Tokyo Damage Report

conclusion of Nakajima’s JAPANESE ARE HALF FALLEN

CHAPTER FIVE: IS IT POSSIBLE TO LIVE TOGETHER?

A DIFFICULT PROBLEM TO SOLVE

This problem that I’ve been grappling with . .. at last I’ve come to realize how difficult it is to solve! The burden of “insolvability” has been weighing more and more heavily on my shoulders, so the time has come to confront it! I suppose I must quit dreaming of a large-scale reformation of Japanese peoples’ attitudes. I suppose I must quit dreaming of authentic human contact and a society which respects everyone’s sensitivity levels. The administrators of this country are never going to budge from their idea of “rule for the benefit of the majority,” and the administrators of shopping malls are never going to put anything before profits, are they?

The common people are simply going to demand more and more SOUNDS, and there isn’t a way to change the laws or customs. The spiritual corruption has become too deeply embedded in our bodies. Everyone says that it’s all worth it just because we’re developing the economy.

On TV the other day, I saw a new model of refrigerator with built-in tapes that said YOU’RE LEAVING THE DOOR OPEN and PLEASE PUSH THE DOOR HARDER, THANK YOU!   The reason given is that consumers demand such features. After a detailed investigation of the markets, I have to admit that they’re right. . . it’s impossible to hold in check this demand for more and more SOUNDS. Soon they will install new public telephones that greet you with a message of THANK YOU FOR USING ME! PLEASE INSERT YOUR PRE-PAY CARD HERE! Transport trucks no longer simply beep when they back up, now they say I’M BACKING UP! I’M BACKING UP! I’M BACKING UP! I’M BACKING UP! I’M BACKING UP! 

But the most shocking recent experience was one I had in a taxi:  As   I got out, the car said THANK YOU FOR RIDING ME! PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU HAVE NOT LEFT ANY ITEMS BEHIND! In an annoying high-pitched voice. But that was not the big shock. The big shock was: I can’t ride in taxis ever again! Not only that, but this also struck my brain like a lightning bolt: the handful of us “announcement-neurosis-patients” are expected to endure all the SOUNDS . . . but for every noise we train ourselves to forgive, there are RIGHT NOW entire teams of technicians inventing a dozen MORE sounds for the future!

We can’t change anything; we’re powerless, aren’t we? Here is the question I’d like to put forth: who will protect those of us who want tranquility and quiet from the majority who demands noise? Who will defend those of us who still take responsibility for our own actions and want to make up our own minds about things from the majority who wants to escape responsibility and have others decide everything for them? Who will defend our right to speak up, against the majority that doesn’t want to hear our voice? In this final chapter of the book, I will grapple with these themes.

I am certain that my activism on behalf of a self-determining, self-responsible society is justified. As for those among us who are not capable of self-determination/responsibility (the elderly, children, the mentally and physically handicapped), let’s help them on an individual basis, without resorting to just-in-case announcements. Let’s be objective about our own noise levels : we should keep the sounds we are enjoying (be it the loud playing of our children, the barking of our beloved dogs, the rock music that we for some reason enjoy, etc.) at the same level as we’d want our neighbors to keep THEIR sounds.

Instead of framing noise debates as “he’s too sensitive to sound,” we should frame them as: “How would I feel if I had to hear a disagreeable sound at the same volume and frequency as this sound?”

In other words, we should strive to build a society in which the reactions of “this noise is pleasant” and “this noise is offensive” are given equal weight.


THEORY MUST SURRENDER TO FACTS!

But, it’s easy to simply write demands. Making them reality throughout the country, however, is almost impossible! Such wicked thoughts are almost unspeakable for Japanese, to say nothing of having a logical debate. Instead of logic, people respond with comments such as, “You’re right. . . that’s the truth! But in today’s society . . . (*shrugs*)” More sly and tricky people have a different technique. Worse than disagreeing honestly, they pre-empt any serious discussion by pretending to agree, and then dismissing me with a “Yes BUT. . .”

“Yes BUT, in this capitalist society, don’t customers like to be treated to such beautiful words?”

“Yes BUT if we stop the warning announcements and even one person has an accident, I’ll get fired.” 

“Yes BUT if we don’t have any announcements, the people won’t do anything at all.”

And so on and so forth, ad nauseum. It’s like the old saying, “Necessity doesn’t need rules.”  Like immature high-school debaters, if the facts don’t fit their argument, they retreat into abstraction, where nothing can be conclusively proved or disproved. And they stick fiercely to this shoddy tactic.

What I hate more than anything, what burns me like sulphuric acid, is this: at school, work, and in the family, we are told RESPECT DIVERSITY, RESPECT INDIVIDUALITY, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTS. But it’s all lip-service – almost no one who spouts such clichés has the slightest desire that the kids will actually act on them. The real face of the institutions lies in all the posters that line the walls of the schools, which preach the exact opposite message. Of course no one is allowed to point out the glaring contradiction.

What’s more, the final effect is to turn such sentiments as LET’S ALL TAKE RESPONSIBILITY! LET’S RESPECT DIVERSITY! Into just another of the empty, conformitizing slogans, absorbing them completely into the system!!!

Taken together, all this “education” amounts to an intentional numbing or paralysis of the students’ ability to think critically or make up their own mind about messages. To submerge them into a group mentality, and make them blind to their own likes and dislikes. Systematically, children’s sensitivities to many different things are brought into line. They are trained to check what the group thinks about a phenomenon, rather than using their own senses to examine the reality of the phenomenon directly. Any individual speech patterns are stomped out, leaving only standardized “public speech” devoid of thought or emotion.

But however persuasive my analysis is, the fact remains that we Japanese have survived such education for over a thousand years. It’s like a thousand-year-old wave, so deep and wide that we are simply unable to change it.  “Change” is superficial, like a plastic surgery which changes the outer layer of skin, the body will immediately continue to grow in its natural form, unseen, below the surface.

Even our youth, who seem so strange and untraditional at first, to me they are 99% “classic Japanese.” There are a lot of students with dyed hair under their uniform school caps, a lot of students who make a big show of not paying attention to the teachers. They think they can simply throw out a thousand years of tradition and behavior patterns. But even these “manner-less” students are completely normal.

No different from their Western counterparts, they would  (when disputing a grade , for instance) never argue their case stubbornly for thirty minutes in front of the school’s Review Committee. They would never persistently and cool-headedly use reason and logic to persuade the teachers. If they wanted a better grade, they’d come and beg the teachers with their head bowed, asking “please please please!”

They’re just not that interesting to me.

What I’m really curious about is the words and actions of the adults who criticize these youths! The adults, oddly, all have the exact same complaint, in almost the same exact words:”The youths lack the traditional value of consideration for others. Youth lack this virtue, which is the most essential fundamental Japanese virtue.”

That this point (of all Japanese points) is the attack chosen by the adults just leaves me speechless!! Honestly, it makes me feel like I just landed here from Mars! 

My countrymen have noticed that lately young Japanese have lost a bit of the stench of Japanese-ness. This is a huge incident!  To them, it’s as terrible as if Japan’s sperm count had started dropping off due to abnormal hormones in the food! A national emergency! In this political climate, the growing self-centeredness of the youth enrages the grown-ups’ heads and hearts. And yet, the youth are just as compliant (and oblivious to) their elders, when it comes to the ever-present management slogans, announcements, and signs that pickle them!

I really don’t want to sound like one of these “hysterical critics” when I get worked up. I don’t want to say things like, WHY ARE JAPANESE SO INFANTLIZED?!? WHERE IS OUR SENSE OF SELF-RESPONSIBILITY? IS THIS HOW WE “RESPECT INDIVIDUALITY?” and so on.

What I would like to ask for, though, is that the critical grown-ups phrase their attack in a more prudent, more down-to-earth and straight-forward manner, like so:

“To the extent that it doesn’t harm me, I want to avoid all self-determination. I wish to float and twist around in the sea of management slogans and invasive sign-boards. I want to extinguish individual ways of speaking. Use the most safe, cliché phrases at all times, and try as much as possible to avoid responsibility for my own actions. I admit here that this is the kind of life I want for everyone.”

And then I’d like them to wait patiently while I state my whole case in turn.





IT’S NOT A PROBLEM OF A PUBLIC NATURE

My wise readers might now respond thusly: “Your demands are so prudent, and reasonable!” Yes, but you have to know that even though they would win a rational argument, the people of this society won’t even argue with me: they just dismiss the demands out of hand as being arrogant.

As for the people who design urban spaces and amusement spaces, they don’t listen to people like myself, who constitute a tiny minority. Unlike private spaces, public spaces have to meet the needs of the majority: whether this is back-ground music, endless warnings about trains coming soon, warnings that one is almost to the top of escalator so one had better watch one’s step . . .to the extent that the majority demands these things, they have to be installed.  The designers of public spaces have no room to choose their own vision in this regard.

Even private enterprise can be thought of as “public space” to the extent that it’s a space which people use in their everyday lives: banks, trains, busses, malls, hospitals, and so on.  This is not some abstract notion that I arbitrarily decided upon; it is a reality which is manifest in the everyday conditions of people and places.

Since Narita is the only international airport available to Tokyoites, its “public-space-ness” is very high. To people in any given neighborhood, the closest train station is the one they use daily, making that station have a high “public-space-ness” (even if it’s a private railway line). In many new residential communities, there is only Supermarket A – the next closest supermarket might be a thirty minute journey, making Supermarket A much more “public-space-y” than Supermarket B.

In the same way, banks, restaurants, theaters and pools (to say nothing of beaches) may have “public-space-ness.” However, it is not a question of “Do they have it or not?” but “To what extent do they have it?” To answer that question, one must look at the situation from many different residents’ point of view, and see – in daily life – how much of a need they each have for it.

Of course, I wouldn’t complain about noise if I were to walk into a disco. The same thing with a pachinko parlor. Those kinds of “amusement spaces” have relatively little “public-space-ness”. But amusement parks, beach parks, ski slopes, in short, places where one brings one’s family, tend to have more “public-space-ness”.

Keeping that in mind, I’d like to declare that spaces that have a monopoly on something necessary to everyone’s everyday life TYPE ONE SPACES. Other spaces, where one can easily choose among several of the same type to go to, I designate TYPE TWO SPACES. I will continue this chapter using this system.

However, first I need to stress one point: I don’t think this concept of “public-space-ness” is going to lead to any revolution in Japan’s sound environment. There are some writers and social critics who totally over-rely on the word “public space”, and they use it too abstractly. Frankly, this country simply doesn’t have the concept of public-space as it applies to SOUNDS. But the idea that public spaces exist in some abstract world where they don’t impinge on peoples’ sensitivities is just absurd, a fantasy! Places like shopping districts aren’t seen as public, so we don’t see them as being vulgar; rather, we see them as “vulgarity which conforms to Japanese rules of space.” (In other words, we don’t have any absolute principles or morals about vulgarity, we only judge based on if something meets expectations of what it’s “supposed” to look like. – ed.)

Many social critics, such as Kato Hisatake, say this: Every private shop can blast its loudspeakers onto the public streets. Because we lack the concept of “public vs. private”, and we can’t tell the difference, we find nothing odd about this.  

But that’s simply not the case.

Think of the shopping district; average people demand a noisy sound environment, and that’s why shop-owners point their loudspeakers at the street! The speakers are not an annoyance to anyone. In fact, if people like me had our way and eliminated the speakers, the SILENCE would be an annoyance. The echoing, tinny voices from the loudspeakers make people want to shop! The same people lose their enthusiasm for shopping in the quiet streets of Europe: it would feel too cold and unwelcoming to them!

The SOUNDS are there for the public’s benefit . . that is the nature of “public-space-ness” in Japan. It’s not a colorless, invisible abstraction. It’s a reflection of the vivid and noisy inner lives of Japanese bodies. Perhaps it’s even a reflection of the ideals of our society! But, the same majority would still claim that “calm and natural tranquility” is also a Japanese ideal, even as they seek out the most noisy, vulgar shopping districts.

But here’s the thing: “public-space-ness” is NOT the same as “space used by the majority.” No matter how much the majority demands clamor and din in a given space, the minority who hates clamor and din should not be ignored: after all, they need to use the space just as much as the majority. “Public-space-ness” is an absolute concept, based on how necessary the space is to daily life, not a relative concept based on how big the noise-loving majority of users is. However, teaching society to understand this concept is going to be a long journey!

It’s not as if European society is systematically based on catering to minorities. Building codes (for color, shape, and height) are extraordinarily strict. People who want to give their homes a unique design are almost without exception turned down. The shopping districts are quiet because of strict speaker laws. But of course those laws infuriate the minority of Europeans who wish to be bombarded with loud sounds whilst shopping!

So, if the Japanese intellectuals and social critics really want a society “for the minorities”, then they must logically be wishing for European cities to be awash with noise. European cities are not quiet because they have a fundamentally different or more correct conception of “public space.” Majority rules there, just like here.

STRENGTH OF GREAT NUMBERS

It goes without saying that the elites of society are in charge of public space, but there is one exception to this: Michel Foucault’s concept of “strength of great numbers”. The person who demands a noisy shopping district is nobody special. The person who demands management announcements plastered all over their trains and stations is nobody special. And when these everyday folks join organizations (shop-owners’ associations, police departments, fire departments, tax bureau, and neighborhood associations) they form a sort of WEB of everyday-people-power.  

This WEB transmits to us our sensitivities, trains and forges our sensitivities, checks them, and excludes those who don’t match up. No matter the surface appearance of a public space (rich neighborhood or poor, for instance), the underlying feel and flavor will never change. In other words, the public spaces of today’s society are a reflection of the true desires of average people, not elites. For example, the mall owners aren’t stupid. They’re in business to make money. They only give people what they want.

If everyone were like me and demanded quiet tranquility in the streets, the banks, the parks, and so on, the speakers would be soon gone. There is no way that a handful of elites could force the speakers on the vast majority (which, remember, includes shop-owners’ associations, police, and neighborhood associations – ed.). This is how the “strength of great numbers” works.

The “strength of great numbers” theory also explains why it is so difficult to grapple with or change society: the WEB is leaderless . . .   One cannot appeal to the police to change peoples’ attitudes. One can not appeal to the shop-owners’ associations or the individual store owners. All one can do is pass out questionnaires (“How would you feel if we changed such-and-such . . . ?” to random people.

The real enemy isn’t the people or the elites, it’s a set of traditions and sensitivities (or rather, INsensitivities) that has built up over time. And this enemy has no face, no physical body, no leader, no neck to wring. It’s impossible to do battle with.

It’s as if the whole country, every nook and cranny, was “averaged out” to one number, and “fractional” people like me got “rounded off” in the process!

About ten years ago, the anti-smoking lobby was able to get some “no-smoking zones” established, because they had documents proving that smoke was bad for health. But unfortunately, the SOUNDS haven’t killed any of us “sensitive neurotics.” They haven’t even driven any of us insane. We have nothing to point to, not even an accusatory suicide note.

When we protest to the mall owners or train station managers about the loudspeakers, they always swindle us by using “Standard-Toleration-Level Theory”, and we have to retreat. Standard-Toleration-Level Theory (STLT for short) holds that there’s a noise “threshold”, which the average Japanese can tolerate, and anything above is “bad noise,” but anything below it is automatically OK. Even though noise sensitivity is a personal issue, and varies greatly from individual to individual, (in fact, precisely BECAUSE it is!) the authorities think they can mathematically average everyone out, and that this is the most fair way to settle noise disputes.  In fact, the courts can not use anything but  this sort of ‘statistical’ method.

It’s clear that this STLT theory – based on the principle of statistical fairness- is actually totally AGAINST equality : Sounds which the majority enjoy are damaging to the minority – it’s not at all equal. You could say we minority have a “cultural handicap”, but no hospital will diagnose us or validate our condition with a diagnosis. Despite the suffering it causes us to ride the train, we have to pay the same fee as the majority. Same with the price of coffee in the too-hot coffeehouses with their hateful background muzak. We have to pay taxes at the same rate as the majority, despite the fact that these taxes fund many of the SOUNDS and other annoyances.

People like me, who are trapped in a man-made hell of SOUNDS at all times and places, where merely leaving the house is like being cast into a lake of blood, no matter how much we suffer, we have no forum to present our case to society in general. Our pain and suffering is not recognized or legitimate. And that’s the biggest suffering of all. There is no exit from this public space!


WE WHO WANT PEACE AND QUIET ARE A NUISANCE TO OTHERS

The point I want to emphasize is this: intellectual theories are not going to help solve the problem of SOUNDS. The problem exists in a “blind spot” of theory, where there is no practical application. You can cogitate about the problem all you like, but it’s like a “black hole” that sucks in ideas without producing any results. As we have seen from looking at how Japanese social critics discuss “public space,” when they set out to discuss it, they wind up (without realizing it – or perhaps they secretly do?) drawing conclusions on other, irrelevant topics.

For instance, some of them begin with the concept of “You shouldn’t be a nuisance to others.” Oh, we Japanese are so kind! But this doesn’t address my questions in the slightest: it only works in a situation where everyone shares the same value system to begin with. The second that one introduces diversity to such a system, the theory becomes ineffective! Actually justifying things by “majority is always right” can lead to dangerous situations.

Bosozoku (teen biker gangs that like to race at night –ed.) are annoyance to the majority because most people want peace and quiet during the night-time. What’s more, nobody but the bosozoku asked for such noises. So according to those two criteria, the bosozoku’s noise is considered bad.

But when it comes to the Emergency Disaster Evacuation speakers, such criteria can no longer be applied. After all, some people ask for the noise, but some don’t. The “don’t faction”, also wants peace and quiet, yet the majority, who claimed “peace and quiet” when it came to bosozoku, now wants more noise! And, what’s worse, both factions accuse the other of being a “nuisance.” 

The “don’t faction” claims that the “do faction” is colluding with local government to make our lives miserable. But the “do faction” claims that the daily announcements are a good public service, which the “don’t”s are conspiring to take away from them. In other words, the same exact sound can have two opposite meanings to two sets of people. In the end, the majority and the government – despite their “don’t be a nuisance to others” policy – figure that the suffering of the minority is a price worth paying for the “public service” of announcements.

If a “don’t” presses his or her claim of mental suffering caused by announcements, and dares to appeal to the “don’t be a nuisance” rule, the city government official dismisses his / her claim as “egotistical” and outrageous, thus placing the “don’t” outside the social contract altogether.

In the case of escalator announcements, there is no doubt they cause me much mental anguish! But to the vast majority, doing away with the announcements would be “causing a nuisance.” Same with all the rest of the various SOUNDS.

More generally, any change at all that any minority demands can be dismissed out of hand as “causing a nuisance”. Without needing to think about it or negotiate logically! The majority doesn’t even realize that they are privileged by winning so easily!

To an average Japanese having dinner at a sushi or soba (noodle) restaurant, asking “Can you turn on the ball game?” is natural – it never crosses their mind that the owner will say “no.” Why? Because he assumes everyone else in the restaurant also wants to watch, therefore he’s asking on behalf of the majority. If someone should object, he gets mad – THEY are the egoist who wants to force THEIR taste on everyone! “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else!”

Similarly, if I were to ask for a nature documentary instead of baseball (something I certainly don’t have the courage to do anymore!), he’d think it was an unthinkably selfish request. He’d go pale in the face! And if I defended myself by saying, “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else!”, he’d be sure that I was truly mad. In his wildest dreams, he can’t imagine that his baseball program could be as much of a nuisance as a nature documentary.



KICKED OUT OF THE BAR

I’ve just described the “social construction of nuisances” (i.e. how the same exact criteria are used to label something “normal” or “irritating” depending on the circumstance). I have some rather interesting experiences of this, which I’d like to share with you now!

At a small bar near my University campus, I was drinking with a small group of editors. Behind a wooden screen was a group of about five or six young people. Perhaps because they were mostly women, they were really loud, laughing and clapping hysterically. I couldn’t hear my companion 50 centimeters from my face! I finally went up to the screen and loudly said, “Can you please keep it down? We can’t hear ourselves talk over here!” (in tennis terms, this was a ‘weak opening serve’).

From behind the screen, I heard mutterings of, “What’s that? What’s he yelling about?!?” and they were quiet briefly, but soon had returned to their habit of screaming hysterically. After thirty minutes of this, I could stand no more. I had to leave the bar. But as I was leaving, I poked my head behind the screen and yelled at the startled young people: I’M GOING HOME ALL BECAUSE OF YOU! ARE YOU HAPPY? I CAN’T STAND IT ANYMORE, BUT IT’S ALL OK, BECAUSE YOU GOT TO YELL AS LOUD AS YOU WANTED! (a ‘strong second serve’).

The young people screamed back: WE WERE HERE BEFORE YOU! WHAT THE FUCK! 

So far, this was a typical argument for me. It’s what happened next that merits inclusion in this book: the proprietress came flying out from the back room and dragged me outside! Then, while bowing, she asked me:

“Sensei, is there something the matter?”
“You’re asking that now? Those young people have been so loud, we can’t even hear our own conversation! You didn’t bother to put a stop to it, so I did it myself!”
Then the proprietress said something so retardedly amazing it made a huge impression on me: “I’m very sorry, sensei, but perhaps they didn’t realize their own volume in such a small place.”

It took me a second to realize what she was getting at: since it was a “small place”, it was my job to endure the noise, not their job to be quieter. It was me that was the nuisance for complaining. OK, I get it! I had the wrong idea all along! This realization made a deep impression on me, but now was not the time to dwell on it, as I had left all my stuff inside.

But the bar-owner had also come out, and stood in the doorway with both hands out, warding me off. In the end he went in to fetch my shoes and briefcase, rather than let me back in. Since I was the problem. As I was waiting for him to return, I could hear the young people, still screaming and laughing.

But in the end, I was not unsatisfied. I’d learned a valuable lesson about the Japanese mentality. If customers fight, the bar doesn’t sell more drinks. So it’s the duty of the quieter people to raise their voices as loud as the loudest people. That way, it seems that no one is annoyed. Until someone like me comes along!


UNABLE TO SEE THINGS FROM THE OPPOSING POINT OF VIEW


In a related topic, many sociologists, political theorists, philosophers, and social critics say “You should look at things from the other person’s point of view”. But, as I previously mentioned, when it comes to sensitivity levels, this is impossible! As for getting a “impartial third party observer” to help, where on earth could you find one? It’s like telling someone who likes not-hot curry to put himself in the shoes of someone who only likes super-hot curry. You could say, “Well, just use your imagination,” but how can you imagine enjoying a curry so hot it causes you physical pain? I suppose the “impartial third-party observer” would just force both people to eat “middle-hot” curry.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine enjoying the SOUNDS. And I expect the average Japanese can’t imagine my suffering, either. We need to face the unpleasant facts here. But if we can’t argue based on “objectivity” or “seeing both sides,” what should we base our arguments on?

One of the ideas of contemporary German philosophy is that arguments can not be based on an objective notion of “what is good”: individual subjective “truths” can coexist without contradiction. In their theory, we should base our arguments on the notion that a “public space” is one in which everyone’s opinion can be heard.

When I first started proposing this German theory in Japan, everyone reacted very coldly. I tried my best, in phone calls, panel discussions, and letters, but in the end it became clear that it was futile. I must have argued with 500 people over the course of five years, and as time passed I noticed that I kept hearing the same responses over and over again. At the same time, I began writing and researching this book. And in the course of my research I realized that I’d been mistaken: it’s impossible to logically argue a case against all the announcements, cautions, warnings, etc.

The reality of the situation was grimmer than I realized! The same intellectuals that loudly preach “self-determination” and “self-responsibility” when it comes to abortion, bank scandals, and education, totally fail to apply these principles to street SOUNDS. The same “cultural elites” that decry the “spiritual degradation of modern Japan” are completely blind to the problem of the management announcements and slogans which pickle the nation!!!

When I propose that these are a social problem, they will nod their heads in agreement, but have no desire to actually do anything about it. Why is that? Because they agree intellectually but they are not suffering emotionally. They do not have the same sensitivity level as I, and they can’t imagine it. Even they, the smartest and most logical class of Japan, cannot use their logic to bridge the gap. Logic cannot compute suffering! Not only that, they don’t even understand what they are missing!

So, nowadays I don’t bother trying to argue logically anymore. Now I just yell SHUT THE EFF UP!, I might carry my own loudspeaker and point it at the “official one” to yell back at it, I might just hurl curses or act obsessive-compulsively. I’ve become quite extreme! Perhaps, in my abandonment of democracy, I’ve become like Hitler. But unlike Hitler, my ability to manipulate the general public is zero, my speech-giving skill is zero, my ability to comprehend the emotions of the common man is zero, and my desire to murder (though this might be difficult to believe) is also zero. So don’t worry about the Hitler thing I just said.


JUSTICE FOR SOUND-SENSITIVE MINORITIES: IT’S NOT THE SAME AS THE ISSUE OF MINORITIES WHO ARE AFFECTED BY ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION

I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that my personal anti-noise-pollution campaign can’t piggyback on the popular anti-environmental-pollution movement. The environmental campaign is based on statistically measurable damage. The damage has to be documented and approved by some external authority.

For example, the villagers who sue airports over noise make their case by documenting all the cases of hearing loss and miscarriages and then comparing it to the national average. The more “out-of-average” their community is, the more likely they are to win their lawsuit. Even when they sue for mental suffering, that claim is also backed by statistics: they point to an increase in their rate of crime and suicide.

People like me don’t have that kind of official recognition yet. And even if the doctors did develop a category of “hyper-sensitive to announcements”, even if I were diagnosed, proving cause and effect would not be that easy. Who is to blame for my condition? Is it something caused by external loudspeakers, or something I was born with? How to divide the blame?

Perhaps I’ve always been a bit “off” but the SOUNDS pushed me over the edge? But if that’s alone is enough to gain official recognition as “environmental damage”, what’s to stop someone who got romantically heart-broken (or failed his college exams) and attempted suicide from claiming the same thing?

The environmental problem is one of shared communal values and sensitivities: what each society decides collectively to tolerate in the way of pollution. So it offers no help to people like me who suffer because our sensitivities are unique. Nobody can defend us, because we’re statistically insignificant. Unlike the mentally or physically handicapped, we’re not even recognized as a minority group who is being discriminated against!

Especially since I am often loud and aggressive in stating my case, it’s difficult to be taken seriously as a “weak person” in need of legal protection.


BUT AREN’T ANNOUNCEMENTS FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE BLIND?

Let me be clear: I’m trying to get official recognition as a “weak person” but I have some misgivings about that term. In Japan, “weak person” generally is thought to mean blind or deaf people – the supposed audience of many excessive announcements: THE ESCALATOR ENDS SOON, PLEASE PRESS THE BUTTON WHEN YOU’D LIKE TO EXIT THE BUS, and so on. In other words, “helping the weak people” is the very foundation of the SOUNDS that I’m fighting against!

When the Sangawa station was remodeled, they installed some astoundingly useless tape loops, saying things like PLEASE DON’T ALL CRAM ONTO THE TRAIN, IT’S DANGEROUS and THE DOORS OF THE ELEVATOR WILL SHUT SOON, PLEASE BE CAREFUL. But they did not put a loudspeaker on the escalator. Now, as a result of my constant protests, both Hanamizu and Hachimanyama station had removed their escalator speakers. I assumed that Sangawa station had likewise decided to show some consideration to people like me, and was overjoyed!

So imagine my shock several months later, when suddenly I boarded the escalator and was assaulted by a huge voice yelling PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP. . . . Of course I immediately went to the station office to protest, and then called the public relations office of the parent company. He explained to me the reason: a few days ago, a blind person asked the Sangawa station worker “Where is the escalator?” I replied, “He only wanted to know where it was, not how to use it! There’s no reason to play that tape loop all day at such a great volume!”

As a result of my phone call, they didn’t stop the announcement, but did reduce the volume. If they really wanted to be considerate of the visually impaired, they should just have installed some sort of quiet beeping tone near the entrance to the escalator. They didn’t need such a loud ridiculous announcement.

When I go to Kyoto, I often stay in the Garden Palace hotel. One day, as I entered the lobby, I realized there was an announcement playing: THIS IS THE GRAND PALACE! THIS IS THE GRAND PALACE! THIS IS THE GRAND PALACE! THIS IS THE GRAND PALACE!  After checking to confirm that it was on a constant loop, I went to the front desk to ask about it.  They told me that according to a new Kyoto city regulation, all public places had to install a “sound system” to tell blind people where the entrance was. I couldn’t believe it! The next time I go to Kyoto, will I have to listen to announcements every single building I visit?!? 

But when I read the actual regulation in question, it said absolutely nothing about the “sound system” having to be words. They could simply install some kind of bell that chimed KIN, KON, KIN, KON. Even if there were a lot of entranceways in one area, different sounding bells would be easy for a blind person to tell apart. In fact, recently on the news, I saw a report about a bell that would only ring in proximity to cell-phones owned by blind people, so it would only be on when it was needed.

And I’m well aware that a chime or bell is all that blind people are asking for. I’ve interviewed a blind person activist for a previous paper. According to him, out of the innumerable announcements that flood the streets of Japan, over 99 percent of them are NOT for the benefit of the blind. They’re not asking for these announcements. Furthermore, these excessive sounds are a nuisance to blind people, since they interrupt useful sounds which they need to navigate.  

And yet the elites – metro police, city hall, business associations, and so on, continue to install new announcements “for the benefit of the blind.” Hey! Why don’t you try asking them what they want?? Why don’t you examine the situation in more detail: what time of day are blind people most apt to be walking on the street? You could probably keep the announcements off most of the day, if only you were able to think outside the box.




SEGREGATING THE SOUND-SPACES IS IMPOSSIBLE

As I’ve mentioned, there is no theory which I can use! I can’t appeal to notions of “see things from the other person’s point of view” – since I’m seeking to protect myself! And I don’t think I can use mere logic to justify what I believe is right either. I don’t want to enlighten or guide my countrymen.

I just want to live my life without being labeled as a “crazy egotist” or “hypersensitive” or “he starts fights all the time.” I want to co-exist without having to be excluded from society. If only for ten minutes, I’d like to live like the majority do: in safety, comfort, absence of worry, with the idea that I’m entitled to pursue happiness like everyone else.

Here’s what I’d really like you to understand: Sounds from your environment penetrate your skin. The violence of this is not measurable. I’d like you to realize that when you are demanding this “cultural noise”, you are forcing your choices on everyone else (remember what I wrote earlier about how all places have a “public-space-ness” to some extent).

What if living spaces were segregated into SOUNDS and NO SOUNDS districts? The majority requires not just endless spewings of background music, radios and such, but they require endless announcements that tell them what to do at every moment: warnings, cautions, advice, reminders, just-in-cases, exhortations, and stern rebukes. Without these things, they would be incapable of doing anything at all, since they have no idea how to live their own lives. I want a separate space for people like me who DO. That way, everyone is happy, and I can be left in peace.

As for the people who don’t want to think for themselves or be responsible for their own actions, whatever! We let people smoke, don’t we? Despite the fact that it causes cancer. We expect smokers to choose their own fate and be responsible for it, don’t we? So why do we need the SOUNDS to tell us how to do everything else?

But at any rate, not all public spaces can be segregated into noisy and not noisy; the beach, the high plains, malls, and airports. . . the more widely used – the more public –  a space is, the more difficult it is to segregate. Simple segregation is simply not realistic, but it might give us a hint of how to proceed in the direction of co-existence.

If you want to complain about the SOUNDS at a mall, you’d have to go to each store and explain how they are causing you pain. It’s causing too much trouble, you think. It’s being too pushy about one’s rights, you think. But you’re wrong!

It’s no easy job to decide exactly what constitutes “public-space-ness,” let alone get others to re-consider their own views! Take for example, wheelchair users. Nobody can say that they get respect from city councils. It’s impossible for them to enter many coffeehouses, barbers, and supermarkets. To say nothing of public pools and bars! And they get no help from the government. Everyone knows that that’s the situation in Japan today. 

People like me (the “excessive noise neurosis” patients) are in exactly the same situation. We can’t go into coffeehouses without hearing crappy muzak. Even when they do play classical music, we can’t listen to it in the way we’d like to: there’s always people talking and clanking their silverware. Nobody listens to classical at home in such conditions!

But it’s next to impossible to find a café with no music. The same way, it’s impossible to find a restaurant, department store, supermarket, bookstore or barber with no muzak!  But if the muzak-having café was next to a NO-music restaurant, next to a muzak-having department store, next to a NO-music bookstore, only in such an atmosphere of equality could I enjoy my daily shopping. 

In other words: it doesn’t have to be completely silent, the important thing that people like me get some respect and can hold our heads up.

Having an environment where I don’t have to constantly worry about searching for a quiet place. This would make me feel like my rights are being looked after. Not complete silence, merely a splitting of the noise into pieces so it’s not a suffocating blanket. However, even this “half quiet” idea would be bad for the economy, bad for profits, so let’s give up on it.

However, people like me who have a “cultural handicap” find that – just like those who have a “physical handicap” – this country is not made for us or concerned about us. And unlike the latter, we (the former) aren’t even recognized as a minority group. Acts against us are not regarded as prejudice. We have no choice but to band together with other people of the same sensitivity. Or go home and cry.

We can’t very well construct our own supermarkets all over the country. Perhaps we should just ask for a “quiet section” in each supermarket. But even that would be bad for business. Just like real estate, the “sound environment” is so precious that every square meter generates profits for someone. Even if they made one single car of the shinkansen “the quiet car”, hardly anyone would use it.


TODAY’S SOCIETY IS JUST NUTS

Well, I suppose that would be enough to satisfy me. But that’s just speculation on top of speculation, not a proper conclusion. ??? 223

For the end of the book, I figured I’d finally stop being so cool-headed and rational, and at last let you know how I REALLY feel.

No matter how hard I try to understand it, the sound environment of contemporary Japan is just nuts.  I mean crazy nuts! Everyone is paranoid, unable to feel safe in their own bodies. If any kind of incident occurs, our first instinct is to blame the other person entirely. We’re all so alienated it’s crazy! We can’t decide anything on our own, we seek to avoid responsibility for everything, we blame everything on others, we can’t speak “private language”, we can’t do anything unless someone instructs us what to do, and all of this is considered great because it makes society run so “smoothly” and “efficiently”.

Add all the management announcements and slogans, the standardization of speech, thought, and sensitivity . ..

And still some social critics say, “In these modern times, there is no way that mere cultural background can be controlling our way of thinking so much!”

You’re jabbering nonsense! You don’t live in the distant past, you don’t live in the future. You don’t know how much past or future people were affected by their respective cultural backgrounds. . . I absolutely hate it when intellectuals indulge in such abstract speculation!

I want a society where you have to take responsibility and do things yourself, with a little more danger, a little more self-reliance, a little more inefficiency, a little less reliance on strangers, a little less expectations that strangers are the same as you, a little more suspicion of how people are trying to fool you . . . in other words, a society where all these management slogans and announcements aren’t necessary!

If we are spiritually able to act on our own, able to protect ourselves, able to speak “individualized language” . . . then we will be, at last, able to sense our own feelings. People, in the end, must realize that it’s their own responsibility to protect their own lives, bodies, possessions, and honor.

Yes! That’s the kind of society I’d choose for Japan. No, I can’t conclusively prove that it would be better for everyone. I can’t use logic. I only have my convictions: I BELIEVE it would be rad. I BELIEVE it would allow us to be more human. I BELIEVE it’s the right thing to do.



A PROPOSAL FOR SOCIAL REFORM OF JAPAN

Now, we’ve returned to my core beliefs. Futile as it may be, I’d like to propose a comprehensive 12-point plan for reforming Japanese bodies. Why futile? Because the Ministry of Education and Culture isn’t going to implement it. Changing our bodies (and the thousand years of training that those bodies have inherited) will require re-training of children from elementary school to college and beyond. It will also require all the “new-employee trainers” of various firms to cooperate to ensure that the new workers put the ideas they’ve learned into practice on the job. And I don’t anticipate that the corporations are going to cooperate, either!  So this plan is totally unrealistic. I’m just writing it because it’s the end of the book and I’m still mad. I need to get this off my chest in order to quell the anger.

ONE: For God’s sake, stop all these overly-detailed, overly-polite “guidance” slogans, announcements, and signs. They’re actually UNkind to people who are unfamiliar to a place, because they indicate that one should not ask other people for directions, and they imply that regulars should not help newcomers, since “the signs are supposed to do that.” Newcomers should have the confidence to ask random passers-by if they need to know something.

TWO: If you’re asked a question by a newcomer, don’t respond “How could you not know that?” or “What are you asking me for?!?”

THREE: Japanese should develop the ability to detect and overcome danger on their own. We should limit “be careful!” announcements to the absolute minimum. If you do detect a danger, you should react by telling people individually, through word-of-mouth, rather than constant pre-recorded announcements “Just in case there is a dangerous situation.” As for the Emergency Evacuation System, in no cases should it be used to transmit voices! Klaxon noises will do just fine, provided that people have been taught beforehand where to go in the event of an emergency.

FOUR: As to the so-called “weak people”, they should be assisted on a case-by-case basis, by able-bodied strangers, without announcements. If you see an old person or a handicapped person, or someone with heavy luggage having trouble on the stairs, you should just help them.

FIVE: The so-called “weak people” should not have to be excessively grateful for receiving help – this makes them feel like a burden. Just say, “Thanks” and that’s it.

SIX: These rules should not be phased in bit-by-bit. They should start immediately in full force!

SEVEN: Let’s really punish people who break these rules! Let’s abandon the idea of a paternalistic government. Let’s throw out all the bicycles parked illegally. Students who whisper in class should be suspended immediately. Either it’s a rule all the way or it’s not a rule! Let’s arrest the bosozoku, all of them! Or make them pay a 10,000 dollar fine every time they make a loud motorbike noise!

EIGHT: People in the service industry should be allowed to be rude right back to rude customers! Even to the point of refusing to serve them. Just say, “You’re disrespecting me!” and that’s the end of it. Rude customers have to learn to take responsibility for their behavior.

NINE: Everyone has to work diligently. Lazy people’s preposterous excuses like, “I didn’t hear your order” or “I was tired!” or “I misunderstood” should not prevent them from escaping one bit of punishment!

TEN: Society’s rules should not be subliminally forced on people through repetition and absorption – they should be fully spelled out and backed up with logic and discussion, so that people can understand the rules and consciously follow them. Then we wouldn’t need a hundred flags saying TRAFFIC SAFETY IS IMPORTANT or a hundred loudspeaker trucks urging us to PLEASE DON’T THROW LITTER ON THE GROUND.

ELEVEN: Seriously, get rid of these fucking meaningless “attitude slogans” like LET’S BUILD A NICER CITY or BE A CONSIDERATE CHILD! and other such vague and patronizing clichés.  While we’re at it, let’s ban the utterly hollow and brow-beating “management slogans” as well. No more THIS WEEK’S GOAL IS. . . or THE MOTTO OF THIS COMPANY IS. . . or BE A BETTER WORKER, TRY HARDER!

TWELVE: Stop training new employees to only speak in formalized clichés. There are plenty of ways to be polite while still sounding like a human, not a robot.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

 “If only we could put these rules into practice, what a human-centered and international country we could be! We could restore our traditions of kindness, respect for nature, aesthetic sensitivity, and seasonal feelings.”  . . .Is what you say. Bah! You know nothing! 

Japanese cannot change easily, even if we train our young from an early age to be different. . . even being conquered by America could not change our national character. It would take a hundred years of brand-new childrearing practices to even make a dent in it! So, why even worry about it? If you don’t like society, you don’t have to act Japanese. If you think that’s an impossible task, then fuck it! You can just go on not giving a shit. Go on, then. Fuck it!


5 comments

5 Comments so far

  1. JS October 29th, 2011 2:18 am

    Compiled the whole lot into an eBook, available here:
    http://bit.ly/sGeqWe
    Genius stuff, thanks for translating it!

  2. admin October 29th, 2011 3:46 pm

    @JS awesome! Thanks!

  3. gingersoll October 30th, 2011 3:40 pm

    Wow, thanks for translating all that.  He really brought everything together at the end without falling into a self delusion about how his brilliant plan could actually bring about the utopia he dreams of.  Really thoughtful reading.

  4. popnfresh November 5th, 2011 7:54 am

    I agree with some of the points that he makes up until his last 12 points which seem somewhat disassociated from a lot of the better arguments he makes. Really, other than number twelve the first eleven points actually sound like a bunch of shit to me.
    "Waiters shouldn't take shit from people, but if they don't get your order right don't take any crap from them like 'sorry, I didn't hear your order!' they're just a lazy piece of shit!"

  5. Sam November 14th, 2011 3:29 pm

    It seems to me, that this guys is making a case for the cultural promotion of conflict. AN interesting idea.

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