling as sick as I feel?
This is the power of sound. Sounds just in themselves have the capacity to cause suffering. Sounds in themselves can drive a person to the brink of insanity. Especially since other people can't see your suffering and think you're making it all up, this doubles the pain and feeling of hopelessness.
SOUNDS THAT BURROW UNDER YOUR SKIN
But, why is it that people who enjoy a certain sound are so totally incapable of understanding how another person is deeply pained by that same sound? Even the most wise, perceptive, and gentle person tends to think that the sound they're making – or listening to – must be enjoyable to those around them. If someone tells them they're being too loud, even such a gentle, wise person can fly into a rage: they instinctively feel that their whole existence is being criticized; they feel indignation. Why is that?
It's because sounds span the divide between "inside me" and "outside me." To return to the previous example, you despise the barking dog so much because its barking is not "outside" you. The barking has wormed its way "inside" you, gotten under your skin. The sound is provoking insanity by directly touching your nerves. But to the dog’s owner, that same sound is so far “inside” them that it’s become a part of them- they think nothing of it.
I’m not speaking in metaphors here. If you go to a concert and close your eyes, you can guess the direction and volume of the music. But you can’t tell the exact location that it’s coming from. If you want to find the outside, origin, you have to use your other senses – eyes or touch. Because the property of sound is, you can’t distinguish between it being inside of you or outside of you.
Just like if you get in a taxi and ask the driver to turn off his radio, he’ll instinctively resent it. To people enjoying a sound, it is coming from within them. Especially people who drive taxis – their working environment is so small, it must feel like an extension of their body, their interior. So when a stranger comes into their interior, and says “That’s too loud!” , the driver gets mad. As far as he’s concerned, it’s the same music he was listening to before, in the same place, so nothing has changed to make the music unpleasant: he’s become lost in an illusion of where “outside” begins and ends.
Everyone knows that music has the power to control one’s emotions to a fierce extent. That’s exactly why cults and totalitarian governments use sounds to brainwash people, instead of visuals. People that were moved to tears by Hitler’s speeches, given using gigantic PA systems, when they later read the text of the speech in a book, would ask themselves, “Why did I get so worked up by that?” There are many reports of things like this.
Or in Japan, before the war, all one had to do was say the phrase, “His Majesty the Emperor!” and people all around would snap to attention, as if an electric jolt had been rammed down their spines. And of course that infamous four-letter word for the female genitals is much more shocking if said aloud than read.
Because sound has the capacity to get under one’s skin! Infiltrating, penetrating, absorbing in. You can’t argue with or protest against a sound. Particularly when people have been born and raised in such a pickled sound environment, it's very difficult to get them to understand my defiant attitude.
It’s very rare for children, who have never experienced a different sound-environment to complain. “It’s too loud in the street!” or “There’s too many announcements on the shinkansen!”
The same way, when these children grow up into adults, it’s very difficult to persuade them that things might be done better another way. As the Don Quixote of SOUNDS, I get to meet many people who are very sensitive to sounds. But frankly speaking, some of the absolutely extremely most sensitive people are a huge pain in my ass. I’m talking about audiophiles and classical music buffs. They are very picky about their speakers and audio recording quality, but care not at all about the sounds outside. There’s nobody left like Kawabata Yasunari, Akutagawa Ryuunosuke, or Shiga Naoya (famously neurotic authors – ed.) who flips out about the loudspeakers on trains or the background music in cafes anymore.
Even myself, when I lived in Vienna, I was very picky about my classical: “This composer is crap! That symphony is crap!” And yet I’d go to any old café, with its relentlessly repeated back-ground music, and not even mind it. Or I would go to a magnificent Mozart concert in Tokyo, but not even mind when the beautiful music was replaced with the roar of trains and announcements on the way home!
PAIN THAT YOU DON’T REALIZE IS THERE, THOUGH IT CRIPPLES YOU
Sometimes I am contacted by “patients” with “very acute syndromes” : “Sensei, I want to commit suicide already,” they write. “But I couldn’t stand it if I was beaten by such a barbaric, rotten-noise country such as Japan.” I understand their feelings, but perhaps the majority does not.
One such comrade-in-struggle is a manga editor named Mr. I. who moved to Gunma-ken. He sank all his money and effort into building a brand new house there, only to find an unpleasant surprise: no sooner had he moved, than the city built an Emergency Disaster Public Address system on his street which, of course, played announcements all through the day, loud enough to be heard inside.
Mr. I. went to the local city hall to complain, but all the bureaucrat had to do was tap his foot nervously and wait for Mr. I. to run out of steam , and then the “discussion” was over.
This is a typical case of “civic noise harassment,” the kind that has been recently seen on NHK television.
Another comrade-in-arms is Mr. Y, one o the few harpsichord makers in this country. He moved from Tokyo to the rural country town of Tomioka, specifically to have peace and quiet. But right after he moved, the city started building a whole line of Emergency Disaster Public Address system poles on his street. And their broadcasts completely disrupted his work. He fought tooth and nail, but it seems the majority of the residents supported the broadcasts, so he couldn’t have the announcements stopped or even lessened. And what were these important announcements?
“THERE HAS BEEN SOMEONE SELLING BAD QUALITY FIRE EXTINGUISHERS IN TOWN, SO PLEASE BE CAREFUL.”
“THERE’S AN OLD MAN MISSING.”
“THE NEW MOVIE THEATRE IS NOW OPEN”
“HERE’S THE RESULTS OF THE ELECTION . . . “
Not to mention the daily chimes, with their message of, “IT’S TIME FOR ALL GOOD CHILDREN TO RUN BACK HOME”
And even if the Disaster PA was used for actual disasters, the “disasters” were like this:
“THERE’S A STORM COMING!”
“IT’S WINDY TODAY, KIDS, SO DON’T DAWDLE ON YOUR WAY HOME FROM SCHOOL!”
The city of Atamishi has announcements every morning saying, “LET’S ALL GO TO WORK CHEERFULLY!”
To people who think “WTF, who needs these announcements?” , I say: face facts! If you’re thinking that, you are very different from the average Japanese ! This should concern you deeply. It’s easy to laugh at these ridiculous announcements, easy to criticize them. Easy to say “These small-town folks are idiots,” or “The city councils must be retarded!” But you should know it’s a whole different matter to actually try to persuade city government to actually change them. And further: if you are not personally trying to change it, then you have no right to criticize or laugh at anyone.
As for Mr. I and Mr. Y., their enemies are not the city councils of their small towns. Their real enemies are the majority of the population whose complacency makes the town councils’ decisions possible. Once you realize this simple fact, it’s a short step to despising the average Japanese. You lose your goodwill, you lose the desire to return smiles and greetings. You could say that these NOISES help to destroy the sense of community. They leave their wounds so deep in our bodies. We start to imagine that we are strangers in this country, that we are some real weirdoes!
Personally, I hate the escalator announcements so much, I not only use stairs instead, but I clamp on my headphones, rush to the absolute farthest-away stairs, and rush up them (or down) in a huge hurry. One day, a columnist for the Weekly Bunshu said that until he heard my speech, he thought that HE was the only one who did that!
He didn’t use headphones, but he ran up (or down) the stairs, with a scowl, despising his countrymen who, sheep-like, rode the escalators and tolerated their hateful messages of “LOOK OUT, THE ESCALATOR WILL BE STOPPING SHORTLY!”
As for the shinkansen, with their relentless taped announcements of “THANK YOU AGAIN FOR RIDING US TODAY!”, and their too-long speeches, given by a woman, talking slowly and lovingly, as if addressing a beloved child cradled in her arms, (What is up with that, anyway? Do they think that this honey-sweet maternal voice will make people look forward to a novel-length announcement?), followed by another tape, this time in English, followed by yet another announcement by the conductor, followed by yet another announcement by the food-vending girls . . .it seems as if you’re already at your destination by the time the announcements finish! Just hearing these endless tapes is enough to make you hate the other people on the train, the kids snickering, the idiots with their rumpled newspapers, the snoring uncles with their folded arms, the people furiously devouring their bento boxes, all the horrible, cow-like people on the train, who seem to be totally oblivious to the announcements. I hate myself for it, but I begin to despise Japan and its “noise culture.” Moreover, I begin to view these countrymen of mine as accomplices to the announcements. It is because of their complicity that the tapes go on. It’s as if they’ve teamed up with the train company to torment me: they are perpetrators!
BURNING WITH DETESTATION
One time, when I’d reached my limit of endurance, I paced my house, my anger threatening to get out of hand: I wanted to scream, “WHAT HAVE I BECOME ? I’M NO LONGER HUMAN – JUST A BUNDLE OF NEUROSES AND HATREDS!!!”
All my microphone-grabbing and off-switch flipping had not dispelled the poisonous stress which was accumulating within me. All my protests (such as the time I lectured managers of the Inokashira park for playing an endless loop of PLEASE DON’T SHOOT YOUR FIREWORKS INTO THE LAKE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION IN THIS MATTER PLEASE DON’T SHOOT YOUR FIREWORKS INTO THE LAKE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION IN THIS MATTER PLEASE DON’T SHOOT YOUR FIREWORKS INTO THE LAKE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION IN THIS MATTER PLEASE DON’T SHOOT YOUR FIREWORKS INTO THE LAKE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION IN THIS MATTER) had come to nothing, and I began to consider playing dirty.
Revenge, that’s what I wanted!
Call up one of these bastards and let him have a earphone-full of Beethoven’s Fifth, at full volume! The neighborhood association chairman who wouldn’t stop the irritating morning announcements, I used to call him at home in the middle of the night. Not say anything. Just call and call. I started to go to the offices of my old enemy, Keio Subways and threaten them: “Since riding your subways causes me so much pain, you should give me a free pass! Better yet, you should pay for all my taxi rides! If you don’t I’ll have no choice but to come back, raising hell every day!”
But eventually, even these petty acts of vengeance didn’t relieve the daily stress. I began to realize that I might be heading down the slippery slope to madness. I began to fantasize about getting my OWN megaphone, hiding it in my handbag, and every time I was forced to listen to an unpleasant announcement on a train, I could whip it out and reverse-yell: SHUT UP! LEAVE ME ALONE!
Then I fantasized about simply carrying a hidden hammer, with which to smash the speakers, right in front of his patronizing face. I’d then refuse to pay the fine, and use the resulting trial as a forum to publicize my views. Better yet, why not smash his face directly?
I’m not even joking. My thoughts were really spiraling out of control. I began to despise other people even more, then despise my own life. I don’t think I would have committed suicide; if anything it would have been a frenzied murder spree. But I knew such a course would not be advisable. I still had that much sense. I didn’t want to give my opponents the satisfaction of seeing me in jail. I had to find some other way to endure the daily torture.
You may be laughing, I assure you, it’s no laughing matter. Well, maybe a little : “Ha ha ha! Nakajima sensei finally snapped! He finally hit a guy with a hammer!”
STRANGERS WHO TALK AND ACT EXACTLY ALIKE
Since then, I’ve tried to run away from conflict. I know where all the loudspeakers are on my route to work, and in order to avoid them, my path now has more back-and-forths than a snake’s trail.
I absolutely can’t pass by my old enemy, the preschool. Same with that fucking pharmacy, and that damned CD shop. Can’t go here, can’t go there. My daily life is like running through a maze. The station near my house is always playing announcements like PLEASE DON’T CROWD ONTO THE TRAIN, AS IT IS DANGEROUS, so on a good day, I’ll walk a whole 30 minutes to this other station – the only one in the whole neighborhood which doesn’t play such ridiculous announcements .
And if I do go there, I have to get on the express train. Why? Because, the local train plays that same fucking announcement at every single station until my stop. Twice.
When we get to Chofu station, I don’t take the more convenient central exit, I have to take the small north exit, and then run down the stairs. Why? Because the central exit leads to my old enemy, the Paruko shop, with its blaring announcements of bargain sales, which pretty much echo throughout the entire fucking station. But even if I make it out of the station OK, chances are there might be some asshole doing a super-amplified political speech outside. If not, then it’s something else. And if not that, some other damn fucking thing. . . .
And of course I can’t take the main street all the way to the University. That would mean passing the hated CD shop. Instead , I turn the corner at the MacDonalds (who incidentally DID turn down their escalator announcements for me), cut inside the bookstore. Why? Because the street in front of the bookstore is so full of fucking bicycles that one can hardly walk. From the bookstore, I cut back onto the main street, and then enter the University from the rear entrance. But even then I am not safe. The bookstore sometimes plays the Doraemon theme song on their speakers, and the station’s north exit includes an electronics shop that just fucking installed some speakers of their own.
Merely to enjoy a reasonable chance at peace and quiet, my route has grown torturously long and twisted.
And even when I’m on the train, I can’t enjoy a book anymore to pass the time. I keep getting distracted by the announcer’s voice, the cell phone conversations of strangers, the other passengers’ stupid conversations . . . it’s like I can’t let my guard down even for a second. I want to say, “Won’t you scootch over and make some room for me?” But I can’t. I want to say, “Could you please stop doing such-and-such?” So many things I want to say but can’t! Instead, I do the Japanese thing: stare at the person doing such-and-such, then stare at the notice posted on the ceiling which forbids doing such-and-such, and then stare back at the person again!
Even if it’s fine weather outside, and I can see the sun shining through the windows, inside the train I am in my own personal hell! I keep obsessing about the flickering of the fluorescents, about the crappy way that people sit sometimes, and the assholes that won’t give up their seats for the elderly. . . even when they’re sitting in the special old-people seats!
One time, two old people got on the train, they must have been in their ‘80s or ‘90s. They both had walking sticks and even with the sticks looked about to topple over every time the train shuddered. And all four of the “silver seats” were occupied by a gang of non-elderly people. I stormed over to them and said, “These seats are for the elderly! Don’t you see these two old people? Go somewhere else! Everyone, get out of the damn seats!!” It’s strange to say, but, like robots, all four got up without a word, simultaneously stood, simultaneously turned, and walked away.
Now the seats were all totally vacant. I went to tell the two old people, but they’d already found other seats. There was one more old man nearby, but he merely said, “Well, I’m getting off at the next stop, so. . . “
I didn’t see why I should stop preaching, though: “Well, don’t you think you have a duty to demand the silver seat, when some young person is sitting in it? You have to stand up for yourself, don’t you agree?” The old man said, “I didn’t see the silver seats.” And turned his head decisively away from me.
In the dramatic pause that followed, not one passenger said anything to me. They mostly pretended to be asleep, but were all checking me out when they thought I wasn’t looking. Perhaps they were thinking, “Ah, he must have some strange syndrome that compels him to help strangers,” and then, satisfied, perhaps they went back to sleep. As for myself, I regretted nothing. I only regretted the poor reactions I’d gotten so far.
So I decided to continue my activities a little more. I turned to a woman – very pretty, I must admit- who was fixing her makeup. “The train is not a place to do makeup! That’s a really repulsive habit you’ve got!”
The woman started crying, and only then did I realize that the only free seat was the one next to her. I sat there for the thirty remaining minutes of the ride.
I mostly don’t feel any shame about my actions. All I feel was an annoyance with those around me, and their bad habits, which compel me to pay attention to them. I’m not just the Don Quixote of SOUNDS, I’m the Don Quixote of the whole culture that produces the SOUNDS, the whole hateful atmosphere of the country. It seems designed specifically to annoy me, so I have every right to annoy it right back!
FALLING COMPLETELY OUT OF STEP WITH SOCIETY
From SOUNDS, the scope of my battle has widened to many other things – I realized that I’ve been steadily developing sensitivity to an ever-enlarging number of phenomena. It seems that I’m falling more and more out of step with the average Japanese. What I’m irritated by, they are not, and vice versa. In other words, my enemy is not SOUNDS anymore, it is JAPANESE PEOPLE.
I have to say this clearly!
Looking back on all my “comrades in struggle”, I realize that all along, about half of them were mainly concerned with SOUNDS, but fully half were sensitive to many various things. I used to be mystified by them, but now I am one of them!
We hate the bank and fast food clerks’ pre-programmed banter. We hate vending machines, cell phones! We hate the “set menus” of restaurants, where you can’t choose what appetizer goes with your entrée. We hate “katakana” words like SHIRUBAA SHIITO and PURIPEIDO KAADO. We really really hate field trips, PE class, hospital visits, business retreats with co-workers, end-of-year parties, and all these sorts of mandatory group activities. We hate the “safety campaigns” where leaders lead a chant and we are expected to respond. We hate the old men doing “fire safety” warnings by running around our neighborhoods at night clapping wooden sticks together. We don’t fucking care about baseball. We hate excess layers of packaging. We hate loud children on trains and restaurants. We hate the confusion and chaos of shopping malls. We are fucking sick of all the utility poles and the million types of power cables overhead. We are fucking sick of the billboards, the shops that display their merchandise on the sidewalks, We hate people parking cars and bicycles on the sidewalk. We hate frivolous young people that think they’re so cool. We don’t want your fucking free samples.
You could say we don’t like things that normal people like. We don’t care if the fruit is perfectly shaped. We don’t care of the shop staff is saying their “polite-speak” perfectly or not. We don’t care if people are not seated by rank at the table. We find the “PLEASE DON’T SMOKE IN THIS AREA” banners and announcements far more irritating than the actual smoking. We’d rather spend all fall walking on the colorful leaves than spend all fall fruitlessly trying to sweep up each and every one. We’d rather live amidst lush and verdant forest like trees than live among amputated trees whose tops have all been shaved because “There might be bugs there!!!!!!”
The city is too light at night! The heaters are too hot! The coolers are too cold! A little rain never hurt anyone!
In short, we’ve totally fallen out of step with Japan. We are very conscious that this makes us seem like foreigners, like “others.” What seems like the background to ordinary Japanese is the foreground to us: we can’t tune it out no matter how we try. It assaults all our senses.
THE PLUM-BLOSSOM ORCHARDS ARE BLOOMING. . . WITH TRAFFIC SAFETY FLAGS??
Next to my university is the stately and ancient Nunota shrine. Nunota is famous for its beautiful plum trees, which bloom in early summer, with a riot of bright white and dark vermilion blossoms. The aroma and the sight of them is very moving! But one day, as I approached the orchard, I noticed that each tree had an ugly sign hung around it: THE BLOSSOMS ARE VERY BEAUTIFUL SO PLEASE DON’T HANG YOUR OMIKUJI HERE (omikuji are small wooden prayer cards, upon which you write the wish you’d like to come true –ed.).
I thought this was the dumbest fucking thing I’d ever seen. I passed them quickly so as to keep my temper, but was dumbfounded to discover that the entire next area was full of ugly yellow-and-black flags which announced LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS! LET’S AVOID TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS!
These flags were fully a meter tall, and attached to the trunk of each and every beautiful plum tree. Where was the sense in this?!? I straightaway walked to the shrine office, knocked loudly and marched straight in, my face red with anger, announcing myself as “I’M A PROFESSOR OF LITERATURE, LET ME IN!”
The abbot came out, wearing traditional pantaloons. “So you want to stop people hanging omikuji, and your best solution is to hang ugly signs and flags on every single tree?!? What the hell are you thinking?!?” I bellowed. The abbot must have sensed danger, for he replied in a huge, Yakuza-style voice, “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? ARE YOU GOING TO DISRESPECT ME IN MY OWN HOUSE/??!?!?!!!11”
Far from being scared, I simply talked over him, albeit in a more calm voice : “There is certainly a large number of ‘prayers’ for traffic safety, aren’t there?”
My more diplomatic, indirect tone must have paid off: I returned several days later and found the flags gone.
Around the same time, I was riding on my old enemy, the Keio train, when out the window I spotted something which made me stare for a long time: a field with two long rows of plum trees, and in between them, this gigantic two meter square sign that said TOUO REAL ESTATE. The sheer senselessness of such a thing made my blood boil. Another day I got off the train at a nearby station and set out on foot to take a picture of this monstrosity! I wrote down the number and address of the real estate agent, and then called them when I returned home. But they merely said, “Ah! Is that so? I understand what you mean, sensei. We will have to give this matter some serious study.”
But of course, that meant they would do nothing. But still I felt like checking every time the train passed that field, hoping childishly that they would actually do something. Finally, I had to make a rule to always ride facing the opposite direction!
You must think I’m a fool.
While I was facing the other way, the plum blossoms all withered and went away. And the billboard was still there. A whole year passed, and again the blossoms started to bloom. I resolved to visit the real estate office in person, bearing my year-old photograph. The clerk who took my call the previous year seemed to remember me just from my voice.
So I decided to threaten him.
“So you’ve had a year to “seriously study” the issue, haven’t you? And yet I see the billboard is still there. Exactly what kind of “study” are you people doing around here? If you don’t get rid of that eyesore, I’m going to put this picture in my next book and tell everyone what a dishonorable company you are!” He took a copy of the photo and promised to send it to his supervisor. Sure enough, a few days later, the billboard was gone
(Nakajima published the photo anyway! – ed.)
But even so, how many people had to witness that eyesore of a billboard over the past year? Perhaps a few might have furrowed their brows, but even they didn’t take any action.
There were other cases, though, where my “surprise attack” methods were met with stone cold indifference. For example, the Christian church in Chofu. Every Sunday they put a absurdly huge sandwich-board right in the middle of the sidewalk, announcing their mass. You had to go in the damn street to get around the thing. I went to the nearby police box and explained the situation to the patrolmen there. They told me that, since the sidewalk was still under construction, technically it wasn’t an “official” sidewalk and therefore was not under jurisdiction of the “obstructing the sidewalk” laws!
I was left with no choice but to take direct action. The following Sunday, I VERY QUIETLY stormed into the mass. Many worshipers were watching the priest give a sermon. I disrupted this as quietly as possible, by saying “Moshi moshi.” (the greeting one usually gives on the telephone!) A cold-eyed middle-aged priest came out of the back to talk to me. I once again explained, quietly, my concerns, and then he said the following ridiculous thing to me: “But you don’t have the right to disturb our services like this, do you?”
“You whine when I interrupt your services for one second, but every Sunday, all day, you interrupt every single person walking on the sidewalk? Do you have the right to do that?”
He said, “I understand,” but clearly he didn’t, because the following Sunday, there was the sandwich-board again, right in the middle of the sidewalk. And every time I see it, I get funny in the head and have to fold it up and set it against the wall.
NOBODY CAN HAVE A LOGICAL DISCUSSION ANYMORE!
Perhaps the cooling units aren’t like this, but I really can’t stand the bizarre amount of heat produced by heaters.
As soon as I say this, people misunderstand me. They think I’m simply using “personal experience” or “physiology” as the only reason why I don’t like heaters.
Perhaps you even think that all of my suffering, all of my complaints, are based on nothing more than my own personal sensitivity. But honestly, you need to know that I always couch my arguments in logic and rational discourse. I never say simply, “I don’t like it because it feels bad.” I don’t make claims based on emotions.
In January, I got on board the shinkansen. It was just hot as hell in there! My hand-held thermometer read 26 degrees. (almost 80 F- ed.) The snack-selling girl wore short sleeves! Even the conductor! But, oddly, the passengers didn’t take off one article of their winter clothing. They stood there in their wool sweaters and layers of undershirts, with stoic faces. Why was that?!?
26 degrees? That’s high noon in the beginning of summer! You guys wouldn’t dress like that on a summer day, would you? Personally, I took off my overcoat, my suit jacket and vest, leaving on nothing but my collared shirt. It was still hot though. (another time, I was so hot I even took my shirt half-off on the train! The conductor looked at me, but I was like, “What?”) I approached the conductor and asked him if he couldn’t maybe turn down the temperature a little?
“Aah, you’re too hot?”
“It’s not that I think it’s hot, it’s actually 26 degrees in here. That’s like the beginning of summer in full sunlight. And everyone is wearing winter clothes in here. Can’t you just turn the heater down a little?”
But even though I was speaking politely and rationally, he just couldn’t hear me. He made a pouty face and answered, “But isn’t what’s hot for one person actually pretty cold for another person?”
I suppressed a sudden urge to smack him upside the head. I know I’m abnormally sensitive, but here I was using hard evidence and logic, but even that couldn’t penetrate his thick skull! I was going to have to frame the debate in a way that a “company man” like him could relate to.
“But, is it the official policy of Japan Rail to waste energy this way? Especially after Japan signed the Kyoto Protocol on global warming? Japan is in the middle of a “save-energy” campaign, where individual homes are expected to use less power. And yet on public transit, can you really go against the national policy this way?”
But yet, he still made his sour face and said, “Frankly I don’t understand what you are asking me to do.” I had to concentrate very hard on not punching him. I know that my confrontational, logical approach does not go over well in this country, but still. I couldn’t bear to approach him in this fake-polite way: “Erm, excuse me sir, can I beg you to turn the heat down a notch, perhaps?” . . . as if I asking a favor based on feelings. . . As if it wasn’t a scientific fact that it was 26 degrees in the fucking car.
Finally realizing that there was no way to win with this conductor, I decided to repay his hostility with some of my own:
“Sir! You are an idiot! You can’t understand simple logic. What’s the matter with you? Are you evil or just mentally challenged? If you were born that way, then you shouldn’t apologize for it. There’s nothing you can do, I suppose.”
And so on, in that vein. His face grew beet-red. In his red face, I could briefly glimpse the face of all the cowardly, lazy, spiritually impoverished Japanese who can’t be bothered to explain or defend their point of view. And this renewed my resolve to keep up the good fight!
PEOPLE WHO DON’T CARE IF THEY HAVE 27 HEATERS IN THEIR APARTMENT
Let’s look at a different place: the Dotour coffee-shop in Sensaitoriyama. In the middle of winter, I walk in, and it feels like a fucking oven. I’m immediately engulfed in a fierce wind so hot it hurts to breathe. All the staff are in short-sleeves. Who on earth decided on such an illogical state of affairs?!? I turned and glanced at the customers’ , and was surprised to see them sitting there in their thick wool sweaters, jogging suits, with bright-red faces, talking or reading books as if nothing were amiss. I’m sure they were quite comfortable, weren’t they?
I asked the manager what the temperature the heater was set to, and he said 27 (almost 81F). That’s noon in July. I asked the manager to please turn it down a little, and he flatly refused. And yet Japanese people look at me like I’m the illogical one?
“I want to make it comfortable for people who have just come in from the cold winter morning.”
What a splendid specimen this answer was! A juicy fresh platter of Japanese style “service thinking”: the colder it is outside, the hotter we’ll make it inside, so as to cultivate a feeling of welcome. The very essence of service! It won’t do to simply warm the customers up – that’s not sincere enough. We have to show the depths of our sincerity by making it as hot as humanly possible. The internal logic of “service” demands it. And the customers, although they suffer from the heat, understand the nobility of our intentions, so they don’t utter a word of complaint.
This is the same kind of false cultural logic that creates the SOUND situation. The majority wants to be taken care of, immersed in a hot wind of SOUND “I want to be told what to be on the lookout for, I want to be warned, scolded, instructed, informed, and advised!”
So when I say that I absolutely don’t want any of those things, of course I’m not going to be taken seriously by my countrymen.
By and large, Japanese are pretty kind, so they tend to think, “Well, perhaps I’m hot, but the next person might be still cold. So even though I feel the discomfort on my skin, I accept it stoically.”
The same way that people on a bus might hear an endless parade of messages, none of which apply to them, but think, “Well, I’m sure those messages are important to some other passengers. So even though they sting my skin, I find them acceptable.” This is considered the proper way of thinking, the proper responsibility of an adult to society.
To state the obvious would be to put one’s self (an individual) ahead of the group, and thus one would be seen as an egoist or an immature person who hasn’t learned his responsibility to society.
Japanese behavior uses this sort of “skin theory” to permit or approve unpleasant conditions: Both sides (business owners and customers) collude in a fait accompli. Society is like a mechanism with a lever that won’t budge.
I asked the young lady seated next to me at the Dotour “Aren’t you hot?” She made a face like I was a pervert and said, “I just got here so I don’t know.” What kind of retarded answer is that?!? You just got here so you don’t know what temperature you are?!?
The icing on the cake: if you complain in summer, they DO turn the air-conditioners down. The Tokyo subway DOES have a “Not-so-cold” train car in summer, but NOT a “not-so-hot” car in winter.
Why is that? I’ll tell you: people who complain “It’s too cold” are thought to have a “hot heart”, but people who complain “it’s too hot in here” are thought to have a “cold heart.”
Presently I suffer from what I call “electric neurosis.”
In every outdoor shopping street, they keep all the street-lights on even at high noon on a sunny day. This is yet another situation where I’d love to have someone explain the logic to me, but so far no one has. At the Shanowaru chain of coffee-shops, they also keep their lights on right next to the window seats on sunny days.
I asked the passing waitress, ”Isn’t that a bit useless? Can I ask you to turn them off?” but she said, “Huh?” and made a face like she couldn’t believe her ears. Then she hesitantly said, “I’ll ask the manager,” and went away. She returned, looking stressed, and said, “He says there is only one electric switch for the entire coffee shop.” What a careless, half-assed way to construct a shop, you might think.
But as for me, I was satisfied merely to get a clear, logical answer to my question. My anxiety eased, and soon I could concentrate on other things.
Incidentally, I got the exact same answer at Art Coffee. At that chain, they have no less than ten light-bulbs pointing STRAIGHT TOWARDS THE WINDOWS. Nothing could have less of an effect. The manager let me take him outside. I pointed to through the windows to the lights inside. “Here, my good man. Can you see any luminescence at all?” We agreed that we could not, but since there was only a single switch, there was nothing we could do. But still, I was happy just to get a straightforward explanation.
If you simply walk down the street at high noon, you’ll be surprised at how many electric lights are on. It’s like a whole river of electricity flowing right past your eyes.
In the outdoor shopping malls, too, the street-lamps are on all day. I went to the president of the shop association to confirm this. I then called the Tokyo Power company, and was sarcastically told, “Well, we make a profit out of that, don’t we? Haha!”
I hung up on him, of course, but I’d like the reader to think about his statement for a while. These damn street-lights are on at high noon. And in the trains, too, it’s so bright it hurts your eyes. Think about the amount of energy that wastes. For a long time, I had thought about calling the train companies and asking about it. But finally I realized that the bright lights ensure that customers can see the many advertisements plastering all walls of the train cars. That’s probably why the companies pay the higher electric bills. Especially the ads on the ceiling – direct sunlight might not reach those.
Far from being mad, I was happy – happy I’d discovered the logic behind the decisions. From then on, I didn’t worry about the train lights anymore. I suppose I’m really sick, if that doesn’t make me mad! But all I really want is straight answers. Even if it’s futile, I have to try to see the reasoning that leads to these types of situations.
Perhaps I don’t have “electric neurosis” . . .maybe it would be better to say that I have “logical man syndrome.”
MY HUGE BATTLE WITH THE RAMEN SHOP.
One of the most dramatic episodes I had at the hated Tenjin Doori shopping mall was at the ramen store. Although I accomplished nothing more than making the owner despise me, at least . . .at least . . . well, even I have to admit I was acting pathological that time.
The whole thing started over their ugly, huge red sign, with not one but two rows of flashing lightbulbs adorning it. What’s more, the sign faced west, so the afternoon sun totally outshone any light the sign might have produced. Every time I passed it, I got more and more concerned: I simply couldn’t look away from this absolutely pointless waste of electricity!
Eventually it became easier to simply walk in and have a word with the manager. I summoned my resolve, turned around, and opened the door forcefully.
“Hey, you!” (it turned out to be a young couple running the place) “Can’t you see that your sign’s light-bulbs are having no effect whatsoever? What’s that about?!? Do you think they can outshine the setting sun?”
They both looked absolutely bewildered. The various customers suddenly stopped their ramen-slurping, leaving an eerie silence. Everyone was looking at me, so I continued: “I’m a professor at Dentsuu University, so I can’t forgive your wasting electricity. In fact I am an expert on exactly this topic.”
My sudden comments, as you might expect, left a bad aftertaste in everyone’s mouth. Upon reflection, it might have been my tone of voice that prevented them from hearing the logic of my words. After work the following day, I again passed by the store and its absurd sign. I carefully opened the door, and again saw their surprised faces. They said nothing, so I composed my voice, and said very calmly, “One beer. And some gyoza, and one plate of ramen, please.” The husband made the food, deliberately not looking at me. He brought it over. The fat wife hid in the back. There were no other customers in the store.
I put on my most polite face, took the food, and sat in the middle of the counter, directly across from them. “Are you surprised I’d come in today like this?”
“It’s a nuisance. We’re trying to do business here.” He said. Just then a customer came in. I said I wanted to talk in private. “Go back there,” said the wife, opening the rear door and indicating a small garden beyond.
The wife squared her shoulders, and with a pained look on her face, began to speak: “I can understand your point if you’d only speak calmly. But yesterday you rushed in suddenly and yelled. You startled our other customers, don’t you think? Just the other day, some drunk customer had cornered me and was blathering on, but my husband didn’t help me at all. Then yesterday you come in all yelling, and again he doesn’t help me! Yesterday was our anniversary, but we spent the whole night fighting because he’s such a coward. You ruined everything! I hate people with no intelligence!”
“I hate them too,” I involuntarily replied.
“That was wrong of me. But please don’t think I burst in without a logical reason . . .” and then I told her everything that was on my mind. It wasn’t like she was the only victim here. Given the circumstances, there was nothing else I could have done.
“. . . I’m glad we could talk person to person like this. There’s nothing like some calm, unhurried discussion to get a good result.”
She squared her shoulders again, and with a dissatisfied look said, “I have to get back to work now.” I followed her inside, and proceeded to order snack after snack. When it was time to pay, I paid my 2500-yen tab with a 5000-yen bill : “Thank you for hearing me out. In gratitude please keep the change.” However, that was not the end of the story.
The following day, the sign-light was not lit. I was quite pleased with that. But the day after that, it was on again. Well, it’s cloudy, I thought to myself, so maybe that’s OK for now. But the following day, again, it was on. There must be some misunderstanding! The next day it was on, too, and it was totally sunny! I opened the door and went in. There was the wife, looking at me with alternating expressions of fear and hate. Once again, I spoke in a very calm voice: “You said you’d understand my point if only I spoke calmly. . . were you lying?” She looked like she was about to cry. “Do you not remember saying it? Or what?”
Finally her husband came out from the back room to help her. “Leave us alone, won’t you? Unless you want to pay our electric bill, it’s none of your business!”
This line of reasoning I could not follow – my advice would only lower their electric bill.
“Well then,” I said, “How much is the bill?”
He only turned his head to the side and clucked his teeth.
“OK, well, then I’m going to your University and complain about you!”
“OK, let’s go together. It’s more than I could ever have hoped for! You can talk to the president or anyone you like. “
“Well how about if I call the owner of the restaurant?”
“Go ahead! And how about if you call the cops too? We can all have a sit-down!”
“Either way, I don’t want you coming back here.”
“”Fine! But I want my 2500-yen back. Since you lied to me, I feel that money was wasted.”
Again sucking his teeth, the husband went to the register, withdrew the money, and walked at me waving it like a flag to a bull.
Naturally I didn’t want it anymore. Instead, I shouted, “I’ll be back!” and ran outside.
Of course they kept the sign lit after that! But as always, win or lose, I felt better for having done all I could do. Relieved. Refreshed, even. Even if I had to keep looking at their wasteful sign, I felt better somehow. Really, I’m a sick man.
OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER?
In fact, the most fierce of my “electricity battles” was fought at my own place of work, Dentsu University.
For the first time in a long while, I arrived at work in the early morning: around 9 AM. I passed through the front gate and got quite a shock: all the evening streetlamps were still on, just as they had been when I’d left the previous night. Even over the guard’s kiosk, lights blazed. I yelled at the guard, “This electricity is nothing but a waste of energy! Turn it off at once!” The guard looked up and said, “What? Where?” . . .he couldn’t see the lights because they were so ineffective against the fucking mid-morning sun. “Over there,” I said, pointing to one of the few lit lights that I could see . . .“And over there, too, and there!”
He said, “I, uh, I’ll look for them next time,” and I ran off to my office. Much to my shock, the entire outside lights from the neighboring Building A were still on! I telephoned the Maintainance Department at once, and was put through to a young man in the Electricity Department: “What are you guys thinking of over there? Leaving the outdoor lights on all over campus during the day?” Of course, since I had once again started off by yelling, the young man hung up at once. I realized that I had no choice but to go there in person. Upon arrival, it looked like the Director was not present, so I went to the Vice-Director. But as it turned out, I was second in line to complain: the young man who had hung up on me was already there! “Who do you think you are, hanging up on people like that?” I asked him. He looked at me indignantly and replied, “You were too high-pressure!”
Well, I suppose so. But in any case, I gave them a long lecture, followed by this parting shot: “Since you guys have forgotten how to do your jobs properly, I will be watching you from now on! Please don’t try to escape from me!”
But what really worried me the most, as I left my final class of the day, was the many powerful lights that shone – not only from the hated street-lights, but also out of the windows of lecture halls. There was no one in the halls at this time of night, and yet, here, there, and who-knows-where, the windows still spewed electricity! Once I noticed that, I couldn’t un-notice it, until I was unable to do any of my academic work. I called Tokyo Electric company and asked then to estimate the cost of running all our campus’ street- and class-lights all day. They gave me an unexpectedly low answer: only three or four hundred dollars per month.
Well, I decided, it wasn’t a problem of money anyway. The real problem was that the electricity wasn’t helping even one person. Not one person had asked to have those lights on, and yet, there they were, and nobody even noticed! Even one single yen was too much to pay for this useless state of affairs.
It looked as if I’d have to turn them out myself.
In the hall next to my office, there were ten classrooms, the majority of which had the lights still on! And on top of that, they’d left the heaters on too! I went looking for the guard, to talk to him. But he refused to turn anything off, saying his job was to turn the electricity off at 10PM. But the halls are deserted by 6, I thought to myself. I pictured the guards, walking back and forth past well-lit, well-heated rooms for four hours, their faces registering nothing.
Then I had a talk with the Director of Maintenance. He came all the way to my office, only to say things like, “It’s not our problem. It’s a problem of you teachers and the student’s morals. We could put up more signs, saying ‘Please turn off the lights when you leave’?”
Nothing but the typical Japanese way of thinking.
So, I decided to try my luck with the Board of Education : they were normally up for a lengthy and tedious debate on any subject. But it turned out that even they dismissed my claims: “That kind of thing is not going to change easily. You can’t just suddenly alter an entire system.” And so on. But they allowed me to make a leaflet on their official letterhead, which I distributed personally to teachers who had evening classes. But those teachers just said, “I see!” and then proceeded to leave their lights on.
Next, I took my pocket watch and measured exactly when all the classes finished. I showed this information to the University President at the next faculty meeting. But he only said, “It’s impossible to legislate people’s morality.” At one point, I would have simply given up. But I resolved to make one final effort. I resolved to ask, “Shouldn’t we as a University try to economize and save on electricity?”
However, they ended the meeting right before it was my turn to speak again. I stood up and exclaimed, “Why are you all so idiotic?!?” However, even this could not provoke any debate beyond simple counter-attacks.
After that, I sat at the window of my research-room, rolling down my blinds so that I wouldn’t have to look at the useless lights outside. Then I went to the toilet, careful not to look outside on the way there or back. Then back to my room with all the blinds down. No. I couldn’t live like this. Even the merest flicker of outside light was enough to send me into a fit of anxiety, which I had no way of getting rid of.
With grim determination I set out once more for Hall A. I saw two or three students, outside the building, eating by the light of the empty classrooms. “You kids! Don’t you see what’s become of you?!?” I yelled. They looked scared for a second, but didn’t stop eating. I ran inside the classroom and violently turned off the switch. But clearly just dimming one single room made no difference. I started running around campus switching off all the electricity I could find.
Another day, when I was especially plagued by these lights, I went to see the school nurse, who diagnosed me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This official recognition of my suffering made me feel a little better.
My salvation came from an utterly unexpected source: the Campus Fire Prevention Night Patrol. Suddenly they started going around every night, and as part of their duties, they shut off all the lights of unoccupied rooms. You can just do that? It seems my actions of the previous week were not illegal, after all.
But, soon they stopped their activities as suddenly as they’d started. Things went back to normal. I started to think, “To students, night-time is lonely. . . maybe seeing light coming out the windows makes them feel more cheerful.” What kinds of thoughts were these, invading my mind? This was nonsense! They left the class lights on all day, too – even though there were one to three hours between classes. Good lord – they’re wasting energy even during the day!
The solution was quite simple: all the faculty had to do was turn off the lights and heaters at the end of class. Nothing could be easier. But why most of them not do it? I remembered seeing a new high-tech toilet on the TV news – a toilet that would not let you out unless you washed your hands. Why not a classroom that would not let you out unless you turned off the lights? Or, better yet, a room that would automatically calculate the electric bill for the unused time, and deduct it from the teacher’s salary? That would be effective, wouldn’t it?
FIGHTING WITH MY UNIVERSITY OVER THE CAMPUS LOUDSPEAKERS.
Once again, I’d become a lone wolf, crying out in the wilderness. . . only this time it was my own place of work! I realize how strange this must seem to you. “He picks a fight at work?”
I understand. To help explain, let me explain that there were SOUNDS involved. I did a thorough investigation of the situation on campus, and let me show you the results: (keep in mind that, as I work here, I am probably being unusually lenient on them) First of all, there are a lot of announcements on the school PA. Among them are, PLEASE GIVE BLOOD AT THE BLOOD DRIVE! IT IS 3 O’CLOCK, SO THE LECTURE HALL IS NOW OPEN!
All of these are useless, particularly ones like, TODAY AT TWO, THERE’S A SPECIAL EVENT! PLEASE COME HEAR SO-AND-SO SENSEI’S LECTURE!
On top of that, in my own building (East One), there are loudspeakers in the halls, turned up so loud you can hear them in all the classrooms, all the research rooms, and everything. It’s barbaric! And if you’re in the hallway itself, you’re bathed in its fierce roar. Every time I catch a “direct assault” this way, I call to the General Affairs department to complain. And every time they tell me they’re “Looking into the situation.” And some time will go by without the hated noise, and then BOOM it’s back again.
These meaningless responses from General Affairs are driving me to the brink of madness with rage! (but of course it’s all an act) (isn’t it?)
Eventually I snapped at them:
“If you can’t get an audience for these “special lectures” without yelling at people, you should not give the lectures in the first place! If you want people to be compelled to listen to them, I’ll go and buy you twenty sakura!” (sakura is a kind of fake person that TV producers use to swell the audience ranks, or that people who open up a new Ramen shop hire to make a big line of ‘customers’, or that people running a sexy-email business hire to pose as horny women, etc. – ed.)
The person on the other end was silent.
“Well, then, I’m going to complain to the President in person,” I said and hung up. I went to meet the President, and gave him a vast pile of documents I’d compiled. But I got no reply. I sent him a letter saying, “Sir, I don’t mean to intrude on your time, but I gave you some very important documents, so please reply to me.” Soon, all my documents were returned, as if the President himself had plopped them on my desk with a contemptuous thud. There was a short note which said, “Let’s talk about this sometime.”
My sensible and moderate readers, I beg you! Even if you don’t agree with me, please at least try to feel my frustration with the situation. I don’t anticipate that things will change for the better. In the end, I went to my dean. I talked to him for half an hour, but it was no good. He told me that all the top people in the University knew my concerns, understood that I was suffering, but merely passed me on to the next person to deal with. Their only concern was avoiding my dissatisfied and combative attitude. (This is something I can understand).
“EVERYONE HATES YOU, NAKAJIMA SENSEI!”
A few days after that, the Director of General Affairs came by my office, wanting a word. “It’s OK if you do your activism off-campus, but doing it here is going to make problems for you.”
“Why is that?”
“In any organization, there has to be a chain of command. And there has to be proper channels for making decisions.”
“I have no idea what that has to do with anything. Even if you don’t like my opinion, I’m merely offering proposals to the group, as a member of the group. If I’m breaking a specific rule, please tell me what it is.”
“All the administrators hate you, Nakajima-san.”
“Besides you, who?”
“Ha, ha, ha , haaa!!”
But really, I knew exactly what he was talking about. Consciously bucking the chain of command does pose problems for an organization. To be honest, if I worked within the system (for instance if I put it to a vote at the Teachers’ Association meeting), I’d lose. If I tried to argue in good faith, most people simply would not share my opinions. On the other hand, sometimes my “rash” actions yield results. For instance, in the elevators in my building, if there are more than X passengers, a tape is automatically played that announces, IT’S VERY PACKED IN HERE, ISN’T IT? IT’S CAUSING A MAJOR INCONVINIENCE. PLEASE ENDURE IT FOR A LITTLE WHILE.
The elevator also had a small plaque with the manufacturer’s contact information written on it. I called them directly: “Can you get rid of that idiotic announcement?” They took me seriously, and I received a reply from their General Affairs, saying “The tapes are built-in, so there is no way to remove them, but we will send a guy to lower the volume to the minimum.”
My harsh words were also responsible for reducing the amount of TODAY AT TWO, THERE’S A SPECIAL EVENT! PLEASE COME HEAR SO-AND-SO SENSEI’S LECTURE! announcements by fifty percent!
Honestly, the only way to obtain reform in a reasonable amount of time is to violate chain of command. And even if one isn’t able to accomplish a reform, it’s still vital that students and faculty are able to express their points of view.
One day, gigantic, ugly yellow recycling bins appeared suddenly all over campus. Not only were they distractingly bright, but they came with “funny” manga illustrations that said LET’S ALL PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT and other such clichés. In all my days I’d never encountered such a gaudy, childish, manga-fied waste bin. What has become of Japan?
Naturally I rushed to the General Affairs office: “Why on earth did you choose such a vulgar model of bin? This is a university, but you’ve made it look like a cheap-ass shopping mall!” Of course none of the other teachers cared. In other words, the University is just like the rest of the world. People seem oblivious to the obnoxious SAFETY IS #1 flags and the DON’T LITTER signs, and the equally vulgar, childish posters of the fire department and train companies. It’s as if we have become aesthetically numb.
It’s as if we’re trying to save the physical environment by polluting our mental environment and our aesthetic environment instead!
COURAGEOUSLY BATTLING MY DAMN NEIGHBORS
“More than fighting at one’s workplace, fighting with one’s own neighbors must be the most difficult battle of all, even for a Don Quixote like yourself!”
At least that’s what they tell me. But in fact, I do my activism in my apartment complex just the same as I do it everywhere else. If I hear some loud, thundering music, I’ll go to the perpetrator’s unit, pound on their door. The door opens, and it’s a scared-looking teenage girl. I yell at her, “Quit it! You’re making a nuisance for all your neighbors! What are you thinking?!?”
There’s about 80 units in our high-rise, which makes it quite a challenge to pinpoint where that damned loud TV noise is coming from so late at night! Still, I can’t just let it slide. I dash out of the apartment, and go “noise hunting.” Usually it’s possible to trace the source. We live on the third floor. And the unit directly below us, or sometimes one of the units next to it, is responsible. But just to be sure, I go all the way to the first floor to check the TV noise level there. The housewife who opens the door is very logical. She says, “Please check the unit above ours.” She’s definitely not the perpetrator!
Thus I proceed to the second floor, and knock on the door of the unit below our apartment. As the door opens, I’m immediately assaulted by the huge din from the TV inside. I don’t mince my words: “The noise from your TV is a huge nuisance to those around you.” “I guess so . . . “ mutters the perpetrator, an old man, and goes to turn it down. The time before, I complained to the next-door neighbors, a retired couple: “Please don’t blare your TV so early in the morning.” But the thing is, I’m able to continue to greet my neighbors without any lingering resentment or awkwardness. (although frankly I don’t know if they feel the same about me!)
One time, it was my turn to be one of the apartment’s Neighborhood Council members. I took full advantage of the chance to do activism! There was a man who would play his cello at 3 in the morning. His downstairs neighbors complained many times to the Council. The other Council members thought they’d respond by including a notice in the monthly newsletter, or call and ask the man once again to stop, and other such moderate measures. Here is what I had to say: “That kind of thing won’t work on such a man! We need to get the apartment manager, and go together directly to the man’s apartment and tell him in no uncertain terms that he’s not to do it again!”
We put my plan into effect, and the problem stopped immediately.
The monthly general meetings of the Tenants’ Association were also a great place to do activism! One time the man next to me (a Council member, at that!) was smoking. I said, “I have an urgent proposal! Let’s make these meetings smoke-free!”
“Perhaps you’re talking about me?” responded the Council member. “Fine, whatever,” he continued, and snuffed out his cigarette. This incident caused some members to start whispering, so I quickly called for another resolution banning whispering. One old lady continued to whisper, so I walked directly to her seat and told her she was in violation, and if she wanted private talk, she and her friend should go outside. But they continued their conversation right outside the door- I could still hear them. I told them to go home!
As for the roast-potato trucks and the clothes-drying-pole trucks around our neighborhood (with their loudspeakers on a loop), I attempted to introduce that topic at the meeting but was voted down. I replied, “I really hate those guys. I can’t work from home when they’re around. I have chased them down the street, yelling ‘Don’t come around here blaring that noise!’ Perhaps some of you all might think, ‘If I can’t hear the potato-truck’s music, I won’t know when the potato-man is in the neighborhood’. If that’s the case, let’s discuss it rationally. Here is my phone number.”
But nobody wanted a civil discussion. I heard some people snickering at me, though. That’s right : I don’t always win. But in any case, little by little, more and more people are hearing my message.
“But what about your family?” you ask. “Doesn’t your activism make things hard for them?”
Of course, they were against it when I first started protesting. Against all my activities! But in the end, they got tired of resisting; it became clear to them that fighting with me was just going to make things take an even more extreme turn. But that was not all. . . luckily, little by little, they came around. My wife is not afraid anymore to call the police if the bousouzoku ride bikes noisily, and sometimes even tells café staff to turn down the background music! One time in Kyoto, we were out for a walk, and we found a coffee-shop blaring loud music into the sidewalk, even though there were absolutely no people around. My wife found the CD player hidden under the shop’s folding sign, and turned it off! And my son now uses headphones when watching TV. And sometimes I go to the train station master’s office to give a lengthy speech, my son will sit silently at my side.
Their transformation has really been a great boon to me, like an oasis materializing in a vast desert. When even my friends don’t understand me, when society mis-understands me, when strangers look at me like I’ve lost my mind, I can at least draw strength from the fact that my family at last understands me. Without them, I would doubtless give up hope.2 comments