Tokyo Damage Report

USA has madd doody on its chin

America! One week! Two universities, two clashes with police!

In this corner: UC Berkeley, where some students were camping out in support of increased taxes for the rich.  The students were peaceful, but 3,000 cops come out of nowhere and kick their ass, drag some to jail, mace everybody.

In that corner: Penn State, where students gathered to protest the firing of a coach who covered up for a child molester for over a decade as he preyed on more and more young boys. The Penn students were violent, and the cops wept quietly in a corner, letting students rage on for hours, before dispersing them with no injuries. . . the cops don't seem to remember if they arrested anyone at all.

The American media reacted swiftly: "Even though most protestors were not violent, the violent few discredited the whole movement with their anarchist ways and disrespect for authority. This movement has no future and lost all popular support. Clearly football nationwide should be banned."

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wtf drones

Wtf drones?

Like some people say they are awesome and others (hippies) say they are immoral (WTF targeting people for death based on statistical algorhythms of “behavior patterns?”), but here’s one thing I haven’t heard either side even say once::


“What’s gonna happen when Russia gets drones? When China gets drones? When they start selling them drones to all the little countries around the world which we’re presently droning the shit out of?”


I mean, how weird is it that no one is pointing this out. . . even liberal hippies are just taking it for granted that USA is the only one who will ever have drones- our assumptions about American military supremacy so deep we can’t even question it.  


But think about it – how long did we have the H-Bomb for, before Russia got it? Or the A-Bomb? How long did the Russians have that shit before China got one? How long did we have PONG before the Japanese invented Nintendo and then nobody bought American video games for 30 years? 


Here’s another weird thing: even back in the George W. Bush days when no one really bothered to argue about policy (“If you criticize the COMMANDER IN CHIEF during WARTIME you are a TRAITOR TO MER’CUH!” remember that?  Whatever happened to those people?)

But even in those days, you’d find military guys speaking out occasionally against our new “Torture Is Awesome” policy on the strategic (not moral) grounds that “When, not if, our soliders get taken prisoner in the future, if we torture, then our enemies will be more likely to torture US.”


And now in the Obama days, we can’t even muster up that level of elementary “what-if?” for our drone-related arguments.


So let me be the one to put that shit out there:


What’s gonna happen when Russia gets drones? When China gets drones? When they start selling them drones to all the little countries around the world which we’re presently droning the shit out of?


Not saying "never have drones". Just saying, why isn't this kind of basic strategic concern even a little tiny  part of our national debate?


Plus, you think Homeland Security is taking away Americans’ rights NOW?? 

When whatever borderline insane “freedom fighters” that we are presently funding to help us fight GWOT inevitably turn into Next Generation Super Wacko Gives No Fuck Al Queda and THEY get drones (that we sold them?!?!?). . . .  what the fuck kind of new Homeland Security rules is the government going to impose to "keep us safe" from THAT shit?   


We’re going to be nostalgic for the time we ONLY got our email read and our radioactive naked pictures taken at the airport.


anti-nuke rally this sunday tokyo hibiya park

speeches start at noon @ the amphitheater in the park.


If I'm reading this flyer correctly, the actual march doesn't start until  around 3:30, and will go from hibiya park past the TEPCO office!


Anybody down?


also, these links:

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conclusion of Nakajima’s JAPANESE ARE HALF FALLEN



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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!





So far I’ve talked about how I feel that I’ve entirely slipped off the path of “normal Japanese society” because of my sensitivity. But more and more I’m convinced that my problem is not a ‘normal’ case of hyper-sensitivity (such as those whose eyes or ears cause them pain because of nervous system defects) . . .if anything, I’m realizing that my sensitivity lies within my entire body. My body looks exactly the same as that of the average Japanese, but somehow, something inside is steadily slipping away, sliding away from what a normal body possesses. If I enter the “cultural spaces” that we Japanese have created for ourselves (amusement parks, cities, farm villages, etc), I immediately feel in my body a sense of self-consciousness, of not belonging. These cultural spaces reflect what the majority demands, so therefore they must be healthy for the bodies of average Japanese.

Just because people don’t care about things like the ozone layer and global warming, it’s wrong to say they don’t care about the environment in which they are living. Actually, they care very much, if one defines “environment” as “the place where one leads one’s daily life”. If we limit ourselves to this “lifestyle environment,” suddenly we find that everyone is very sensitive to, and unforgiving of, changes in some things, but everyone is very insensitive to changes in other things. So if we were to make a chart of “things which people are sensitive to ” (foreground) and “things which people don’t notice” (background), this chart would show us the “cultural space” that Japanese people inhabit.

Allow me to explain in more concrete terms:

For example, the behavior management announcements and official warning announcements which I’ve been writing about. They go in our ears and eyes, but, no one thinks about them consciously – just like how we’re not conscious of our own bodies when we stand, sit, bend, walk, and so forth. Therefore I stipulate that culture lives inside our bodies. It occupies space in our bodies.

When I’m on the train, I go to grab the strap which hangs from the roof, I don’t consciously think, “OK, my hand is here and the strap is there, so if approach the loop at such-and-such and angle . ..”. I simply wish it and my hand is holding the strap. The hand has been “erased” from conscious analysis, as has the strap. Just like all everyday physical activity – and just like the cultural milieu in which we live – all the signs, slogans, behavior management techniques, and messages are hidden in the background.

Sounds go in our ears, but we don’t hear them. Sights go in our eyes but we don’t see them. That’s how we go through life in the big outside world.  By omitting the many reports from our sense organs, we can avoid being distracted by unpleasant stimuli, and avoid agitating our bodies.

To put it another way, if you’re walking around your neighborhood, you don’t have to think about how to get to your destination. Without consciously deciding “Turn left here, turn right there,” your feet take you where you want to go. In this way, the border between your individual body and the surrounding community/space becomes ambiguous.

In the same way, Japanese people’s “cultural space” exists simultaneously in our bodies and in the real world. That’s what I’m trying to get at here.


My wise readers, you’ve probably figured out where all this is going: for the majority of Japanese, the cultural “space” in their bodies is aligned perfectly with the physical , communal “spaces” of Japan: cities, villages, malls, etc. So they don’t mind the many announcements and signs and SOUNDS. But my own body has not developed an “instinct” to subliminally grasp the “hanging strap” of culture, and that’s why I can’t tune out anything. That’s why I have to actually read all the signs and listen to all the announcements, and that’s what is producing my neuroses.

To me, there IS no background, it’s all foreground.

Imagine if you had to think consciously every time you sat down, took a bite of food, moved your head, etc. . . it would drive you to distraction! The same way, the “cultural noise” doesn’t enter my brain automatically, I have to concentrate on it even if I don’t want to. A case in point: cell phones! To most people, the SOUNDS of cell phones are part of the foreground. That’s why they become self-conscious if their phone rings on the train, and they get angry at others whose phones are ringing. However, on that same train, the fearsome din of the conductor’s interminable announcements is considered the background, so people don’t consider it loud, even though it is louder in physical terms. That’s what I meant last chapter, when I said that we can see the shape of the “cultural space” by looking at what people can and can’t tune out. 

It’s no coincidence that everyone has the same reaction to cell-phones; the lines between “tolerate” and “can’t tolerate” are social rules. Although they are so deep in our bones that they feel automatic and therefore instinctive. 

For example, to Westerners, the sound of slurping soup is foreground – they can’t tune it out, so they find it annoying and will soon hush the slurper. It’s not that they can’t tune it out because it’s rude. . . it’s seen as rude because they can’t tune it out!  It forces itself into their consciousness again and again and again. SLURP! SLURP! SLURP!

I’m well aware that this particular instance is just a matter of different cultures having different table manners. But the main point, the point I wish to emphasize is this: to someone who has been raised in the West, with no experience of other cultures, the angry reaction to the SLURP! SLURP! sound can never be un-learned, it can never change. It’s become instinctual. Of course, to Japanese at a soba restaurant, the slurping from the other customers all around one is expected, it blends into the background, therefore we can tune it out. Because we can tune it out, it causes us no irritation, and therefore we label it “not rude, but natural.”

If one substitutes dog-eating for slurping, the same thing applies to English people and Koreans.

And to most people, transvestites are a huge eyesore, and we get very angry when we see one, because we can’t take our eyes off of him.  These rules (of which we are unconscious) pertain to food, clothing, and housing. Social leeway is especially small for matters of sex and food, since these two drives are seen as the most ‘natural.’ The ‘background’ of food and sex is the most ‘dark’, so even the slightest deviation stands out like a light spot! People can’t have rational, calm discussion about these things. It seems as if the instinct of the body itself is demanding an emotional reaction!  

In order to have a logical discussion of the social construction of these ‘basic’ customs (such as slurping and dog-eating and transvestism) . . . in order to get past the basic “aesthetic objections,” one has to really travel a long way, delving deep to the roots of the mind. Deviations are thought of as “wrong”, rather than a matter of individual preference. Transvestites are thought of as defective humans. 

Anyone out of step with the “this is comfortable, but that is uncomfortable” code of the collectivity is judged to be “too sensitive” and dismissed out of hand. English people who don’t mind dog-eating are thought of as logically flawed people, just as much as Koreans who DO mind dog-eating.


Once again I’d like to return to the discussion of Japanese people’s bodies. No matter how fierce is the torrent of management signs and announcements which pours into our eyes and ears, the majority can absorb it complacently, because to them it’s the background. Our ears no longer hear the recordings which blare: BE CAREFUL WHEN EXITING THE BUS, AS THERE WILL BE TRAFFIC IN THE STREETS. Our eyes no longer see the signs affixed to each and every hand-strap dangling from the bus’ ceiling: PLEASE PRESS THE BUZZER WHEN YOU WANT TO GET OFF THE BUS. 

Not that these things don’t enter our bodies via our sense organs, but that we perceive them as background. Not only do they not bother us, but they seem as natural and inevitable as nature itself: the sound of the wind, the light of the sun. At the same time, they become internalized, part of our bodies: we no more perceive these signs and announcements than we notice our hands dangling at our sides when we walk, or the glasses upon our faces, or the feeling of our tongue in our mouth.

And it’s not just the announcements and signs: it’s the concrete which surrounds us on all sides, the ugly telephone poles and their thousands of wires over our heads, the store signs and advertisements everywhere . . . I call these eyesores CULTURAL STRUCTURES. Which is to say, natural-seeming by-products of a culture. Like the white and misty clouds of the summer sky, or the deep purple of a fall sky,   these cultural structures surround us, forming the background of our lives, pickling us until we can’t see that they are artificial, until we actually need them around in order to feel normal. It’s not that we actively take enjoyment in the sound and visual pollution, but that we passively take comfort from their all-encompassing embrace: DON’T PARK YOUR CAR ILLEGALLY! DON’T STICK YOUR HANDS OUTSIDE THE BUS WINDOW! The bright lights and flashy store signs. . . . they make us feel at home, welcome, wanted. To us Japanese, anyplace devoid of these things feels barren, lifeless, stark and forbidding.

We want our shopping centers and sightseeing spots to be as artificial, overdone, and synthetic as possible. That’s the meaning of the city planners’ slogans: A LIVELY CITY! A KINDLY AND WELCOMING SHOPPING COMPLEX!  Just as we want our small streets to be lined with pots of morning glories, we want there to be a poster above each pot saying LET’S HELP PROTECT OUR YOUTH FROM DELINQUENT WAYS! This gives us a feeling of communal rapport. The loudspeakers blaring PLEASE BE CAREFUL OF SMOKING IN BED! And NOW IT’S TIME FOR ALL GOOD CHILDREN TO GO HOME FOR DINNER! Are seen as acts of benevolence.

One of the members of The Society To Think About Those Damn Megaphones is an architect named Mr. Yamada. For a long time, he’s been trying to convince the city administrators in his hometown that “minimalism is beauty.” Right now, Japanese streets are a nonstop jumble of store signs, utility poles, power lines, and so on. Mr. Yamada has been proposing a plan to do extensive city-wide renovations to get rid of the clutter. Some administrators agree with him, but it’s simply impossible to undertake such large-scale plans in today’s circumstances, they say.

Mr. Yamada will take offense to this, but I agree with those administrators. Japanese people like the jumble and clutter. Because the clutter has always been composed of very small things, added one layer at a time, and each layer has been accompanied by loud slogans of LET’S BUILD A LIVELY CITY! A KINDLY AND WELCOMING SHOPPING COMPLEX! By framing the debate this way, Japanese people’s bodies have come to demand cramped, artificial, plastic spaces . . .we see them as friendly, lively, and even welcoming. Mr. Yamada’s plan flies in the face of this, so it’s impossible to carry it out in today’s society.

These bodies of ours have evolved over thousands of years of such conditioning, so it’s not possible to change them quickly. I don’t think it’s a matter of Japanese being illogical or aesthetically crippled. I think that our aesthetic consciousness and norms have been shaped, tempered, and trained by a thousand years of management slogans, and this has seeped into our Japanese bodies, to the point where we can sit in a 28 degree coffee-house in our layers of winter clothes, and show no signs of discomfort. Over history, our individuality and sensitivity has been broken down to the lowest level, and replaced with a one-size-fits-all “normal” sensitivity level, which has been pounded into our bodies since forever.


I hate seasonal greetings so much, and I never use them in letters! But they’re the best example I can find for clichés of correspondence: Like at the end of February, everyone writes, “Can’t you feel how spring is practically around the corner? Doesn’t it just make your heart dance?!?”
 And at the end of August, you’re practically required to write, “The early morning and evening winds are finally starting to cool down, aren’t they? It’s like they’re delivering us a preview of autumn, isn’t it?”

People who write this crap: It’s not that I have a “hyper-sensitivity” to good manners, but I get mad at how only “socially encouraged” phrases are allowed in private correspondence. Come on, now! Your heart isn’t really fucking dancing. You don’t feel that the evening breeze is wafting Autumn tidings directly to you. So why write that stuff? Because you feel that you ought to. You don’t for a minute contemplate writing things which you’re actually feeling!  

You’d never write, “It’s the end of February and boy am I glad it’s still cold!!!” You’d never write, “It’s the end of August but boy is my heart dancing from the continued heat!” Even if you happened to be the kind of person who honestly preferred winter and summer. But seasonal greetings in praise of winter and summer simply won’t do. If you express a unique or individual preference, YOU are the one considered “close-minded”. (Japan is really mysterious sometimes!)

We Japanese take great pride in our delicate sensitivity and subtle appreciation of the seasons. But in fact, our only faculty is a very delicate sensitivity to which seasonal clichés are appropriate at any given time. Zing!!!

 If anything, we’d have to kill off all the clichés and social expectations in order to re-connect to the seasons and appreciate them directly. Our bodies are not directly connected to the surrounding atmosphere anymore. If you hear “oborodzuki” (poetic word for a hazy moon) or “shiwasu” (poetic word for December), you automatically feel a connection to the winter season. But instead of the words containing all the splendor and subtle majesty of the seasons, the seasons’ splendor and subtle majesty has been stripped down and reduced to these clichés! Of course, to a certain extent this goes for any language. But nowhere more than Japan do people raise their children to be more cliché-prone. Only here are we trained from birth with such passionate single-mindedness to use exactly the right pre-selected combination of clichés for every conceivable situation.

Waka (a form of poetry typically done during the first week of the new year) is positively bursting with the feeling of medieval Japanese celebrating the new year around Kyoto. Hearing the word “Haiku” makes one think instinctively of the late-Edo-period poet Basho’s classic seasonal poems. After the capital moved to Tokyo in the Meiji period, elementary school-children were all taught shouka (European-style songs), so much so that shouka make one instinctively think of that era. As part of the centralization and standardization of government under Meiji, the same songs were drummed into children all throughout the colonies: Hokkaido, Okinawa, even Manchuria. If it was April, every child had to sing “Sakura, sakura”. In October, everyone had to sing “Momiji” (the fall moon song) And so on.

Throughout our history, the emotions or atmosphere of the seasons have been thought of as a communal affair, something which belongs to society, and something that having one’s individual opinion/feelings about is tantamount to being un-Japanese.

This “communal” idea of what the proper associations and feelings of the seasons are lives in our bones, in our blood, in our bodies. It’s so deep that it feels as natural as the seasons themselves. But in fact it’s a matter of power: the power of the majority to “allow” only certain types of feelings. It’s a peculiar Japanese sensitivity: one could say that we treat people who don’t have the “correct” feelings about a season the same way we’d treat someone who denies the factual existence of the season itself! (That is to say, we mix up the phenomenon with the “correct thoughts” about the phenomenon).

Thus Okinawans have to associate April with cherry blossoms, though there are almost none there. Likewise, Hokkaido people have to associate June with the rainy season and hydrangea blossoms, though they don’t have a rainy season that far north! In Manchuria, they were raised to associate mid-August with the beginning of fall winds and the sound of insects, as though they were living on mainland Japan, and so forth. In December, one has to whistle “Kogarashi” (the “nipping biting wind” song), and so on.

At the Viennese-Japanese school, even when the temperatures were below zero, the students had to sing “The Flowers Starting To Bloom Song” and “The Carp Are Jumping” song, as if spring in Japan meant that it ought to be spring in Austria! That’s how desperate the Japanese are to commingle seasonal ambience with national identity! However huge the gap between their mental “feeling” of the season and the actual weather outside, it doesn’t trouble them –that’s not the point. The point is to educate the children that there is only one “correct” feeling, to the point where the “correct” feeling seems as natural as the seasons themselves.


Through fierce and unending training, we Japanese have had a “sensitivity to anything but the one appropriate cliché which matches the situation” pounded into our heads. Thus, we adapt to our environment, an environment constructed by those above us, as if it was all natural and had always been so. Where we were once sensitive to nature itself, now we are sensitive to an “artificial nature” which consists of seasonal clichés. We only pay attention to whether the clichés are appropriate or not: “The cherry blossoms of April,” “The hydrangeas of June,” and so on. It is not allowed to doubt such things, regardless of what is actually blooming.

Some examples of this “socially-constructed nature” are: the official announcements of the beginning of cherry blossom season, plum blossom season, and the rainy season, and the “official” time to change our clothes for the new season.

When the sakura begin to bloom at the grave of Somei Yoshino in Yasukuni Shrine, the official announcements declare SAKURA SEASON throughout all of Tokyo. Though it might be the hottest time of summer, the Weather Bureau announces that it is the rainy season as per its schedule. No one is allowed to comment on any of this. The whole nation, as one, changes from spring to summer clothing, and from fall to winter clothing, at pre-arranged times that have nothing to do with the actual temperature. Man-made arrangements and nature have become fused to the point where the confusion itself seems natural. This is the “social construction” of nature. We are constantly looking for the many man-made social signs to tell us what the weather is! Without them we feel great anxiety!

The constant warnings, mechanized greetings, cautions, scoldings and automated announcements of the coffee shops, trains, and department stores (to say nothing of the flood of muzak) (and the heaters set to 28 degrees) . . . we think nothing of them, because they are the NEW NATURE!

Official authorities (such as the Traffic Safety Association, Young People’s Guidance Association, Small Business Administration, and so on) are in charge of deciding the official “first day of spring” and “first day of autumn” . . . because our own bodies are numbed, unable to feel the passing of the seasons on our own. Under the onslaught of clichés, ritualistic speech, and slogans, our own individual sensitivity to what is comfortable and what is offensive have been numbed. No, it has been stupefied! Grown women and men allow themselves to be told by conductors: THE DOORS OPEN AUTOMATICALLY, PLEASE DON’T FORCE THEM WITH YOUR HANDS, PLEASE WALK AND DON’T RUN WHEN YOU DISEMBARK, PLEASE FORM AN ORDERLY LINE, PLEASE DON’T CROWD ONTO FULL TRAIN CARS, PLEASE REFRAIN FROM RUNNING INTO TRAINS WHEN THE DOORS ARE CLOSING, and so on. We think nothing of this. This is how our bodies have been transformed.

Thus, I have to dispute the following popular wisdom: “In ancient times, Japanese have loved peace and tranquility. But as we developed our civilization , especially in the postwar period with its massive economic growth, we have forgotten the traditional virtue of quiet serenity in our daily lives.” 

This is a conceptual, abstract view which totally ignores the factual evidence of Japanese people’s lives.Yes, it’s true that in feudal times, most Japanese were rice farmers who relied on good weather conditions for their livelihood. So they were very sensitive to changes in the seasons and environment. They kept their metaphorical “ears” constantly pricked up, alert for any “sounds” of seasonal change. The poets often spoke of “hearing” insects molting or flower stalks growing. Nakagawa Makoto being a good example. Or take the following example (from Higuchi Ichiyo’s VOICE OF THE INSECTS), and see how exquisitely sensitive the ‘ears’ of the poet were:

 The morning glories bloom, lined up like a miniature fence.
Yesterday and today’s leaves begin to go slack, the flowers begin to wane, as the crickets start to chirp.
The transient voice of the morning cricket.
At the edge of the ditch, inside the wall and all round, their miniature lives multiply, become stricken, and then fade away.
There’s nothing to which this can be compared. 
As the first snows approach and the year finishes, the insects are at their nadir . . . their voices grow dim and dimmer. . .where can they be?
 Even the sturdy kutsuwa beetle, someday his time will come to wither, just like we humans.
We come in many varieties, like the bell crickets, and we flourish for a brief period and then we age, our old heads nodding down on our chests as if in agreement with the natural order. . .


In ancient times, commoners and nobles alike treasured seijaku (a tranquil atmosphere), but seijaku is not the same thing as silence!!
In contrast to today’s life, we were once surrounded by many rich natural sounds. And our human sounds were in harmony with the sounds of other animals. The “old-timey nature” so beloved by we Japanese was tidy and well-maintained: mowed fields, the well-trimmed trees surrounding the village shrines. It was a nature where you could feel a human warmth to it. A nature where people could hear the sounds of insects and birds, the babbling brook, and the wind in the trees. In the same way, one could hear the human sounds such as the temple bell and the people passing by clapping their wooden clappers as they called “Be on the lookout for fires!” The clickity-clack of geta and the barking of local dogs, and the playing of children. These sounds blended in to the already rich tapestry of nature sounds. Both types of sounds were integral to our lifestyle.

Perhaps it was the same in early Europe as well. But some things were definitely different: first, the amount of nature noise in Europe was always quite small to begin with. I’ve heard it said that in central Europe, to say nothing of the north, that it’s silent for fully half the year! Secondly, Europeans are not a rice-farming-centric culture, so their bodies never developed the sensitivity to seasonal change characteristic of Japanese bodies. Third, their houses were constructed of rocks and possessed thick walls which prevented natural sounds from penetrating inside.

The third point is the most important.  We Japanese co-existed with nature: our environment did not have a border between nature and man-made activity. With no discomfort and no protest, this is how we lived. Our house were wood and paper, so outside sounds permeated easily, and vice versa. People would leave their windows open and peer leisurely into their yards, at the moon, at the snow, at the cherry blossoms: they saw nature as their companion.

As I mentioned before, sometimes I guest-lecture at Osaka Music University. Once, I heard an amazing report there: One of our traditional Buddhist musics, called Shoumyou, was composed by transcribing the environmental sounds coming in from outside the monastery! One time, when performing in a European church, cut off from the outside, a troupe of Shoumyou monks was very distressed!

But of course, those monks were experts. But in olden days, even average Japanese, the overwhelming majority of which were farmers, lived in the same conditions, the same type of houses, and had the same sensibilities as the monks!

But – it hardly bears saying – most of us now live an urban, artificial lifestyle. Our apartments are stacked one on top of the other , and built of cheap materials. So sounds still come in from outside, but now those sounds are more like yelling running brats and crying babies, shrieking wives, bellowing barbaric dogs, idiots with loudspeakers on their trucks trying to sell us things, and the begging of priests! It’s really a human stench of sound! As the amount of human noise has developed together with urban congestion, the power to make noise has become a symbol of authority.

Instead the old class system of “gentry, farmers, artisans, merchants” has given way to a new class system. The upper classes are those with the power to tell the rest of us what is a proper “seasonal feeling”! Kadomatsu (New years), setsubun (the final day of winter), tuskimi (full-moon-viewing parties),  and so on . . . throughout the year, our individual experiences of real nature are mediated by and systematized into these man-made “cultural events”.

In the same way, as we’ve become a more “civilized” nation, we’ve come to expect our cues to come from the loudspeakers in schools and city halls. The bells of the administrative offices, the organ music from the schools, the official fireworks parties’ sounds, the radio music that accompanies the PE classes, to say nothing of the ritualized chants of the coaches on the PA, the slogans spewing from the politicians’ sound-trucks (THIS WEEK IS TRAFFIC AWARENESS WEEK!), the other slogans spewing from the fire-department trucks (THIS WEEK IS FIRE AWARENESS WEEK!), these are the sounds that now define the passing of the seasons for us.

These sounds are accepted as if they were as natural as the seasons and weather, but in fact they’re deliberately constructed and forced on us by the elite of society.  People would no sooner protest the SOUNDS than they would protest the shortening of the days in winter or protest a typhoon. The power is too overwhelming, too omnipresent. This man-made “nature” has penetrated our bodies to the point where we can’t imagine that our own interests and its interests diverge.

So I suppose it could be said that Japanese are still co-existing with “nature”!!!


If you look at it that way, you can get a hint of how to answer one of the difficult questions posed by contemporary life : “Why do we Japanese, who value nature so much, bulldoze entire mountains, pave entire beaches in concrete, and deface our fields with vulgar billboards?” The usual facile answer is “Because our sensitivity to the environment and seasons has changed rapidly.” But, the truth is this reply is no real answer at all! Although we have changed, we haven’t killed off our seasonal sensitivity altogether!

We send the customary New Years’ cards, and put the decorations out by our doors, we go in great numbers to hanami (sakura viewing parties), and in fall, the hotels in Nikko and Hakkone always sell out. From the “mamemaki” ( a game where beans are thrown to keep demons away) of the pre-schools to the year’s-end parties of grown-ups, we still spend our whole year doing seasonal events. In department stores, shopping districts, train stations ,etc, a huge amount of money goes to season-themed advertisements. We love cherry blossoms as much as we ever did. We sit under them, drinking ourselves silly and talking loudly just as in medieval times. But the scale and the nature of these holidays has changed. Just like pleats, the secret lies in the hidden way that everything changes or stretches while seeming to stay the same!

Here, I dare to introduce a hypothesis . . .and challenge other writers and theorists to refute it (incidentally, of the many, many, many writers on this subject, their explanations never amount to more than “Japanese don’t respect nature anymore. . . BECAUSE WE ARE STUPID AND DUMB.”) I know, I have a presumptuous attitude! My hypothesis explains the facts better than any other hypothesis! If you find a more persuasive hypothesis, please let me know about it, because I certainly couldn’t find one!!

First, let’s look at the facts impartially: during the decades of Japan’s rapid post-war growth, we suddenly and totally lost our traditional sense of aesthetics . . NOT!! Even today’s Japanese, who don’t mind the “cultural noise”; they still love cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, hot girls in yukata, and handsome guys in happi coats. We still love the insect sounds on summer evenings, the red dragonflies flitting in front of the setting sun. If anything, we still love the IDEA of nature as much as ever.

We love the idea of nature, while damaging the real nature, and we don’t notice the contradiction. We keep the idea of nature inside ourselves, where it is safe no matter what happens to real nature. For instance, in the middle of the most squalid, hideous shopping district, if we can find a single red dragonfly perching on one pathetic dandelion growing out of a crack next to a utility pole, we can feel the “spirit of summer and fall” in our hearts.  

In our huge apartment complexes, we have a tiny goldfish in a bowl on the windowsill, a tiny wind-chime, a little teruteru bozu (a sort of dangling ghost which is supposed to ward off bad weather), and some ceremonial bamboo sticks . . .In the midst of the gray concrete canyons of the projects, these tiny things alone are enough to guarantee that we can feel the idea of nature.

Our bodies catch and hold onto the symbols of natural beauty from the external world. The “Japan” depicted in traditional paintings is just a symbol, an idea of Japan – in other words, Japan as it’s supposed to be.  We Japanese have a strong tendency to “read” the external world with our eyes and ears, turning it into a concept which we store inside us. We don’t view passively (taking in what we see as it is) but we view actively (only noticing things that fit into stereotyped, idealized models). That’s why the same people who fail to notice the gaudy billboards and hideous shopping districts will tell you, “Japanese love simplicity. There is nothing more important to us,” without noticing the contradiction.


This “idea of nature” is not something in opposition to the man-made world. If anything, it pacifies the people, who, content with merely the idea, go blindly along with the continuing uglification of their environment. The lack of protest or even thought has itself become “natural”. If you think about it like that, it’ll give you a hint of how to unravel the mysteries of this chapter!

Fields of crops are nothing if not man-made. And they’re beautiful: the beauty is also man-made. But they were everywhere, so they were natural to us. But then the authorities started putting up utility poles, cutting the sky in half. This was for the social good, to bring power to the villages, so no one could protest. And now the “new” fields, in all their utility-pole-blighted ugliness, are now natural too, because that’s what they all look like nowadays.

Next the authorities put in train tracks, so the trains could belch exhaust onto the fields. And that’s also become natural. Same way with the iron bridges, the factories, with their smokestacks, and the billboards that began to appear in the fields. It’s all part of the “new nature.”

So when I’m riding the train and see some beautiful rice fields ruined by gigantic ridiculous billboards, that’s not “real nature ruined by modern times” that I’m seeing, it’s “legitimate new nature that’s demanded by Japanese.” The same way, when I take the train from Sanjima to Shinfuji station, and can’t even see Mt. Fuji because the entire time it’s hidden behind a forest of smokestacks, that’s because smokestacks are the very archetype of the “new nature”. That’s the “landscape” we deserve in these times.

The icing on the cake: this “new nature” is not something forced on us by a handful of elites. We all demanded this. We are all accomplices to the elites. We’ve all been thoroughly trained. Our compliant attitudes are also part of the “new nature.” Going shopping in a skeezy mall with plastic flowers and speakers blaring “The Cherry Blossom Song” at top volume. . .this doesn’t feel at all un-natural to us. If anything it feels comforting – the “new nature” atmosphere suits our “new nature” bodies.

Katsurarikyuu was made in harmony with nature. In the best tradition of old Japan, the man-made structures worked with the land in an artful way, because that was what people demanded at that time. By the exact same principle, today we get the vulgar un-natural chaotic noisy jumble of Akihabara because that is what people demand nowadays. But although they couldn’t look more different, both places are equally “in harmony” with people’s idea of what is natural (at the time). As our civilization has developed, we now demand places like Akihabara.

For those of you who are cocking your heads in disbelief, let me add a little more explanation:  Picture a festival, with its rows of booths selling goldfish and candy-floss, its tents, and so on. To this nostalgic scene, add the sound of flutes and tyko drums. In fact, for good measure, let’s make it the Autumn Festival, and set it next to a medieval castle! 

Now, zoom the camera out to reveal that the festival is in the middle of a very dense and wide city neighborhood, packed full of pachinko parlors and game centers. That’s Akihabara. 

Or Shimokitazawa, Harajuku’s Takeshita street, Shibuya’s Center-gai, or any other place where young people gather to celebrate Autumn Festival. That’s where they feel comfortable.

Now if we were to take these young people and teleport them to Katsurarikyuu, they would feel really uncomfortable. Because of all the peace and tranquility!   Harmony does not automatically equal silence, in other words. People only feel in harmony with their environment when the environment has the same amount of “noise” that is in their heads all the time.

Our “tea ceremony masters” don’t need to live in a place that’s as quiet as a traditional tea-house: they can live and shop in the same crowded gaudy streets as everyone else. I’ve never seen a tea-master sigh in dismay at a cheesy shopping mall. I’ve never seen a tea-master who was too “pure” to drink in a back-alley “standing bar” where the patrons lean on utility poles in the street in lieu of chairs. The “refined” tea-house and the vulgar mall have different “sensitivity levels”, but (and this is my main point) the latter is the true center of modern-day Japan.

The former is just the pure, clear layer floating on top of a bowl of soup! In common society, it’s the latter that is clearly visible everywhere – the actual soup itself.

Finally, some of the more superficial writers like to point to the Heian period and say things like, “Japanese have lost our sense of tranquility and delicate things.” But in fact the noisiest days in modern life are festivals – the most traditional days of the year! In this they are no different from modern things like amusement parks. And these writers ought to know this.


Well, I’ve talked enough about Japanese cities, haven’t I? So I’ll only mention one more thing.

In the past, whether in the streets or in our homes, we could hear human sounds: the cries of gold-fish sellers and tofu-merchants, bells from a nearby temple, the fireworks that announced the early-morning athletics, and the radio music which accompanied the neighborhood exercise sessions. But during the era of rapid economic development (particularly the ‘60s) speaker-, tape-, and machine -noises increased at an incredible pace. 

Instead of the traditional hoarse-voiced masculine call of the tofu- and gold-fish-sellers, we got curtain-rod-sellers, roast-potato-sellers and ice-cream-vendors (to say nothing of green-grocers, hot-oil-salesmen, and scrap-iron-buyers) cruising in their loudspeaker trucks, invading our neighborhoods with their inhuman volume levels!  THERE’S MORE WHERE THIS CAME FROM! WE HAVE BIG BARGAINS ON THIS AND THAT! 2 FOR FIVE HUNDRED YEN OR 4 FOR EIGHT HUNDRED YEN!! And so on, glibly droning on and on.

At the same time, the old festivals with their flutes and drums got turned into “loudspeaker festivals” overrun with pre-recorded music and fools yelling into megaphones. Bus drivers got in on the action too, with PA systems built into the bus itself, which allowed the drivers to harangue us nonstop with cautions, warnings, and then (later) announcements of stores, malls and places of interest around the various bus stops. Not to mention the abuse of the utility-pole-mounted Emergency Disaster Announcement Systems, which concern such emergencies as tardy children: IT’S NOW TIME FOR ALL GOOD CHILDREN TO GO HOME FOR DINNER!

The combined noise is now so much that one can no longer hear the temple bells.

This modern sound environment is no more dense and vast than the old-timey Akihabara festival sound environment I discussed earlier, or the old-timey man-made village sounds I mentioned at the beginning of this section. That’s why Japanese did not find it uncomfortable to adapt to the present sound environment. And that’s why it is so difficult to persuade people to change the situation. It’s enough to make one lose hope.


But, if we look at the origin of the present-day infestation of man-made noise and “management announcements”, and add to it this concept of “new nature” I discussed, then we can begin to see why Japanese talk and act the way we do.

 In the previous chapter I explained my theory of why we crave constant exposure to signage. This is one of the main components of our Japanese bodies, so one can’t afford to ignore it.

We Japanese hate “individual communication” (i.e. talking using non-stereotypical phrases, conversation outside established patterns –ed.) because it means we have to try to guess the other person’s intentions and expectations. We’ve done our best to stamp out “individual language” and replace it with “public language” (i.e. speaking formally as one would to a stranger, speech guaranteed not to give offense or surprise -ed.).

We don’t like confronting one another, so we rely on train conductors to lay down the rules: IT’S GOTTEN HOT, SO PLEASE CLOSE THE WINDOWS. THERE IS ONLY ROOM FOR SEVEN PEOPLE ON A BENCH, SO ANY EXTRA PEOPLE MUST STAND UP. CELLPHONES CAN CAUSE ANNOYANCE SO PLEASE TURN THEM OFF FOR THE TIME BEING. The conductor has to say every possible warning.

 We Japanese are kind at heart, so even if the person next to us is smoking and it’s really hot inside, we wouldn’t think to open a window. We would prefer to endure silently. Nor could we possibly ask our neighbor if he/she’d mind if we opened a window. To say nothing of asking someone if they could move over and make room for us. We leave all this “social management” to the authorities!

My main point is: this mentality is deep in our bodies, in our bones. There’s no changing it. What’s more, this mentality affects our sense of aesthetics. The most beautiful object is one which does not cause others worry or distress. To ask one’s neighbor, “Could you please scoot over so I could sit, too?” means flying in the face of aesthetics, and not many have the sort of raw animal courage required to withstand the cold stare that they’d receive from the person who was scootching their butt over. We lose our courage and bitterly regret having asked in the first place. It’s easier to remain standing, trapped with other riders like octopi in an octopus trap.

The roots of this phenomenon are deep, frighteningly deep.  

Here is a true story which I read: an American couple were living in an apartment, when one day suddenly the neighbors turned cold.  They had no idea what the reason was. The wife tried to ask but nobody would tell her. Then people started leaving trash by their doorway. Nobody would say hello to them, let alone tell them the reason for the cruel treatment. Finally, the wife cornered a neighbor before the neighbor could run away and forced her to explain.

As it turns out, the cause was this: the Americans had left their washer/dryer in a communal alleyway, where it was really hard for people to get around. Not only did the Americans not know what a nuisance their washer/dryer was, they also failed to understand all the hints that the kindly neighbors had been giving them.

I’ve accumulated a great deal of anecdotes of this nature. We Japanese prefer to communicate sensitive things by glances or gestures, not words, and it’s up to the other person to decipher us. What’s more, learning how to decipher hints is not a skill that anyone is taught. You have to do your utmost to learn it all on your own. This talent is of the utmost importance to Japanese. As for those who lack the talent to understand hints, nobody is going to explain this to them in plain language! Explaining clearly is considered the mark of a simple-minded, even immoral, person.

Every nook and cranny of this country is the same way. We are constantly on high alert, for fear of missing a hint or a sign. Oh no, I missed one, and it’s already too late! The neighbors point at me and whisper. My classmates ridicule and bully me! This is what makes Japanese so nervous and insecure in uncluttered, quiet places. We are like ancient villagers who are constantly alert for signs of storms : there is no way to explain ourselves to the storm, no way to argue back at it. The same way, the “storm” of punishment awaiting those who fail to see “signs” is regarded as natural, as their own fault.


That’s why we demand signs in every nook and cranny. They’re like the social hints I described above. Signs take the place of people directly confronting each other about public manners. We can’t discuss manners openly, much less decide for ourselves what is the right thing to do in a given circumstance. So we have to rely on signs to tell us. We never had to develop self-confidence, but we don’t realize this until we find ourselves in a place devoid of signs, at which point we become anxious and uncomfortable.  

The ticket machines that tell you PLEASE DON’T FORGET TO TAKE YOUR TICKET OUT OF ME are not just “signs”, but also they’re viewed as evidence of the benevolence of the train company. As are the warnings: PLEASE CHECK THE NUMBER OF TICKETS YOU RECEIVED IS CORRECT and DON’T FORGET YOUR CHANGE. The fact that nobody is going to forget their change is immaterial. The important thing is being surrounded with signs at all times.

At construction sites, signs like SAFETY IS NUMBER ONE or CHECK FOR DANGER! Together with the usual behavior management slogans, they combine to form a sort of encircling curtain of signage. And of course, the more danger, the more signs.

It’s often said that Japanese people supply their conversation partners with an endless stream of “Really?”s and “Is that so?”s and “Uh-huh!”s. And our encouragement is not limited to words: we widen our eyes, nod our heads, furrow our brows, laugh, and gesture – a veritable waterfall of signs. We demand that our conversations all be pickled in signs. Anything less signals that we don’t enjoy the conversation (whether that’s the case or not!) and causes distress to the speaker.

As for myself, having long since slipped off the main path of society, the habit of “conversational over-signing” causes ME distress! I don’t bother with it myself, which causes problems on the phone: even a silence of one or two seconds causes the other person to start frantically calling, “Hello? Hello? Are you there?”

It seems that every conversational sign requires the other party to give a polite counter-sign, which in turn requires a further counter-sign, which sets in motion a vicious circle. As the flood of signs increases, each individual sign loses its potency, requiring ever more signs – a sort of inflation. More stimulating and newfangled signs are required for conversation; the same as in advertising, architecture, and business. As for the people in the path of this flood of signs, we have to consciously tune out signs which are not important to us. Our bodies soon learn how to “choose the right altitude”.

We’re evolving to reject or deny most of the signs. Consequently, the signs multiply even further, to force us to pay attention. And the announcements begin to be repeated more and more times.

When the out-of-service train pulls up to the platform, the conductor calls at a deafening volume: NUMBER (WHATEVER) TRAIN IS NOT IN SERVICE. PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO BOARD THIS TRAIN. PLEASE DO NOT TRY TO BOARD THIS TRAIN.

. . . and yet still people are walking towards it!

It’s not that they don’t hear these messages. It’s that we’ve been so thoroughly trained to respond to certain stereotyped announcements and slogans that our bodies no longer respond to new, ad-hoc announcements. This is an important point that I will discuss at length later.


Japanese have been so well trained that certain actions come automatically. These “accepted actions” are so deeply ingrained that even when the “powers that be” decide to change them, they have to resort to huge, fierce numbers of announcements to over-ride the previous habits.

For instance, years ago, when one went to the train station, one gave the ticket to the staff-person at the turnstile, and boarded. But when they replaced the staff-person with an automatic ticket-reading machine, they had to put a loudspeaker : PLEASE INSERT THE TICKET DARK SIDE DOWN, PLEASE INSERT THE TICKET DARK SIDE DOWN, PLEASE INSERT THE TICKET DARK SIDE DOWN, PLEASE INSERT THE TICKET DARK SIDE DOWN, PLEASE INSERT THE TICKET DARK SIDE DOWN, on an infinite loop. Even today, the ticket-reading machine in Shinjuku’s Odakyu station still has a tape telling us I DON’T SELL TICKETS – IF YOU DON’T HAVE A TICKET, YOU HAVE TO GO BACK TO THE OTHER MACHINE AND BUY ONE. I DON’T SELL TICKETS – IF YOU DON’T HAVE A TICKET, YOU HAVE TO GO BACK TO THE OTHER MACHINE AND BUY ONE. I DON’T SELL TICKETS – IF YOU DON’T HAVE A TICKET, YOU HAVE TO GO BACK TO THE OTHER MACHINE AND BUY ONE.

I’ve protested this who-knows-how-many times, but the station staff only say, “Some people still make mistakes”, as if that explains anything. I was about to retort that “Surely everyone knows you need a ticket to get on a damn train! Surely everyone knows where to buy tickets!” but then again, these days, maybe people really are just that stupid. In confusion, I retreated from the argument.

In this society pickled in signs, we are becoming unable to adapt to new circumstances, to say nothing of individual circumstances! We can’t do anything without signs – instead of “homo sapiens,” our society is cranking out “homo wait-for-instructions” in record numbers. No one notices or complains about this. Instead they complain, “Young people these days don’t know what to do with their lives! They need more instructions!”

Let me give you one example of the absurd lengths to which we go to train our citizens: the freshman orientation meeting (not just at my University, but at most Universities these days). I reluctantly attended the ceremony two years ago, and was totally unprepared for such a hideous spectacle!

Several dozen buses were hired to transport everyone to a hotel, so the ceremony could last overnight. The intention of the whole thing was to let the students and faculty line up and greet each other, to make everyone comfortable and friendly. It was a good plan, but the way it was implemented, at every stage, was polluted with Japanese body odor!!!

Before we could go to the hotel, we had to attend an “explanation meeting”, where the only activity that occurred was to collect payment for the hotel in advance. Nothing was explained at all! At any rate, the busses arrived on campus, but I had a bad feeling about this. . .

In fact, we were still there at 9PM, all lined up, with speakers yelling at us at high volume, instructing late arrivals where to go, and telling people what we were supposed to have packed, repeating over and over. 

Finally when we get to the hotel, and line up. The teacher in charge instructs each person exactly what to do, as if we were all (students and faculty alike) pre-schoolers: Student A, go to teacher B. Now present your business card to him. Now teacher B, take the card and introduce yourself. Now, Student A, proceed to the next teacher! This level of detailed guidance was to continue throughout the evening.

The following morning, we had to wait, lined up, for over an hour. . . waiting for tardy people to come from the hotel. No one seemed at all irritated by this. We got on board the busses, our breast pockets full of everyone’s business cards. And we couldn’t board any old bus: we had been assigned “bus groups”, and even seat assignments, and we had to “check in” with the “group leader”, to make sure we weren’t cheating! It was the same with the four-person hotel rooms: each room only had one key, given to the “room leader”, who was responsible for everyone in the room. And who knows how many “room leaders” left the hotel with the keys still in their pockets!

As for the orientation itself, it was utterly valueless. Each teacher was assigned thirty students, and all we did was recite lines off of mimeographed papers, to students who paid no attention and were loudly talking amongst themselves, for hours.  The students would grab the microphone periodically to ask questions like “Will this place help me get a job?” and “Could you make the letter on the orientation packet bigger?” and “Whose courses are the easiest to pass?”

After that, we were all given a high-quality meal and got to use the excellent public baths, but the students merely kept on babbling and behaving poorly, taking the luxuries for granted.

After classes had started, I was surprised to hear the students talking about the orientation: “That was rad! That ruled!” Huh? Not a one said, “They treated us like children! Are they fucking with us?” Almost 100 percent of the students had attended the horrible orientation, and the one or two who didn’t said “I wish I had gone, too!”


We teachers – from orientation onwards – spare no effort to create “waiting-for-orders-sapiens”. And then we complain, “Children nowadays are so immature”, “They are incapable of judgment,” “They don’t think for themselves” and so on. It’s laughable! No one realizes the contradiction at all – I should say it would be laughable if it weren’t so scary.

As for me, I think we should immediately stop stunting students’ capacity for judgment, freedom of thought. It’s barbaric. Let’s just for the sake of argument, see what an orientation would be like if it treated students as responsible free-thinking adults:

We’d arrange for the busses, collect the money, but that would be it. No meetings, no lectures. Anyone even one minute late – too bad! At the hotel, there would be no formal “orientation.” Instead – unstructured informal conversation which would actually promote friendship. And on the way back, anyone who is late – left at the hotel! Welcome to adulthood! Anyone who took the key accidentally, they have to go back to the hotel on their own dollar and return it. Or mail it. Or at least defend their actions using logic and courage. I think these are important things to teach students. Of course, nobody at all would show up for the following year’s orientation!  Everyone wants to be alternately spoiled rotten and lectured to. They want their failures to be forgiven. They don’t want to use their head – they want the guidance poured into their bodies until it becomes instinctual.

Even if I were put in charge of orientations, nothing would change in the unforgiving larger world.  What I really can’t forgive is the companies that fear any disagreements at meetings would result in instant bankruptcy, so they train their employees to only say the most safest, empty phrases. The employees must speak with one single voice, take the corporate oath, sing the corporate anthem, even learn to imitate the speech cadence of their boss! Their every utterance is, little by little, forced into the corporate mold until not a trace of individuality remains. It seeps into their blood and bones, until there is no changing them back to their former self. Why is that? Because most Japanese demand that it be that way!


kadafy death mix: sayonara shithead
















Again I have a syndrome to report to you: I suffer from “slogan neurosis.”

For a long time, the whole length and breadth of my country has been blanketed in these DON’T DO THIS! DO IT LIKE THAT! slogans – what I’d like to call ‘Behavior Management Broadcasts’.  I’ve managed to tolerate them until recently, but now they cause me mental suffering! It’s not just that they turn our streets into ugly places.  


Everyone has individuality. Grown-ups should have the mental capacity to make their own judgments and take responsibility for their own actions. But these slogans are trying to destroy that. Our culture is packed to the brim with every possible slogan, but the powers-that-be don’t expect us to read each one, think about it, and accept its message. That isn’t the point. It’s just like promotional signs for businesses: the signs and slogans work subliminally on the passers-by, precisely because we don’t take time to look and judge them objectively. Their messages hover between conscious and unconscious thought, guiding us. That’s the point. That’s why the powers that be don’t want Japanese to develop a sense of self-responsibility and critical thinking: those things are totally opposed to the process I just described.

Allow me to take this explanation a bit further:  TV commercials attempt to persuade us to buy certain things without us realizing it. In the same way, DON’T LITTER banners attempt, through sheer repetition rather than logic or instilling a sense of responsibility for one’s actions, to get us to obey. They try to stop the thought of “I’ll drop my cigarette here” from even occurring in our minds, without us even noticing that our behavior has changed or asking why. Surely that is the goal of the behavior management slogans!  The same way with the LET’S GREET EVERYONE CHEERFULLY slogans on the street . .. if you see the same slogan every day for years, you’ll start to find the phrase “Hello sir!” coming from your throat as if it was a natural reflex. That’s what the city officials are hoping will happen.

If you think about it this way, they’re taking away our ability to consent. The message is supposed to sink into your body through repetition and be absorbed. That seems to be a central principle of Japanese culture: without exception, Japanese training in everything from tea ceremony to kendo is conducted in this way.

And that’s why we have this magma-like flood of behavior management slogan posters. Back when this type of training was limited to things like kendo and tea ceremony, I think it had beneficial effects. But the dam broke, spilling slogans and posters over the entire surface of Japan! It’s a crisis, because, as I said, the behavior management slogans are designed to operate subliminally. Our bodies cry out in protest, though we know not why. Our critical thinking and individual-responsibility faculties are being suppressed. We’re living in a time of spiritual violence!  Instead of strict mental training, from now on we’ll only get simplistic advice. We’re turning into a nation of “body-ism,” where the mind doesn’t matter anymore.  

And let me add something else, a little icing on the cake for my more astute readers: my biggest reason for hating these slogans is NOT that they are turning the MASSES stupid by inhibiting their faculties for self-determination, critical thinking, and self-responsibility. I’m not that philosophical. My #1 beef is this:  I can’t tune them out!

Unlike most Japanese, I have to stop at each one and ponder if I agree with its message, and weigh it critically to see if it’s logical. I’ve tried to stop doing this, as there are millions of these things and I’m busy, but it’s impossible for me!  I can’t stand it anymore! I can’t walk down a simple street without having a mental argument with every flag, poster, banner, sign, and flyer! On the streets, in the trains, at the amusement parks, my place of work. . .the signs are everywhere, there is no escaping them, they assault my body from all sides, leaving me both physically and mentally exhausted.


I’m sure you’re sick of me always complaining about my employer, Dentsu University, but fucking West Hall Four was just built and already it’s full of dreadful behavior management slogans: PLEASE DON’T THROW YOUR TRASH ON THE FLOOR, LAST PERSON IN THE ROOM PLEASE TURN OUT THE LIGHTS WHEN YOU LEAVE, and so on. The most absurd of them all is: PEOPLE WHO DO NOT PROMISE TO FOLLOW ALL THE ABOVE SLOGANS ARE FORBIDDEN TO ENTER THE CLASSROOM.

No one is reading these things! Nobody asked for them, either. But, nobody minds them either. Nobody says a word in protest. Sometimes in the middle of class (especially big classes with a hundred students), I will suddenly ask the kids, “Does anybody know what is written up there?” The kids turn to look, but so far not a one has been able to say, “Yes.”

The elevator in the main administration building has warnings posted :  CHILDREN, PLEASE DON’T RIDE ON ME WITHOUT AN ADULT and DON’T LEAN ON MY DOORS! But the most ridiculous one has got to be: PLEASE DON’T FORCE MY DOORS OPEN.  Perhaps I’m the only person in the whole campus to read this warning! But, it’s better to evaluate them consciously (as pesky as they are) than to be controlled by them unconsciously.

At Narita airport, the  immigration station, there’s a hilariously oversized banner reading: INTERNATIONAL PEOPLE, FOLLOW THE RULES!!! (in Japanese, of course). Some hero must have thought this would stop people from trying to bring in drugs or guns.

I could go on forever with these sorts of examples. It seems like in the time it takes to read one of these ridiculous signs, someone installs ten more signs in a row!

In Choufu city, there’s a paved road running along the banks of the Tama river. One day in summer, around sundown, I was walking with some of my friends. Many other people were also out for a stroll. A man and a woman were jogging. We could see endless rows of hills in the distance. I felt freed from my worries, freed from the weight of my anxieties at last.

But even here, there were signs, in letters over a meter high, saying, DON’T RUN FAST HERE, BE CAREFUL OF PEOPLE AROUND YOU. Can’t we call an end to this nonsense? Of course one should be careful about people around one! But as I’ve said before, the signs aren’t meant to be read, or taken literally. . .they exist to make us want more signs! They exist to replace critical thought and self-responsibility, and, little by little, instill a deep craving in our bodies for signs and slogans to tell us what to do at all times.

At the Chofu station coin lockers, there’s a sign reading PLEASE CHECK YOUR BELONGINGS ONE MORE TIME.  What does that even mean?!? Oh – I get it: Maybe people put their stuff in one locker but take the key from the adjoining locker. Wait, that doesn’t make sense. Hm. Well, maybe. . . . maybe they have so much stuff that they have to use two lockers? And then they take the key for one locker, and leave, while leaving the other locker unlocked?  That’s probably it.

At the newly-renovated Sangawa station men’s bathroom, there’s a sign by each urinal: TAKE ONE STEP CLOSER, PLEASE. Well, that’s easy to understand: that’s to stop urine from splattering on the floor. It’s the OTHER sign that’s ALSO pasted above each urinal that I don’t get: LET’S USE THE RESTROOM CLEANLY TO EACH OTHER.  “To each other”?!?  Maybe it means to consider the next person to use the urinal when you’re using it? Or does ‘to each other’ include the person before you, who used the urinal improperly?  If so, that’s quite a strong message!

At the JR Bakurochou station, there’s a long escalator, and on both sides, there are signs posted at regular intervals, reading BETWEEN THE ESCALATOR HANDRAIL  AND THE WALL, THERE IS A SMALL GAP. PLEASE DON’T DROP YOUR TICKET IN THIS GAP.

Just by reading this sign, I am forced to imagine the entire absurd useless sequence of events:  I have to imagine customers (how many? One? Three? Half a dozen?) with no common sense, dropping their tickets in the tiny gap. Then I have to imagine the train-station employees stopping the escalator, putting up safety cones, and searching under the escalator until they find it. Then I have to imagine them finally getting fed up and complaining to the station chief, and thus the creation of these signs. How exhausting to even imagine it. . . It’s no wonder no one reads them!

One time I made the mistake of leaving the house with my glasses on, which allowed me to accidentally notice many far-away slogans, forcing me to imagine even more and more of these ridiculous chains of events! I got sucked into them, staring vacantly into the distance. . . I almost was unable to reach my destination!  

My own fault, I suppose.


But the fact is, we people with “slogan neurosis” are even more of a minority in this country than people with “cultural noise neurosis.”  In a world where we’re all surrounded and suffocated by slogans such as FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS or DONATE BLOOD PLEASE or THIS BLOCK IS WATCHED BY THE NEIGHBORHOOD ANTI-CRIME PATROL or LET’S NOT FORGET TO LEND A HAND or LET’S MAKE THIS A KIND, INTIMATE NEIGHBORHOOD, almost no one questions it, let alone suffers from the overwhelming amounts of it.

The situation is particularly bad in schools. There’s almost no teachers left who can even imagine doubting the slogan-based teaching methods. They line the children up and bombard them with loudspeaker announcement after announcement with a single-minded fierceness. They pickle the children with their slogans!  By the time the children are “educated”, they turn into adults who feel very anxious or uneasy if they’re NOT surrounded by signs: warnings, be careful’s, advice, prohibitions, etc.

My son went to the experimental Meisei school here in Japan, then to Vienna for a year to study (four months at a Japanese-Viennese school, and a further eight months at an American English International School). I confess I was very curious about what effect these various educational environments would have on him!

The Meisei school was dedicated to encouraging freedom of thought and individuality in the children. So, there are none of the usual behavior management slogans that crawl on most school walls, bathrooms, halls, and gardens like so many cockroaches. No “PLEASE OBEY THE XXXX” or “PLEASE STOP DOING YYY.”

Somehow, just by removing these nuisances, the atmosphere of the place seems very un-Japanese. . . .is that really what “Japanese-ness” has been reduced to?

 On the other hand, when I went to visit the Japanese-Viennese school, I was taken aback: they had EVEN MORE of the management slogan posters than in Japan! The irony!  As if they were trying to protect the children from the foreign European cultures, they tried to cram every single slogan into one tiny room. The room was called, of course, The Japanese Culture Center! You couldn’t set one foot inside the halls without seeing some vertical banners saying something like this:


And these three, written in huge letters:


And another example: on the blackboard of my junior-high-aged son’s classroom:


Of course, the blackboard already had a lot of other slogans crammed in the corners : FREEDOM, COOPERATION, LIVELINESS and mysteriously, in English, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.

It was as if there was a bit of “concentrated Japan” floating in the absolutely non-Japanese atmosphere of Vienna.

One day, my son – already 14 years old – brought home the following SAFETY FIRST! Pamphlet from school.


 Make sure to stay on the sidewalk!
Make sure to check both ways before crossing!
Don’t go in parking lots!
Please be safe when riding your bicycle!
If you see someone you know, greet them cheerfully!
If you don’t know them, don’t stop!

Don’t stand up or yell!
Don’t annoy those around you!
Don’t play with the doors!

Say hello to the driver cheerfully!
Fasten your seat-belts!
Don’t stand or yell!
Don’t eat or drink on the bus!
Remember where your stop is!
Don’t do anything else bad!

The pamphlet then went into even greater detail:

Only cross in the crosswalks!
Check both ways before crossing!
Greet people cheerfully!
Don’t do anything that people might think is dangerous!
Treat the bus seats and items carefully! And so on.

A whole page of these stock phrases, fluttering by like zero gravity.

I think the purpose is not bus safety – the purpose is creating the type of children that find this level of BS normal or even trustworthy. Well, there’s nothing I can do about that. That’s what people demand of schools nowadays! That’s how we make Japanese people Japanese. By the time they grow up, they won’t find anything absurd, or petty, or infantalizing about “grown up” signs like THROW YOUR TRASH IN THE TRASH BIN or OBEY THE TRAFFIC SIGNALS or  DON’T BRING DANGEROUS THINGS IN THE PARK.


 It’s not merely that I hate slogans. What really causes problems is that I hate the Japanese-y way that people use the Japanese language. Especially the standardized, robotic politeness – it causes me actual bodily pain!  

When I’m working from home, I sometimes get a call. I know it’s not from anybody I want to talk to, because I’ve already told all my friends not to call me at home (I consider it a violation of my private space). But there it was, ringing, so I had to answer it.

“This is Mizuho Bank, Kichijoji branch respectfully calling. Thank you for honorably using our branch for your banking needs! Is this the honorable Nakajima residence?”


“Honorable Mr. Nakajima, I’m sorry to bother you, but are you the head of the household?”


“Are you the honorable husband of the household? Once again, thank you for honorably using Kichijoji branch for all your banking needs. Today, I humbly would like to present a proposal, which is why I have humbly telephoned your honorable residence.”


“The fact of the matter is, I’d humbly like to make you aware of a new form of high-interest account which . . .”

Irritated, I cut him off by saying, “I have no interest in this!” and hung up. Partially because of the cumulative rage built up by who-knows-how-many of these phone calls, but mostly because, as I just mentioned, the insufferable, robotic politeness which runs in direct contradiction to the rudeness of the actual content of the message.

It doesn’t matter who calls me, it’s always the same phrases: “Once again, thank you for honorably using Kichijoji branch for all your banking needs.” I suppose that’s part of their training.

In the time it takes for me to use the ticket machine for the shinkansen, the machine yells at me at least ten fucking times, THANK YOU FOR HONORABLY USING OUR HUMBLE SHINKANSEN SERVICE WE ARE GRATEFUL HONORED CUSTOMER!  I absolutely have had it up to here with this phenomenon! It’s a stereotyped politeness with no informational content whatsoever. In department stores and restaurants too, it’s bad enough that they play tapes, but every meaningful sentence has to be accompanied by a stereotyped formal phrase of equal or greater length:  THANK YOU FOR HONORABLY USING OUR HUMBLE XXXXX STORE!

And what’s more, many of these announcements are recorded in a cloying, too-sweet voice, like someone trying to coax a cat. More and more, it seems as if the politeness and the anxiety are forming an alliance against me!

My wise readers might by now have realized that it is the very machine-like, rote nature of our business-related language that makes it easy to adjust to actual pre-recorded tapes and announcements. But that doesn’t make the phenomenon natural or forgivable!  If anything, my “Mechanical-noise neurosis” stems from the fact that we flesh-and-blood humans are nowadays being raised to imitate the speaking style of the tape machines!!

And this insidious problem is not limited to words, either.  The whole “extreme politeness” phenomenon makes a mockery of the individuality of the speaker at the same time that it totally ignores the individuality of the listener. As far as I can tell, far from being ‘tradition’, it’s the most UN-natural thing in the world!  The young women working in department stores and banks . . . when they are on their lunch break , they sound absolutely different!  When talking to their co-workers, they use a way of speaking and a tone of voice which is natural for them.  (when I was a student, one time I worked part-time in a department store, and that’s how I know this). The metamorphosis is so complete, it’s a gut-wrenching thing to watch.

In the West, the manners of sales-girls and bank tellers is less affected.  Even  at Macdonald’s, the staff don’t have to be as rigid and long-winded as their Japanese counterparts, who say  HONORABLE WELCOME! WHEN YOU DECIDE, PLEASE BE SO KIND AS TO LET US KNOW. PLEASE WAIT A MOMENT!

As for Japanese bank tellers, it doesn’t matter what unreasonable demands the customer makes, or how rude he is – they have to respond to any and all treatment with the same wan smile and deferential attitude, to the last drop of their endurance. Their Western counterparts are free to adjust their own attitude in response to the customer’s: they can be as blunt or curt as the situation demands. It’s an altogether more human policy. And when a regular customer comes in, they can greet him or her with informal friendliness, and even make small talk!!

As you can see, I prefer the Western attitude towards customer service, but it’s not merely an issue of personal taste. In Western countries, you absolutely won’t find this nationwide blanket of loudspeaker announcements, and that’s not personal taste, that’s a fact.

In my country, customer-service people are expected to lose their capacity to show emotion. If anything, they’re expected to transform into deferential robots.  If you go to any bank, you can hear for yourself that the young woman at the counter talks exactly like the pre-recorded tape at the self-service ATM machine.  This “the more mechanical the better” ideal of customer service is probably one of the main culprits of the whole CULTURAL NOISE phenomenon:  If we didn’t expect our clerks to talk like machines, then we wouldn’t demand machines that talk in the first place!  

Japanese people who have been born and raised in such an environment grow up to expect and even demand this. The mechanical language and the over-politeness, functions just like the slogans, the SOUNDS, and the obsessive signage: we feel anxious and even uneasy without them. I’ll discuss this in more detail in the following section.


The following incident occurred when I gave a lecture at Kyoto’s Bukyou University.

A few days after I returned to Tokyo, I received this letter from Bukyou:


Please allow us to humbly state that it was our honor to have the honorable opportunity to hear your honorable lecture.  Every time you honor our humble educational center with your unforgettable words, you bring us honor and more honor.  Allow us to humbly state that  the contents of your honorable lecture were sublime and we humbly owe you a huge debt of gratitude. Anytime you honorably wish to honorably return and impart more of your honorable wisdom, please don’t hesitate to honorably let us know. Please allow us to humbly state that we have humbly presented your honorarium fee to your honorable bank account.  We wish you the best of luck in your future honorable endeavors, and anxiously await further guidance, should you wish to honorably bestow it upon us.  Please look favorably upon our humble educational center.

Please accept our humble and most sincere wishes for good luck in your honorable and great career, as well as our humble and most sincere wishes for your continued good health.

The respectful language aside, I get this exact same letter every time I go there. As does everyone else who guest-lectures there.  I don’t know if it gets on their nerves as much as it gets on mine. But to me, it’s a form letter, all the worse for pretending to not be one.

But the majority of Japanese don’t react like I do to this kind of pre-formatted polite language. They prefer their thank-you letters to be superficial and devoid of content. It’s just the same as the loudspeaker announcements that blare THANK YOU VERY MUCH : they understand the sentiments without really thinking about the content. Just like the PLEASE DON’T CROWD ONTO THE TRAINS, AS IT IS DANGEROUS warnings which play all day on the station platforms. People are bathed in these announcements every morning but don’t think about it one way or the other.

Now, let me return to my story about the annoying phone call from Mizuho bank, Kichijoji branch. Seeing as how I was too wound-up to return to work, I decided to use the time to call the branch manager directly.  I said, “I’d like to complain about the attitude of the staffer who called me.”

“What’s the matter? Was he rude, sir?”

(Oh, that’s right: in this country, only insufficient politeness is considered grounds for complaint)

“No, he was a nuisance to me because his choice of words was TOO polite.”


“See, I work from home. If he’s going to interrupt my labor, he should come right to the point rather than waste time with phrases like WE GRATEFULLY THANK YOU FOR USING THE KICHIJOJI BRANCH ONCE AGAIN! And other such clichés, again and again and again. Won’t you please make him stop? Can you explain to me how that is supposed to make it more sincere? If anything it strikes me as inginburei ( 慇懃無礼:polite on the surface but actually contemptuous; offensively obsequious)”

“*sighs* I’m very sorry we interrupted your work.”

And that was about the end of the call! The branch manager didn’t understand – make that didn’t WANT to understand –  what I was talking about. Perhaps I should have apologized for speaking so rashly. I merely meant to indicate that if they  really want to show respect for me, personally, as a customer, then they should  show this by taking my personal preferences into account. Of course there’s many different kinds of regular customers, and they all have their own ways of talking. Perhaps some of them like the excessive politeness.  Perhaps for some of them it doesn’t cause unease and resentment.

So I’m not asking you to change your whole speech for everybody. Just, if you call me, get to the point like so: THIS IS MIZUHO BANK, KICHIJOJI BARNCH. IS NAKAJIMA HOME? I WOULD LIKE TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT A NEW HIGH-INTEREST ACCOUNT.  

Real respect means actually taking the time to learn the individual speaking styles individual customers prefer.

However, I was not able to actually tell him that on the phone. As a Japanese, I know how extreme – how violent – such a demand would sound. Most Japanese have been raised with pre-formatted speech to the extent that it’s soaked clear down to their bones. To them, having to deal with the individual speaking style of each customer would be the most difficult thing in the world.

That’s why the current rule exists: “be so polite that none of the many personality types could possibly find anything to object to.” In other words, ‘idiotic politeness.” The ultimate aim is not to actually respect the customer – if anything, it’s just self-defense measure.  That’s why I find it so discomforting.


All I wanted to know is, what time will the phones be on again! But instead, because of the politeness-speak, I have to wait a full thirty seconds to hear a two second message!


I’m aware that my hyper-sensitivity to the clichés of politeness is, out of all my hyper-sensitivities, the one least likely to elicit any sympathy in Japan!!  The majority of people like to be thanked for anything and everything, over and over again, even if it’s just a tape. But if they don’t get an arigatou gozaimasu, they are hopping mad. If the conductor makes an announcement of the train’s schedule but omits such formalities as THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN FOR CHOOSING SUCH-AND-SUCH TRAIN LINES, people will feel disrespected.  To the average Japanese,  service-industry people are expected to behave like slaves: in their choice of words, they should humble themselves as low as possible and exalt the customer as much as possible. That is what “service” means. People take this at face value: that they are valued, that they can feel safe and relax at this store.

According to a Western economist,  Japanese consumers are treated badly by Japan’s economic policies. Perhaps that’s true, but it’s also true that Japanese consumers have entirely different expectations than their Western counterparts. Japanese place less emphasis on things like “whether the goods are overpriced” or “are they good quality?”  . . .instead we mainly care about “Is the service attitude correct and sincere?”  We constantly complain to each other, saying things like, “That train-station worker’s choice of words was wrong!” or “That bank teller lacks proper knowledge of politeness-speak!” So rather than concentrating on more choices for consumers or lower prices, the stores exhaust all their energy on raising their politeness levels to the point where no one can possibly find anything to object to.

A particularly unbearable example is when the train stops due to some sort of accident. Instead of explaining the cause of the accident, they say WE ARE DREADFULLY SORRY TO CAUSE A NUISANCE FOR THE HONORABLE CUSTOMERS ESPECIALLY AT THIS BUSY TIME. PLEASE FORGIVE US. ACCEPT OUR SINCERE APOLOGIES!!  On top of being stuck, we are now assaulted on all sides by these ceaseless announcements, buffeting our heads as they whirl through the air above us. Well, I’m sure my fellow passengers are perfectly satisfied!

It’s the same way with the ceaseless signage that we all must swim through when we leave our houses. Most people have come to need the signs – without them they don’t feel comfortable.  The examples are too numerous to mention. So I’ll just do this one:

At the Mita station, when a train pulls to a stop, the loudspeaker blares, A TRAIN BOUND FOR WEST NAKAJIMA HAS ARRIVED AT NUMBER THREE PLATOFORM. PLEASE WAIT FOR THE TRAIN DOORS TO OPEN. PLEASE BE CAREFUL OF THE GAP BETWEEN THE PLATFORM AAND THE TRAIN DOORS.  And other such too-obvious warnings are broadcast one after the other. One day I stood watch and this is what I found:  This tape is played once every two minutes all day. The people entering the train show not the slightest concern for the gap between the platform and the doors. Perhaps because they’ve been so reassured by the tape? In any case, people have heard this tape so many times that it is regarded like a gust of wind, a cloud in the sky, a drop of rain: a natural sign, which has nothing to do with them and yet constitutes their entire world. Something about which they can’t do anything.

This is true of all stations, especially the Narita Airport Express stations. When it’s time for the train to leave, AFTER everyone is on board, they play the following announcement:  HONORABLE RIDERS, PLEASE WAIT ANOTHER FEW SECONDS FOR THE TRAIN TO START MOVING.  This drives me up the wall!!!

In the Keio Train stations, their ticket machines play this tape: PLEASE WAIT, YOUR TICKET WILL COME OUT SHORTLY. Japanese people, having put money in the machine, can’t wait even the three seconds for their ticket! They need some kind of official sign to reassure them, or they get nervous!


Again, people have come to need this to feel safe. If they didn’t hear it, they would think, “Oh, the machine must be broken!” and break out in a sweat. (Viennese bank machines, on the other hand, are dreadfully slow to use, but they have no taped announcements whatsoever).  

A few years ago, banks and post offices started using a “take-a-number” system, complete with automated loudspeakers that would say, COULD THE OWNER OF NUMBER SUCH-AND-SUCH PLEASE PROCEED TO THE FRONT WINDOW NOW?  Apparently just displaying the current number on the LCD display was not enough to satisfy the neurotic and insecure Japanese customers’ obsessive desire for announcements.  (in Vienna, the take-a-number systems only used LCDs, not tapes).

Even our language-instruction tapes have announcements! When the tape runs out, a voice tells us to turn the tape over.  And the voice on the tape is invariably a grating, un-naturally shrill, “cute” voice which goes poorly with the actual contents of the textbook. A little cuteness never hurt anyone, of course, but with a textbook, one has to replay the same voice over and over, lord-knows-how-many-times as one studies, so even a small irritation can grow and grow until you are at the brink of violence! (as far as I know, there are no Western tapes-accompanying-a-textbook which have this problem)

But I suppose that’s what we Japanese crave and long for: to be bathed in limitless signs and warnings from cradle ‘til grave. I guess you must understand this by now. And the whole service industry, and the people in it, are accomplices in this conspiracy.  It’s so omnipresent that it seems natural.


This  next example has a very deep flavor to it! One time I was drinking a bar near the University.

There was a drunk young couple next to me, and I could hear their loud conversation. The young woman was complaining: “That time, it was majorly snowing, and yet the fire department kept saying ‘THIS WEEK IS SUMMER FIRE PREVENTION WEEK’. What’s up with that? It was snowing right in front of their eyes! They should have been saying, ‘IT’S SNOWING, PLEASE WATCH OUT SO YOU DON’T FALL DOWN!’ I mean, what were they thinking? It was so totally snowing! And yet they kept saying. . . .”

At first, I thought, “Well! This is exactly what I’ve been all along hoping that someone would say!” But upon further consideration, I realized that the young lady was saying the OPPOSITE of what I’d hoped:  She would never object to the warnings on escalators. Her only objection was that the constant fire department announcements were the WRONG KIND OF announcements. She still wants to be bathed in announcements.

Aha! I thought, feeling like Earnest Satow or Erwin von Balz – or one of the other foreigners who first “discovered“ Japan at the beginning of the Meiji period.  “Wow! I’ve discovered some really interesting people! Their logic is so unusual! I can’t wait to tell people in my home country about this!“


Recently, I was sent a copy of  the magazine Japanese Language Monthly, which contained an interview I did with respected teacher  Haruhara Kenichirou. This interview was on a topic I am very interested in: teaching Japanese to foreigners.  Mr. Haruhara said that he wanted to try to teach his students natural Japanese, but this of course was a catch-22: the more natural it was, the more ambiguous and elusive it became for the students.  

He had to teach them never to speak anything but ritualistic clichés to strangers. To erase their desire to make lively or individualistic conversation. To only ask the most clichéd questions, and to give only the proper answers, even if they were not the truth. The more “natural”, the more “Japanese” his lessons became, the less the students could comprehend.

The students would complain that, outside of class, they would get the same ritualized questions again and again: “Where are you studying Japanese?” “Why are you interested in Japan?”  and other such safe but harmless questions. And they would never get asked anything else!  And after the clichés had run dry, the conversation would stop altogether.  In other words, the cliché questions ultimately took the place of anything that could be considered communication.

Haruhara said that Japanese, who have very little direct contact with other cultures, often ask him: “I’m going to such-and-such a country. What should I avoid talking about ?” or “I’m dating a person from such-and-such country – what subjects should I be careful of?”  They saw language primarily as a means of self-defense. They wanted to talk like the boring speeches of Japanese overseas diplomats!

Allow me to supplement Haruhara’s commentary in my own way: Learning “proper” Japanese is another way of saying, learning “public discourse.”  Colorless, invisible, ritualized phrases devoid of individuality. The ultimate aim is to speak at all times in a manner guaranteed not to surprise or offend anyone, even a total stranger.  Language which hides your true self even as it prevents you from asking your partner about his or hers. This is the “true” essence of Japanese language, regardless of what is written in textbooks.

Grammar is not the issue. . . Even such questions as “What school did you go to?” or “What company do you work for?” – spoken with perfect grammar –  mark the asker as a novice of Japanese. Because for many people these questions are too personal for a stranger to ask. Of course, it depends on who you’re talking to!

But for some Japanese, even questions like “What city do you live in?” are “outside the cliché zone” and thus cause surprise and discomfort.  And of course if the foreigner is asked, “What do you think of life in Japan?”, answering at length is not “correct Japanese.” The “correct” answer  has nothing to do with grammar. Once again, the “correct” answer is to reply to the cliché with another cliché, hopefully a short one. The true ‘master’ of Japanese would reply simply: “I get along somehow!”  

Even if the foreigner is asked a provocative question such as, “When you were young, did you fight with your parents a lot?” the “correct” answer is not “Yes” or “No”, but “I really don’t remember.”

The trick is to neither ask nor answer in a direct fashion.  Even if you are in the right, you should say “Excuse me!” and assume an apologetic stance. And even if the other person is wrong, you should not blame them.  If the other person’s explanations are too ambiguous, it’s not “correct” to keep asking them “Why? Why?” and trying to pin down their meaning.

Of course I’m not saying that these rules are always true at all times! Like anywhere else, correct behavior depends on the person and the situation. But if you don’t know, you’d better err on the side of caution. Going over “the cliché line” will mark you as a gaijin!  In other words, “correct” or “native-level” Japanese is not just a matter of grammar or listening comprehension. A crucial skill is being able to read the vibes of a given situation and intuitively understand how far one can go beyond clichés into the realm of conversation, without causing surprise or discomfort.


Nakajima’s JAPANESE ARE HALF FALLEN chapter 2



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.


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!


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?





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:



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!


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!”


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!


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.


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.


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!


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.”


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.


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?


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).


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!


“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.

Nakajima Yoshimichi ‘s JAPANESE ARE HALF FALLEN chapter one



The topic of this book is not things such as “airplane noise” or “noisy neighbors” (things which are officially recognized as “sound pollution”). I’m focusing on things such as the loudspeaker warnings that accompany escalators and moving walkways, the announcements inside train stations, trains, and busses, the sales patter of loudspeakers inside department stores, the constantly looping tapes playing at bank cash machines and parking lots, the background music and wireless “muzak” played in shopping malls or nightlife districts, and the general loudspeaker output that seems to completely cover our country in a blanket of broadcasts.


This whole category of “Please don’t / please refrain from / please watch out for. ..” messages are the most meddlesome and unnecessary.

I find that I am less and less able to tolerate them. Already the limit of my endurance has been reached. I began my “anti-noise” campaign seven years ago, when I started complaining to the bus company. At that time, I was working at a university, and this particular bus company had a special bus to take students to and from the station to the campus. I tape-recorded all the messages playing on the bus’ loudspeakers, and then analyzed them mathematically. Based on this analysis, I wrote a letter to the president of the bus company, informing him that fully ninety percent of the messages were not helpful. But I miscalculated.

WHEN YOU WANT TO GET OFF, PLEASE PRESS THE BUZZER . . . . THE BUS MIGHT SHAKE, SO PLEASE HOLD ON TO THE LEATHER STRAPS. . . PLEASE SAVE THE ‘SILVER SEATS’ FOR SENIOR CITIZENS. . . . since there were no more than four stops on the entire route, and all the passengers were university students, these messages were also useless, so the real total is closer to a hundred percent.

But the bus company didn’t change a thing.

I’ve spoken to many officials, and done lots of demonstrations all over the place, but almost no one seems to understand what I’m really talking about. Ten, nay, a hundred times, I’ve met complete resistance.

Every day, ten times a day, the speakers in the malls blare this message:

Even those of us who DO set aside money have to hear this reminder ten times a day forever? I protested to the Tax Ministry, but was told, “We’re absolutely not going to change it.”

The loudspeakers that violently blare THIS WEEK IS ‘SUMMER FIRE PREVENTION WEEK’ THIS WEEK IS ‘SUMMER FIRE PREVENTION WEEK’ THIS WEEK IS ‘SUMMER FIRE PREVENTION WEEK’ THIS WEEK IS ‘SUMMER FIRE PREVENTION WEEK’ THIS WEEK IS ‘SUMMER FIRE PREVENTION WEEK’ THIS WEEK IS ‘SUMMER FIRE PREVENTION WEEK’ THIS WEEK IS ‘SUMMER FIRE PREVENTION WEEK’ – even though they only do it for one week, their sudden, deafening volume and sheer meaningless-ness caused me to telephone the fire department and complain. They told me, “We’re absolutely not going to change it.”

On the subways, there are announcements like, PLEASE STOP PARKING BICYCLES NEAR THE STATION WHERE THEY ARE A NUISANCE TO OTHERS! and other warnings of crimes which are totally unrelated to actually riding subways. I complained in person at the local police box, only to be told, “Go away, we definitely will not change it.”

I went to the offices of the department stores and train stations, to complain about the overabundance of messages such as, THE ESCALATOR IS ABOUT TO BEGIN SO PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP. THE ESCALATOR IS ABOUT TO BEGIN SO PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP. THE ESCALATOR IS ABOUT TO BEGIN SO PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP. THE ESCALATOR IS ABOUT TO BEGIN SO PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP.  They also told me, “Go away, we definitely will not change it.”

In the public parks, there are already too many redundant signs saying, PLEASE KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR BELONGINGS, AS SOMEONE MIGHT STEAL THEM. Nevertheless, loudspeakers blare this same message at huge volumes throughout the day. I went to the park management office to beg them to stop, only to be told, “Go away, we definitely will not change it.”

I have a hypothesis that many people feel the way that I do about the noise situation. But most people only consider “noise problems” to be things like train motors, jet engines, and noisy neighbors.

In my career as an activist, I’ve received requests for help from over 100 people. But even the overwhelming majority of my “fans” seem to misunderstand my mission! They’re suffering because of dogs, sirens from the hospital next door, noise from the elementary school next door, and so on. In other words, things that are in their neighborhood.

What concerns me, on the other hand, are sounds that invade from outside the neighborhood: the “safety announcements” blared from police and fire trucks, the “speech vans” of politicians during election season, and the mis-use of the neighborhood “emergency evacuation” loudspeakers to blare everyday announcements.

Recently the invasions of traveling salesmen whose trucks blare advertisements for screen doors, laundry equipment, and fried potatoes – this has gone down, because of public outcry. But where is the outcry about the escalator announcements, or the delivery trucks whose speakers roar, I’LL BE TURNING LEFT SOON SO PLEASE BE CAREFUL! NOW I’M TURNING LEFT! STILL TURNING LEFT! BE CAREFUL, HERE I GO TURNING LEFT! or the banks, who have a tape of THANK YOU AGAIN FOR HONORABLY COMING TO SUCH-AND-SUCH BANK AGAIN! THANK YOU AGAIN FOR HONORABLY COMING TO SUCH-AND-SUCH BANK AGAIN! THANK YOU AGAIN FOR HONORABLY COMING TO SUCH-AND-SUCH BANK AGAIN! THANK YOU AGAIN FOR HONORABLY COMING TO SUCH-AND-SUCH BANK AGAIN! playing on endless repeat?!? It’s enough to bring me to the brink of neurosis! This puts me in the extreme of the extremists, I suppose.

Meanwhile, 99 percent of Japanese don’t care about any of this. Nobody cares about my pain and suffering. You all think you’re so rational and calm, just because you have a different sensitivity level than me. I don’t have any real response to you. But I still have a thing I really want to complain about in the next chapter!


I don’t like people who take an intellectual, theoretical interest in problems which don’t concern them personally. Nor do I like those who simply scream, “It hurts! It hurts!” without analyzing their problems. I simply believe people should express their suffering in a logical, and accurate manner. Even if you think I’m too sensitive about noises, I’d like you to acknowledge that this issue of “people who don’t express suffering in a logical manner” is a serious issue that should not be covered up.

My experiences are personal, the experiences of one individual. But how to convince people that individual experiences can constitute a social problem which affects everybody? That’s the aim of this book, in a nutshell.

On this topic, the responses of people who are bound hand and foot by organizational rules are neither illuminating or even interesting. Whether such people agree with me or disagree, either way I find their responses unsatisfying. Why is that? Because they’ve been trained to think exclusively in terms of organizational problems. Even if they agree there is a problem, they can’t deal on an individual level.

They never ask themselves, “What is the right thing to do?” or “What is the right thing to say?”

For example, I went to my son’s elementary school to complain about the loudspeakers used during PE class, which the whole neighborhood can hear, and this is what he said:

“Aww! Yeah, the speakers are loud enough to make your head hurt, aren’t they? We certainly should think about these issues, ha ha ha.”

My heart cried out in protest: “What is there to think about?!? You have no intention of turning down the speakers, do you? Quit ‘agreeing’ with me in this phony way!!!!”

When I hear this kind of patronizing double-speak, I get so mad, my skin crawls like there are worms writhing over my whole body! This kind of double-speak, (which I’ll henceforth call INSTITUTIONAL SPEECH), serves no purpose but to duck responsibility.

Although it is considered “acceptable” by society, considered harmless, it rots our morals. It gets us to stop thinking. And when we are assaulted with it day in and day out, it saps our will to resist. The reason is, these guys have framed the debate so that protest is not an option. If one persists in complaining, they will say, “Well now, let’s take the long view. Let’s take several years to do a very thorough study, including all points of view.”

I have to beat a hasty retreat when showered with this kind of fungal institutional speech.

Another example: a worker for Keio Subway company told me, “Well now, sensei, we respect your opinion and value your follow-up questions.” What jabbering nonsense! I thought to myself: “If that’s your ‘respect,’ then it’d be more helpful if you were ‘against’ me! Put up your dukes!”

And then there are the railway or bank employees, who are fond of saying, “Personally I agree with you fully, but it’s the organization, you see . . . “

This sort of statement, if you use one single nerve cell, you can clearly see is nothing more than “Self-defense speech.”

If I respond lucidly with: “Well, it’s precisely because you’re in the organization that you can have a bigger impact than I. And you have the most to gain by complaining, since you have to listen to that noise day in and day out.” They invariably reply with, “Huh?” They don’t understand the irony at all.

Rather than the baffling “agreements” of “institutional speech”, I much prefer the forthright “muscle speech” of the blue-collar potato vendors: “You faggot! Don’t get arrogant with me! I’ll erase you!” I think it’s much more spiritually healthy for society if people can express themselves directly, that they don’t fool themselves about what they mean. Also, these potato vendors have to take responsibility for their violent words, unlike the “institutional speech” speakers. They are willing to step out of the “safety zone” and risk everything to defend their turf.

But what I hate the most, more than any of these kinds of “speech”, is the enormous amount of people that really DO agree with me, that DO respect my struggle . . . yet do nothing on their own!


Be that as it may, I’m not fighting 24/7 anymore. And when I do struggle, I don’t expect the other party to change. I don’t care if they despise me or hate me, either. All I want to accomplish is to express my outrage, so that I’m not burdened by repressed anger. Whether I “win” or “lose” the argument , I still win! Venting at some noisy scoundrel can make me feel lighter, younger, and refreshed. It’s good for my health! 

When I walk to work, maybe I’ll pass a potato-selling speaker-truck in my neighborhood, and I am OK with it. But then I’ll pass another truck, blaring announcements that I’M TURNING RIGHT! PLEASE BE CAREFUL, I’M MAKING A RIGHT TURN NOW!! . . and I can still tolerate it. But when I finally get to the damn train station, and I have to deal with some lady politician from the JCP (Japan Communist Party), with her deafening speaker-trucks, yelling WE THE COMMUNISTS, ARE STANDING UP FOR THE WEAK, WE PROTECT SOCIETY’S MINORITIES!!! Their announcements cause me such suffering, all without any sense of the irony . . . . I have had all I can take!!! Oh really, you’re doing your thing in my name? For me? Really?

Personally I could give two shits one way or another about the JCP’s politics. I just want them to turn down their volume! I had no choice – if I didn’t protest right now, I’d be up all night burning with anger and regret. I walked right up to the politician – I must say, she was quite attractive – and got in her face.

“I don’t want to hear your political complaints anymore! It’s loud and extremely offensive! Stop it at once!” I said.

She was shocked! Although she’d been trying to capture the attention of passers-by all day, it never for a second occurred to her that someone would try to capture her attention! She had obviously not considered that anyone would ever object to her ceaseless barrage of noise!

She was scared for a second, but quickly recovered, and we started having a dialogue. She said that her volume was below the legal limit, and her announcements were to help the JCP protect the rights of the weak people, and no one else had complained, and other such RUBBISH.

After I endured her idiotic rebuttals, I said, “But you’re causing a huge nuisance for everyone around you, don’t you know that? You think it’s OK to make those around you suffer, so long as you get your way?” Then I told her: “I’d like you to stop making speeches until I’ve left the station.” And she obeyed. That was my “harvest” for that particular day.

 But other politicians are not so easily dealt with. Another day, I was at my home around noon, when I was startled out of my wits by a sudden and unbelievably loud racket. I had been sleeping, using both curtains and earplugs, but the din cut through them like they weren’t even there! It was such a violent sound I couldn’t even think about “waiting it out” – I threw on my clothes and walked to the source of the bother: a political speaker-van parked in front of a vacant lot just thirty meters from my house. The JCP, of course!  

LET’S PROTECT PENSIONS FOR THE ELDERLY! LET’S PROTECT THE HANDICAPPED, and other such vacant, no-duh slogans. When I realized that not only was it unbearably loud, but also unbearably stupid, I really flew into a rage. I charged the van, yelling in my loudest voice, WHAT ARE YOU DOING, MAKING SUCH STUPID ANNOUNCEMENTS?!?!? In response, a lady politician’s head peeped out the window, and we instantly got into an amazing fight.

“You say you’re on the side of the so-called weak people, but what about those of us working night-shifts? What about the home-bound, those who work at home, the sick and handicapped? Why are you waking them up and disturbing them? You haven’t given any thought to your own political mission statement!”

“No one is saying that but you! You’re the only one complaining!”

“Idiot! If I didn’t complain, would that mean everyone in our neighborhood is overjoyed that you’re here? Were you expecting everyone to come out of our houses and hold you a welcome party? You’re interrupting my work. Are you going to admit responsibility for that? I have a deadline tomorrow morning, and have to work through the night. That’s why I was sleeping just now . .. until you came along!”

“We’re fighting for people more disadvantaged than you! We care about their suffering more than you do!”

“If your constituency is so weak they can’t leave their houses, then they’re too weak to come out like me and tell you to shut up! They’re probably inside right now, holding their fingers in their ears!”

After more arguing, the JCP must have felt it was advisable to move to a different location. Even the politician (whoever it was!) stopped speechifying. But I was so mad, I wouldn’t let them escape. As the van started pulling away, I continued to rant to their rear-view mirror where they could still see me. I caught up with the van, and then stood in front of it, yelling, “RUN ME OVER IF YOU DARE!!!!”

 The driver made a polite gesture indicating that I should step aside, but I absolutely did not. And you know what happened next? He started backing up! All the way to the end of the street! Some forty meters. He backed into the main street, as the politician resumed screeching WE THE COMMUNIST PARTY EXPRESS THE OPINION OF THE OPPRESSED GROUPS OF SOCIETY!! No doubt they were just going to annoy people in another section of the city. But I’d made them retreat – they couldn’t stand the wrath of this oppressed person driven to the edge of insanity !!!

Perhaps my wise readers are scratching their heads, saying, “Well, if they only moved and did it somewhere else, then what good did your insane protest do? It would have been better to do nothing.” But I have no regrets at all! It is exactly because my protest was so insane that it was so cathartic. . . I felt cleansed, lightened, empowered, spiritually rejuvenated. Best of all, I didn’t have to go to bed that day, sick with repressed rage, thinking “If only I’d stood up to them . . .”

Plus, I’d made them feel my pain, if only for a little while. Even if they didn’t agree with it, they couldn’t deny how crazy they’d driven me – they saw for themselves the reality that they’d created. That in itself is a substantial victory!


Many people ask me “Why do you keep doing these protests that have no payoff?” and I always answer, “But they do have a payoff!” To me, not fighting hurts more. Not fighting leaves one with a feeling of lingering resentment which only adds to the pain. And even if sometimes these battles escalate into big public scenes, it’s still all justified in self-defense.

For example, the train station near my house has an unusually loud-voiced young worker named Mr. U. Naturally he uses a loudspeaker anyway, to make his announcements. Many times I have told him, “You have a naturally loud voice, don’t you?” but he never turns down the speaker. When he’s working, you can hear him from over 20 meters away from the station! One day, when he was even louder than usual, and I went to tell him to turn down. This must have been the fiftieth time. But he kept on announcing, totally ignoring me. I had reached the limit of my patience. If I didn’t act now, I’d have to spend the whole rest of the day in bed, full of regret and corrosive rage. Heedless of the possibility of oncoming trains, I ripped the microphone from Mr. U’s hand and threw it right on the tracks.

Mr. U. just stood there, following the descending microphone with his eyes, saying “Are-re-re-re.”

It’s pretty funny the way we Japanese react to things. Mr. U. never expected a customer to seize his microphone, so he was unable to promptly decide what to do. His brain stopped working, and all he could do was say that “Are-re-re-re.” I left Mr. U. behind, and went to look for the station master to report the incident.

“I asked Mr. U. I-don’t-know-how-many times to turn down, and he never would, so I threw his mike on the tracks.” The station master’s response was also really interesting. I could read his thoughts: “What an absurd incident! And what’s more –  the perpetrator himself is complaining?!?” 

His brain had frozen up. He looked at me slowly from head to toe, saying, “Is . . . .that . . . so?”

Meanwhile, I was already deep in re-telling the details of the story. But the station master simply stood there and said, “Is . . .that . . . so?”

My act was clearly illegal, so he should have taken me to the police station, but he did nothing of the sort. Mr. U. never even showed up to give his side of the story. He probably just picked up the microphone and continued to announce trains. . . like a sucker! Dissatisfied with this lazy state of affairs, I had no choice but to return to the platform and board the next train.


In this country, individuals fighting on their own behalf is unheard of. Perhaps that’s why it is so unexpectedly easy to get away with it. Let me give you an example.

In Sengawa, there’s the Kaoru Kindergarten. This kindergarten has a dormitory, so the pupils are pickled in loudspeaker announcements 24/7, without a thought as to what kind of miserable, stupid adults this will turn them into. What’s more, this kindergarten is on my way to work. Frequently, I can hear the painfully loud announcements thirty meters away from the heart of the kindergarten! I could not stand the extreme pain this caused me, so one time I charged directly into the kindergarten, yelling, “What is this infernal racket?!?”, and flipped the speaker switch to “off.”

This was yet another instance when people didn’t even try to stop me because they never imagined that someone might attempt such a stunt. The workers around me just looked on dumbly, as I shut off their system. Apparently the boss was not in, so a young male teacher had to confront me: “Is it OK to do things like that?” I told him, “Of course it is!” and he had no response. But they weren’t ready to quit: they just wanted to avoid a confrontation. I was followed by all the students and teachers to the entrance, and the moment I walked out the main gate, the recordings started up again, louder than ever.

Another day, Kaoru Kindergarten’s speakers were blaring the theme song of “ONI WA SOTO! FUKU WA UCHI!” (a traditional children’s game). Of course I had to charge in again. They must have remembered me, because all the teachers ran away. Strangely.

Without hesitation, I grabbed the microphone from a young female teacher, who was staring vacantly, and screamed, “ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL THESE CHILDREN?!?” This time, the boss was present. But he, along with the manger (her husband as it turned out) merely peeped out the windows of their office. If it was me, I definitely would have called the police.

From there, the scenario took and even stranger turn.

The female teacher dropped the microphone and ran headlong into the depths of the kindergarten. She said, “I have a small voice, so I need the megaphone to talk. But, I can scream good!” and with that, she proceeded to run around the playground screaming “ONI WA SOTO! FUKU WA UCHI!” At the top of her lungs.

I was dumbfounded. I followed after, trying to reason: “ What are you doing? Is that a way to act?!? If you use the microphone and just speak softly, everyone can still hear you!” but she wouldn’t listen. Looking as if she were about to weep, she continued to scream hysterically, “ONI WA SOTO! FUKU WA UCHI!” 

I left the kindergarten, and once again, the speakers started up behind me. It was one of those things.


You readers are probably already tired of these stories.

So I’ll just do one more.

The place: the very high-class Ginza shopping district. One day, getting off the subway at Yuurakicho station, heading towards Ginza, my ears were assaulted by a deafening din of speakers. It was so loud, at first I thought some uyoku (right-wing militia groups)  had come through in their giant speaker-vans, but that was not the case. It was the Purantan store (and what an idiotic name that is for a store, in the first place!). They’d erected an enormous stage directly in front of their entrance-way, obstructing nearly the entire sidewalk, leaving just enough room for a single person to squeeze by. They were doing a model-show for their new summer yutaka, but foolishly, all the models were white people.

 The whole stage was surrounded by speakers, which emitted a ferocious din of music. And of course there was a lady holding a microphone in one hand, giving announcements even louder than the music. My whole body was filled with anger to the point of physical pain. I ran to the nearest public phone box and dialed 110 (like 911). “Come quickly! Purantan is having a yutaka show! They’re making a god-awful racket – it must be in violation of city ordinances. Please put a stop to it at once.”

Then, without hesitation, I approached the wings of the stage, and told the young man working there, “I want to talk to the person in charge. One can hear this sound for thirty meters in all directions! What are you people thinking?!? This level of volume is clearly in excess of city ordinances, and furthermore, your stage is forcing pedestrians into the street. It’s impossible to walk around here. And what about the handicapped, in their wheelchairs? I’ve already dialed the police, they’ll be here any minute now.”

Then we exchanged business cards.

“Wait here a second,” he told me, and escaped backstage.

But the person in charge never emerged, and I was stuck waiting in vain. The police will surely take care of these rascals, I thought, but they didn’t show up either. The nefarious yukata show, with its hideous din, kept going on an on.

I snapped.

I ran out in the middle of the street, and stood directly in the path of the first car to come along. Naturally, this being high-class Ginza, it was considered very rude to ever honk one’s horn here. The driver silently sat in his vehicle, finally making a “please get out of the way” gesture. I paid him no mind. Then he slowly edged his car forward until it was almost touching my body. I considered jumping on his hood, but decided against it. Finally, a “snake of cars” stretching well over twenty meters was stopped in front of me. Finally, the “man in charge” showed his face.

In fact, several Purantan workers were looking for me, and when they finally found me in the middle of the road, they called out in surprise: “AA!!” Then: “Excuse me, you’re blocking traffic. Could you move aside, sir,” they implored. But they still wouldn’t come near me. They stayed on the sidewalk, calling, “Excuse me, excuse me, hello!”waving their hands, and bowing at the same time. Why did they not deal with my reckless acts in a more effective, direct manner? I turned to them and bellowed, “There’s no room on the sidewalk anymore, so I’m watching the show from here!”

In response, they resorted to simply saying “Please!” over and over. I paid them no mind. Making matters even more odd, not even a single driver had emerged from his car to accost me. Perhaps they assumed there had been a serious accident, and were prepared to wait a long time.

This stalemate lasted for around ten minutes, when I decided that it was enough, and walked over to them. And then we began the following exchange:

“You people! You turn so pale when I block traffic, but you yourselves block the pedestrians without a second thought! Have you no idea the inconvenience you’re causing all the walkers? How can you be so insensitive?!?”

A man with an armband identifying himself as “Chief Manager of Sales” kept saying, “Excuse me, excuse me, hello!”

“Well, if you are bored with my complaints, then stop your event at once!” I retorted.

 At that point, still more workers emerged from backstage and said, “It’ll be over soon, so could you please . . .?” 

And than after two minutes, it really was over. Several days later, I wrote a letter to the president of Purantan, enclosing a huge amount of supplementary material, including a brochure from the Environment Ministry entitled “Public Noise Handbook”, and my own book, “Urusai Nippon to Watashi.”

I received a reply, written in the now-familiar “institutional speech” : “You have given me a lot to reflect about. Please don’t hesitate to teach me more in the future.”

A few days later, I went to check the source of a horrible din, and sure enough it led me straight to Purantan. They were doing some event to sell cell-phones. I stormed in and yelled at the salesman with the microphone, “GET ME YOUR MANAGER!” I had to wait thirty minutes, but finally the manager of sales came out. In my usual fashion, I confronted him : “How dare you people lie like that! Tell the truth – many people ask you to turn down the sounds, right?” The bastard ducked and dodged my questions like an expert. It was no use dealing with that guy, so I up and left. 

Here I’d like to announce something. Purantan is a dishonorable and barbaric department store. Never mind its prices, it is a fundamentally vulgar place which has no business in a high-class district such as Ginza. May they go bankrupt at once!


One day, I was called to attend a meeting of music teachers at the Osaka University of Art. It had been a long time since I'd been to Osaka, but I'd heard many rumors about the unrelenting announcements on their Midousuji subway line. I steeled myself for battle as I boarded the Midousuji train. And, just as I'd feared, the twenty minutes it took to reach my station were little more than sheer torture.

The train was absolutely flooded with these useless broadcasts. On top of that, every time we pulled into a station, loudspeakers outside the train would inform us that, THIS STATION IS NON-SMOKING SO PLEASE COOPERATE WITH THE RULES AS YOU EXIT THE TRAIN.  Adding to my irritation were the announcements that one would normally get only on a bus:


(in a separate incident, an acquaintance of mine who worked for a bus company told me that "The fees we collect from those announcements keep passengers' fares down.") Honestly, some people are living in an entirely different world from me! 

As the endless subway ride continued, I considered how many different levels of sensitivity that different types of people have. The vast gap between people's levels pains me. And here I'm going to widen my scope a bit: It's a huge mistake to think that no one minds the loud speaker-trucks that roam about during election season. But on the other hand, some people in sparsely populated areas actually phone the politicians to complain, "You guys never come out here!"

But you know what really gives me the "goose pimples of furious detestation"? When the towns use the Emergency Disaster Evacuation speaker network (mounted on light-posts in residential areas) to broadcast a too-cute song every evening, followed with the announcement: IT’S TIME FOR ALL GOOD CHILDREN TO GO HOME FOR DINNER NOW!  It's this horrible Big Brother as sugary-sweet Disney character type of thing.

I asked Mr. O. at my local city hall about it, and he told me, "It's unusual for people to complain that the chime is too loud. Usually people complain that it isn't loud enough."

Well, then! Just do whatever you like, why don't you?!?

It was March 10th, around noon. I was walking towards my local station as always, when I heard a dreadful din from somewhere: TODAY IS. . . . . JAPAN'S SURRENDER . . . . MEMORIAL . . . . DAY! WE LOST . . . THE WAR. . . . AND WE LOST. . . . MANY LIVES. . . PLEASE. . .. TAKE A MOMENT . . . OF SILENCE AND PRAYER. . . .FOR THEM NOW.

Of course, of all the people I could see, not one was praying for the dead. But how many of us had misgivings about this violent, sudden, intrusive burst of advice? How many of us were angry inside? Later that same day, to prevent a build-up of anger (which is very bad for my heart), I paid the city hall a visit. But I doubt they'll change their procedures.


Let's return to Osaka.

The following day, I was walking through the South Entertainment District (Minami no Hankagai), and realized quite clearly that it sucked. Usually when I go walking, I use both my earplugs and my CD player with the headphones. But that day, I decided just as an experiment to go without. To disarm myself, as it were. 

It was really uncomfortable, but it couldn't be helped: my "armor" would have been useless in any case against the explosive power of megaphone-wielding salespeople which assaulted my ears from all sides. On top of that, there was a huge screen next to Ebisu Bridge, and rock and roll music videos were playing at deafening volume. Next to the hateful screen was a Chinese seafood restaurant with a tape loop that chanted COME TRY OUR CRABS! COME TRY OUR CRABS! COME TRY OUR CRABS! Even the used-book stores were playing enka. I felt as if I had gone inside a giant pachinko parlor, or I was trapped inside a video-game center. What surprised me the most, though, was that, in the midst of this "speaker hell," lovers and families walked side-by-side, smirks on their faces, seemingly without a care in the world.

Attempting an experiment, I'd hidden a recorder as well as a decibel meter in my handbag, but the readings were off the scale.

"Enough already," I muttered to myself, and took a side street to Midousuji. To my relief, the streets widened, and there was almost no noise. This little neighborhood is also Japan, I reminded myself. But that terrible shopping district is Japan, too. One has to take both Japans, as if there is no contradiction. Just like West Shinjuku, where the ultra-modern high-rise business district abuts the very cheap, old-fashioned, garish shopping streets. Perhaps we Asians intentionally construct our cities this way.

We feel most comfortable when the noisiest parts are right next to the quietest parts; the more of a patchwork, the better!


Looking for a way out of Osaka, I decided to take the express train to traditional Kyoto. Kyoto people like to look down on Osaka people and say, "We're different from them!" But as far as the SOUNDS go, Kyoto people have nothing to boast about (of course, neither do us Tokyoites). In a test of the "sound environment," Osaka scores a miserable 20, but Kyoto is only 25.

I'd like you to acknowledge this.

I got off the train at Kawaharacho station, went outside, and immediately overcome with rage: it was as if Kawaharacho was the capital of the Roaring Din District. I don't know if it was right-wingers or left-wingers or what, but there was some kind of heavily amplified public speaker lecturing in the middle of the street, throwing a real tantrum.

Instead of arresting the culprit, the police decided to add their own looped loudspeaker messages intermittently: RECENTLY SOME SHOPS HERE HAVE BEEN SELLING DEFECTIVE MAKEUP. IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF SUCH A SCAM, PLEASE REPORT TO THE NEAREST POLICE STATION! IT’S FORBIDDEN TO RIDE BICYCLES ON THE SIDEWALK. WALK YOUR BIKES IN THIS AREA.  and other such foolish admonitions.   In fact, the former announcement was repeated on a billboard right in front of me, fully ten meters long! Did this add to the legendary beauty of Kyoto? And yet, people were enjoying themselves just as if they were not inundated with the vomit from these explosive loudspeakers.

If one were to gather together us people who find these SOUNDS painful, the smarter of us might say, "Well, who needs an announcement of "Don't be swindled" ?!? Grown-ups should be aware of swindles, that's obvious!" But apparently it's not obvious to the majority of Japanese. Nobody gets the least bit irritated. If anything, people take comfort in it – even people to whom the announcement absolutely does not apply.

To you intellectuals and cultured people who are irritated by all this noise, who feel cursed by a country that doesn't teach people self-responsibility, I say: listen to your hearts! Wake up! Your countrymen love these official warnings! On the street, in the train, in the bus, in the park ,in the malls, the graveyards, the beaches, even in the mountainside, at work, school, they cry, "We want to be told what to do!"

Words from above are automatically assumed to be true and proper, so they pass through the tympanic membrane easily into the brain. If you think I'm lying, go to Shijou Road and ask passers-by, "Do you think this official warning is necessary?" Thrust a microphone at them. They'll look at you suspiciously, and reluctantly answer like this: "Well, yeah, it's good. There are people, victims in trouble and such. They need it."

This isn't the remnant of some feudal custom designed to manipulate or control the average citizens. Nor is it like the strict "control" announcements after the war, which most common people rose up and protested. You can't say that the police are doing them with bad intentions, because these days, average, good-hearted people have come to rely on the announcements.


Similarly, if the police had a sincere desire to prevent illegal bike parking, they would increase the frequency of their patrols, and as soon as they find an illegal bicycle, they confiscate it and charge up to $500 to return it. If they did that, the problem would immediately vanish. But of course, such a law would never be passed. 

Of course, people with a European "individual rights" mentality could not comprehend such a law to begin with. But bear with me please.

The average person thinks nothing of parking his or her bicycle illegally. And if someone – police or just a random guy – tries to confiscate their bicycle, the average person would fly into a rage. That’s how Japanese are.

The police know this, so in order to circumvent such conflicts, they broadcast loudspeaker messages, saying PLESE DON’T PARK HERE. If they hear the messages, Japanese bike-parkers will know that they will be causing a nuisance to those around them. The embarrassment will cause them to follow the rules. This is also how Japanese are, and the police rely on this. Of course it doesn’t work overnight, but over the course of time, people will start to see, “Oh, there’s no bicycles parked here, maybe I shouldn’t park mine, either.” And by being patient, the police can enforce the law without super-strict measures or hostile conflicts with citizens.

I was watching the NHK Morning News one day, and saw a young male reporter standing with his microphone in the middle of a Yokohama rice paddy, smirking, and saying “This morning’s report is good news!”

The camera zoomed back to reveal a row of tall poles, lining the large road running alongside the rice paddy. These spanking new poles each had a loud-speaker which bellowed PLEASE DO NOT DUMP YOUR TRASH ILLEGALLY HERE! PLEASE DO NOT DUMP YOUR TRASH ILLEGALLY HERE! PLEASE DO NOT DUMP YOUR TRASH ILLEGALLY HERE!

The good news was, the illegal dumping had come to a sudden halt.

They cut away to a file photo of the former street, which was lined with trash. Then a short video of a whole line of cars stopping along the street, one by one opening their doors to toss out their huge bags of trash. Doubtless, they had simply found another street in the same city to do their dumping. This was the “super effective” plan the TV was talking about. Naturally I flew into a rage, promptly telephoning both NHK and the Yokohama City office. But who knows if that would make them stop?

First, to me, a road with loudspeakers on a constant loop of PLEASE DO NOT DUMP YOUR TRASH ILLEGALLY HERE! PLEASE DO NOT DUMP YOUR TRASH ILLEGALLY HERE! PLEASE DO NOT DUMP YOUR TRASH ILLEGALLY HERE! doesn’t feel like a place for living things. Two, of course I hate dumpers, but the solution is clearly worse than the problem! If they’re so worried about dumping, wouldn’t it be common sense to hire a guard instead?

But the whole question of, “Is it effective or not?” only serves to distract from the true, fundamental issue.  Sure, the booming tape alone is enough to scare off even the most die-hard dumpers. But, why are Japanese so scared of a tape in the first place? Are we crows, scared of a straw man?

But even the most timid criminals, if they knew there was no real danger of being caught by police, would instantly return to dumping trash. Just like the people who no longer pay attention to the DON’T PARK YOUR BICYCLE HERE announcements or the DON’T USE YOUR CELL-PHONE ON THE TRAIN announcements, it’s inevitable that people in Yokohama will return to their old habits when they realize that there is no danger in ignoring the tape.

Just like a bird who realizes a scarecrow is just made of straw.

Then, presumably, the Yokohama City Council will erect an even more impressive “scarecrow”, which will also lose its effect since it, too, will not be backed up with real police. And then a third, even more fearsome “scarecrow,” and so on. Like a municipal game of whack-a-mole. Japan is becoming a country of scarecrows.

I’m afraid this mentality is much too deep in our Japanese bones for anyone to do anything about it. And the way that I sigh, roll my eyes, and talk down to the MASSES is certainly not going to help matters any.  But the MASSES are clever in their own way – they intuitively know the rules, what behaviors will benefit them, what behaviors will get them shunned by their fellow villagers. They know that, if they should meet a stranger to their town, the wisest thing to do is to ignore him.  This kind of "wisdom" is in their bones, so to speak.  They know to listen to the "voices from above", with their endless stream of advice, rather than their own internal voices.

Please don’t understand me. I’m not endorsing this attitude. And I’m not saying that it will never ever change. I’m just saying this attitude is in our blood, in our bone marrow. And changing it will be very difficult.  The first step is to simply make people aware of this cultural phenomenon. “Oh, I’d never thought of it before, but now that you mention it. . . .” they’ll say. That’s how we can begin our cultural revolution. Although it’s a journey of a million miles, we have to start somewhere.


I want to emphasize how difficult it is to change the situation with social activism. The usual strategies of activist groups absolutely don't apply to the problem of the SOUNDS.

I spoke with Ms. T., a women’s-rights activist who also has run successful campaigns to preserve the names of old cities (apparently some city governments try to change the names to attract investors?!?) . We did a dialogue featured in the pages of AMENITY, the newsletter for “The Society For Considering Megaphones.”

She said, "WTF is up with that endless loop of PLEASE WATCH OUT, YOU’RE ABOUT TO GET ON AN ESCALATOR!!! in Tokyo Shinkansen station? Nakajima, before we write a letter to the station director, let's get a petition going, let's get some famous names to co-sign, let's really do this activism properly. What do you say?"

I replied, "I think even that would be futile. The station master would send back a letter saying, ‘Honored Customer, it is our great pleasure to hear your opinions,’ and that would be the end of it. And do you really think you could get a million signatures? If that many people found the announcements irritating, there would already be a million complaints, and the stations would already have stopped. I don't think famous names would help, either."

After just this one interview, she stopped trying to do the petition. I don’t blame her, however. As I’ve said many times before, it’s wrong to try to force the majority to change. This kind of “scary Big Brother” approach reminds people of the Meiji Restoration, and the Macarthur GHQ government. And those were both ultimately unsuccessful. 

On the other hand, if there was a “culture revolution” led by the leading intellectuals and influential people, perhaps they could influence the MASSES in the nick of time. Perhaps they could persuade the people to cooperate in a national campaign of reform. Fundamentally, majority rule is a good idea, but its narrow focus on “number-based” arguments rules out petitions, when the petitioners are in the minority.

The number of like-minded noise sufferers is small, and frankly most of us shudder at the thought of publicly campaigning for change. However, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Takanashi Akira, and his organization, The Society For Considering Megaphones, the opportunities for activism have increased.

Fifteen years ago, when Mr. Takanashi returned to Japan from France, he found his homeland totally pickled in speaker noise. Instinctively resenting this turn of events, he decided to start the Society newsletter, AMENITY, with the goal of gathering like-minded people. Mr. Takanashi had a skill for organizing people, so his group eventually had branches all over the country. Hokkaido, Kansai, Kyuushuu and so forth. And then, the branches started to meet in person, to discuss counter-measures to the noise in their various cities. And then some organized street marches, which got the group on NHK television. They held many symposia, were interviewed by Akao  Satoshi (??) and Aoshima Yukio, and sent letters to the Diet asking for a suspension of the election-time loudspeaker vans.

They petitioned then-minister of Transportation Ishihara to declare certain shinkansen cars “quiet cars.”  That petition was not successful, but they were, among other actions, able to get rid of the excessive chimes in the schools. They even did some lawsuits, for instance a suit that forced the Odakyuu subway to stop audio advertisements for stores near the stations. Mr. Takanashi’s real strong point was as an essayist.He wrote many articles on this topic in a music magazine.

When I first joined the organization, eight years ago, I thought, “We can change Japan pretty quickly if we all get together, can’t we!” How naive I was! After a while, I had to admit we were simply getting  nowhere. None of the regular people, before and behind us, to our  left and right, seemed to care what we were saying.
Some people cared about the announcements in trains. But nobody understood about the street loudspeakers, to say nothing of the escalator announcements. Naturally, people began to quit the group in discouragement. The core people fought on, like soldiers outnumbered in a war, dropping one by one.

The newsletter, AMENITY, became even more focused on noise, and nothing else : not activism so much as people consoling one another. The articles were nothing more than, “I hate this noise!” “Well, I hate that noise!” “Let me introduce you to the great sound-environment of north Europe.” And so forth. What was even the point anymore, I wanted to ask.

It was in this atmosphere that Mr. Takanashi announced, “I have said all that I have to say on the subject, so I’m retiring from the organization.” Some of the other members vowed to continue publishing the newsletter, but I couldn’t see the point. Sometimes there would be meetings – a whole ten people – but again, I didn’t understand why.

Personally, I was not as devastated as Mr. Takanashi. Unlike him, I never wanted or expected a total social revolution. I think it would be extraordinarily difficult to solve this problem with revolution. But it’s precisely because I agree it’s a serious issue, that’s exactly why I’m very picky about the way in which to fight it.


My main point is this: I’ve fallen totally out of step with the vast majority of other scientists and theorists complaining of “the noise hell of today’s Japan” . . .they all come to different conclusions than I.

The theorists who talk about “soundscapes of society” use acoustics and human physiology to make their case, and on that basis they classify certain sound environments as “good” or “bad” (in some cases they even classify silence as bad!).   But I’m here to warn you that this kind of thinking can be very dangerous. It doesn’t allow for how different individuals have different sensitivity levels – the goodness or badness of sounds doesn’t reside in the environment but in our heads!

But perhaps that’s why the government likes their plans more than my plans! Already the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Culture are considering implementing the “Japan’s 100 best sounds” campaign (based on these theorists’ theories) in parks, cities, and so on. But what IS a “good sound environment?”

Perhaps the answer is, “Whatever the majority says it is!” Or, even more dangerously, “whatever the normal people say it is!” So whatever sounds the scientists select (with their acoustics and physiology research), if you don’t agree with them, you are automatically “abnormal” and therefore your opinion doesn’t count. “Seeing things from others’ point of view” no longer applies to you.

Of course these theorists would reply, “It’s not that simple, Nakajima!”

But if you talk to the people who design urban sounds and announcements, they will tell you that it IS that simple: their fundamental rule is: design what the average people want. Despite all their aesthetic sense and training, they can’t deviate from that fundamental rule even a little. I'd like them to admit that making  public spaces full of violent and evil sounds is part of their training, part of their occupation. I'd like them to admit that they cause suffering to some people, even if it is a tiny minority. And I'd like it if this newfound knowledge caused them to suffer a little (a lot!?) every time they designed a new "public sound" .
In a recent issue of the Asahi morning newspaper (1998, August 13th), there was the following report:

People calling themselves “noise fighters” think that the sounds you make are noise.
 In the train station, the alleyways, department stores, our cities overflow with loudspeaker sounds.  The urban sounds have drifted too far from real music, say a group of rebellious classical music percussionists, dubbed the “Japan Percussion Association”. The JPA has started a mission to save the world from “noise!” Counting the students of music schools, the JPA has over 1,000 members and they have begun an all-out hunt for bothersome sounds.  They are cataloguing and measuring them throughout the city. To try to have a lasting effect, though, they are preparing to work with government agencies on new regulations.
 I don’t disagree with the JPA. I think everyone should fight for what they believe in. But I’m a bit confused by their activities. Their solution seems to be: asking the the government to replace "bad" (non-musical) noises and announcements with "good" (musical) ones. But to people such as myself, this is no improvement at all, is it?!? What we resent is the fact that strangers are cramming our ears with sounds every second of the day, that strangers in faraway rooms have decided what we shall hear from morning till night. The actual "content" of the sounds is immaterial!

Some colleagues of mine at Osaka Music University say it’s already impossible to teach music education anymore in this society. “Modern Japan is so musically inferior!” they scream. !Not only do the kids raised in the modern “sound environment” lack the subtlety to understand classical music, they have even lost the ability to appreciate the many nuances of traditional Japanese sounds! Their sensitivity level is so low!” I sympathize with them 100 percent. At a faculty meeting, one sensei said, “Everyone! Isn’t musical education nowadays in a shameful state?!? Shouldn’t we blame ourselves?” I’m glad he said that! He continued, “We should begin to emphasize the role of quietness, silence, and dynamics in music.” I applauded him from the bottom of my heart. Just a small change like this is enough to give me courage to go on!

But, and maybe I’m being too picky here, even such passionate senseis and musicians don’t notice the SOUNDS once they go out into the street.

And in any case, none of their very passionate arguments ever overflows the classrooms and affects anyone of the MASSES  No matter how much they may sigh, wring their hands, and write their little essays,  they still haven't figured out the answer is: to FIGHT.  If they really think that "Musical education is 100% impossible these days!" then they should either go on strike until the education system is reformed, or they should quit their jobs!  Have some dignity, people!




JAPANESE ARE HALF FALLEN by Nakajima Yoshimichi

This is a translation of a Japanese book. You can buy the original book here.

In 2005, professor Nakajima Yoshimichi published JAPANESE ARE HALF FALLEN (日本人を<半分>降りる), which was an amazing 250 page rant against all the signs and pre-recorded announcements that pervade Japanese society. Even better, he is totally aware that his beliefs mark him as a cranky old coot, and he embraces that persona, alternating between reasoned logical discourse and insulting his readers. As you will see, the book starts off as almost comedy-  he recounts all the times he has physically and verbally assaulted Japanese officials that are yelling into their megaphones!!!
But then he gets more philosophical in the second half of the book:  beyond the simple noise and arrogance of the constant loudspeaker announcements, what are they doing to peoples' minds? Nakajima argues that the "loudspeaker culture" infantilizes the Japanese people, creating a "comforting blanket" of rules and slogans, so that people don't develop any sense of individual responsibility (as adults do in all other countries):  people don't take responsibility for their own actions or try to help strangers in trouble, because "The stranger should just read the signs and listen to the announcements and they'll know what to do." Nakajima asserts that, on account of being raised by signs, announcements and slogans, Japanese people don't develop the ability to think critically or develop their own ideas. The constant slogans convince people through sheer repetition, rather than logic and debate. The idea of "consent"  is lost. 
Nakajima  likes to repeat himself, likes to dwell on the same themes with obsessive ferocity, which makes parts of the book dull. But on the other hand, the monotony of the writing drives home his point about the suffering of people who cannot ignore the monotony of their society. 
I'll be posting my translation of this book in 5 parts, starting with the introduction, here:


I’d like you to imagine that you’re in a fictional country. You enter a restaurant and immediately hear loudspeakers giving you instructions, warnings, requests and admonitions, and expressions of gratitude. It starts from the moment you push the door open, and the door says WELCOME! THANK YOU FOR VISITING US AGAIN! And then, from somewhere else, another pre-recorded tape saying, PLEASE WAIT HERE. A WAITER WILL ARRIVE MOMENTARILY. PLEASE TAKE A SEAT IN THE LOBBY. PLEASE WAIT HERE. A WAITER WILL ARRIVE MOMENTARILY. PLEASE TAKE A SEAT IN THE LOBBY. PLEASE WAIT HERE. A WAITER WILL ARRIVE MOMENTARILY. PLEASE TAKE A SEAT IN THE LOBBY.

The tape repeats indefinitely until a waiter finally appears. She smiles politely but says nothing, since the speakers do all the talking: PLEASE FOLLOW THE WAITER, HONORED CUSTOMER. PLEASE WALK BEHIND HER UNTIL YOU ARRIVE AT YOUR SEATS.

And then, when you arrive at your seats, yet another loudspeaker announces, YOUR TABLE NUMBER IS TEN. PLEASE BE SEATED. Then, TABLE TEN! PLEASE PRESS THE BUTTON WHEN YOU’D LIKE THE WAITER TO TAKE YOUR ORDER.

After you order, the waiter silently bows, once again without saying a thing. Instead, the loudspeaker announces, in a high-pitched, too-cute voice, THANK YOU FOR YOUR ORDER, HONORABLE TABLE TEN! PLEASE REMAIN SEATED UNTIL YOUR FOOD ARRIVES. Where is the speaker hidden? You can’t see it.




These instructions continue throughout the whole meal. And that’s not all. Some other customers are eating Japanese food, so they receive a separate set of instructions looping from different loudspeakers: PLEASE BE CAREFUL WHEN PULLING YOUR CHOPSTICKS APART! CHECK TO MAKE SURE YOUR HANDS ARE IN THE APPROPRIATE SPOT, AND THEN PULL STRONGLY APART USING BOTH HANDS. IF YOU WANT SUGAR, PLEASE TURN THE SUGAR JAR UPSIDE-DOWN OVER YOUR FOOD AND SHAKE IT, BUT NOT TOO HARD, AS YOU’LL GET TOO MUCH SUGAR.

To add to the absurdity, another exceptionally loud announcement adds: PLEASE DON’T TALK LOUDLY DURING DINNER AS IT COULD CAUSE ANNOYANCE TO THOSE AT NEIGHBORING TABLES.


The announcements, with their inorganic patter, become entangled with one another, making the atmosphere confused and dehumanizing. They begin to drown one another out, so that they lose all meaning. To compensate for this, they are all turned up in volume gradually. They swirl, echo, and careen above your heads, trapped as you are in this artificial, mechanical sound-hell!

But you’d like that restaurant, wouldn’t you? After all, you can’t choose any other kind of restaurant in this country. They all have the same sound environment.

What’s more, even if you are determined to complain to the manager about how you couldn’t enjoy the food, he will definitely not understand your point! “You’re the only one who complains about this. It’s all in your head!” he will say, as if gently setting you straight about something painfully obvious.

“But,” you press your case, “You can’t really defend announcements like ‘Here’s how to pull chopsticks apart’???”

The manager says, “Those announcements are for westerners, who often come here – we have to be kind to them.”

“OK fine,” you say, “But telling us to chew our food thoroughly? Are you mad?”

“Well now,” the manager says, “All our announcements are carefully selected, and that particular one is among the most popular. Parents of small children really like that one, because then they don’t have to scold the children themselves. In fact we get many requests for even more announcements of that sort: EAT YOUR VEGETABLES, or DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT ‘I-LIKE-THIS-ONE-I-DON’T-LIKE-THAT-ONE’ and so on. We’re considering adding these announcements also.” And so on. The manager can answer all of your questions in this fashion, without batting an eye, as if the announcements were the most natural, logical thing in the world.

My wise readers are no doubt able to imagine all this.

Now I’d like you to imagine what it’s like to be me, in real life: every time I go on the bus, the train (especially shinkansen), the bank, department store, supermarket, parking lot, amusement park, or pretty much anywhere in Japan, I feel like I am in that fictional restaurant.

“What?” you say, “You think Japan is that extreme?” Well, you can go see for yourself if you’d like. Next lunch-break, go to any bank, or to Tokyo train station, and spend ten minutes listening to ALL the announcements. Now see for yourself how many speakers are bombing you with their sonic assaults. See for yourself how the announcements never end. See for yourself how few of them actually say anything useful. Then you’ll know the truth!


These sort of SOUNDS (in this book I use “sound” in the sense of, “the sounds with which I have a fucking problem.”) which I keep going on and on about . .. what do I propose to do about them? Well, frankly, there seems to be no solution or salvation for those of us whose “sound sensitivity level” is out of step with the majority. I should just give up, I suppose. Only those with an average “sensitivity level” can be comfortable in society. The rest of us either have to go live in a cave, or live in the world while suffering every single minute. We can’t do anything except complain amongst ourselves.

Our sufferings are three in number: FIRST, the actual SOUNDS that assault us at all times, everywhere. SECOND, the fact that nobody understands what we’re upset about causes more suffering. THIRD, our victim hood marks us as social outcasts, as people who are nothing but a burden on society. Our pain (all three varieties) – if it’s thought about at all – is considered funny. We’re the butt of the joke.

“Funny” is not, as you’d assume, the opposite of “serious” or the opposite of “painful.”  In fact, they’re all on the same vector. If person A is suffering from serious pain, that’s precisely what makes A funny to person B. The only time “serious” or “painful” is NOT funny is when it’s happening to YOU as well. If anything, sharing someone’s pain makes you TOO empathetic – you lose your sense of logic. But such situations are just an exception to the rule.

Even with something as horrific as the sarin-gas terror attacks, many Japanese people would joke about it: peering into their drinks, saying “Hmmm. Hope this doesn’t have sarin in it!” They joked about it – not because they didn’t understand that the terror victims felt pain – but because they personally weren’t victims of the attacks. This is the way humans deal with all sorts of pain. Even Hiroshima or Nagasaki can be the butt of jokes. Even Auschwitz. A young man committing suicide by jumping off a waterfall can be the butt of the joke. Philosophers and revolutionaries are often the butt of jokes, but no one more than the guy who writes a book with the totally futile, Quixotic premise of getting rid of all the SOUNDS.

(I’m talking about myself here!)

My BODY (in this book I use “body” in the sense of, “that part of me where my sensitivity lives.”) is in a state of psychic pain from all these “Do it like this! Don’t do it like that!” announcements. My BODY instinctively wants to refuse them. Whenever I go out, I use earplugs, and on top of those, I have headphones playing music . . . but still the SOUNDS penetrate! PLEASE DON’T ALL RUN ONTO THE TRAIN AT ONCE, AS IT CAN BE DANGEROUS. PLEASE DON’T ALL RUN ONTO THE TRAIN AT ONCE, AS IT CAN BE DANGEROUS. PLEASE DON’T ALL RUN ONTO THE TRAIN AT ONCE, AS IT CAN BE DANGEROUS. Hearing this sort of thing makes my BODY instinctively fly into a rage. Instinctively I fill with passionate hate, then wilt with embarrassment and powerlessness. The whole experience is exhausting and disgraceful. It’s real true suffering, so bad I almost want to cry. I’m really a sick man, but you treat me like I’m just the butt of a joke?!?

Right now, you’re furrowing your eyebrows, thinking to yourself, “I can’t make heads or tails of what he’s saying!” Well, take a look at your own life. Your mother told you, “Study harder! Have you finished your homework?” day in ,day out, with the same exact words. Do it like this! Don’t do it like that! Ten times a day, even! You got mad, didn’t you? And now, every day your wife nags at you, the same things, over and over: “Are you a lawyer yet? Are you still in bed? You should stop drinking!” Every day and every night! Don’t you start getting mad? Don’t you start to suffer a little? Don’t you want to say, “I get it already! Stop saying that already!” but even if you do, she definitely will not stop. If anything, she will grow even more fierce: “If I stop yelling at you, you’ll have no motivation to ever do anything! You’ll never fix your behavior on your own! If you want me to shut up, you should follow all my commands! Why haven’t you been promoted to section chief yet? Probably because I’m not reminding you enough how important that is! I’ve been too easy on you!”

Launching these violent words at you, salvo after unceasing salvo! You, who are bathed from dusk till dawn in this flood of abuse, wouldn’t you feel disgrace and shame after a while? Well, you know what? You’re funny! Your suffering and shame is funny to me!

HA HA HA HA, motherfucker!


I’ve let my theme expand too much. Let’s return to the matter of the SOUNDS. After a long time of suffering, a long time of activism, and a long time spent considering the situation, I finally had an insight: although our country is flooded with SOUNDS, in the West there are almost none. So in order to properly understand why our country is shaking with such fierce noise, we must first pause to compare our own “civilization level” to others.

The SOUNDS that fill me with a rage (which burns like hydrochloric acid!!!) seem to be central to our culture. Just as everyone likes to see the grand landscapes of nature and exciting scenes of the city, Japanese seem to need an audio scene at all times – what they call a “sound-scape.” So what I’d like to propose is: these meddlesome broadcasts are a unique point of our culture, and can be thought of as “JAPANESE CULTURAL NOISE.”

Here let me pause to address some objections you might have.

Yes, I’m aware that there is a lot of loudspeaker noise in various Asian countries, and the phenomenon is growing in Europe as well. And I’m afraid they might well catch up to us at some point. So I’m absolutely not saying “We should copy the West, the Western sound environment is better.”

This  ‘copy the West’ attitude began with the Meiji Restoration. And there’s still a lot of cultural critics who have this attitude. Even in daily life, I’m sorry to say I’m surrounded by such simple-minded people. And I’d like nothing more than to jump on the bandwagon, but my conscience won’t let me. It would be simply negligent to reduce my argument to just: “Copy the Western sound-scape!”

Certainly, as a Japanese citizen, I have a fervent desire to reduce the sound pollution, but I don’t want to be thought unpatriotic by my fellow countrymen. I know the majority doesn’t share my views, and I’m not such a fool that I would try to force everyone to be hyper-sensitive like me.

Of the Japanese who do share my views, I’m aware that most are professors, artists, authors, musicians, architects, in other words, the kind of people who have spent time in the West. To say nothing of translators or other people who make a living speaking Western languages. 

When this kind of ‘elite’ person asks for quiet, people instinctively get mad based on ‘elitist source’ of such comments, without really listening to the substance. People naturally think, “Oh, he’s trying to enlighten us dumb masses! What an attitude this guy has!” or, “Being sensitive to the SOUNDS is a mark of being very high-class, so I guess they must think we’re very low-class and insensitive.” This angers people, especially in a country like Japan, where equality is very important. And getting accused of such sentiments cuts me to my very marrow, so I want to be careful here.

“You sure like listening to yourself talk about nothing – I never met a man with so much free time as you!”

“If you like Europe so much, why don’t you move there?”

Honestly, communication is just getting more and more difficult.

This instinctive anger of the MASSES (in this book I use “masses” in the sense of, “the majority of Japanese who are tolerate the SOUNDS, or who think that it has nothing to do with them”) is only natural, I think.

The MASSES – they walk through this daily shower of “behavior management broadcasts”, with their “do this, do that!” messages, quietly, obediently, as if nothing is amiss. And after much reflection, I’ve realized: I can’t deny that I don’t respect the MASSES. Not only that, but if you put it to me that I scorn them, I couldn’t deny that, either. I think I’m in the right, and that’s that. So there it is, I’m arrogant. I want to blame the MASSES, then enlighten them, then lead them to the “correct” way. If that’s not arrogance, what is?

After more self-reflection, I’ve also realized that, in my arrogance, my reckless and indiscriminate blaming of everyone, that I might have hurt some feelings. Probably I’ve hurt a lot of people with my protests and yelling. Even my business card, with its pompous title of “TELECOMUNICATIONS UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR AND PHILOSOPHER” probably repels more people than I can count.

I know this. And I really hate myself for it. But I can’t quit my campaign. Why is that?

It’s not easy for me to keep fighting. And I’m positive that it’s not easy for me to hurt you thick-skinned people. I’m confident that I’m the number-one victim here. I’m positive that my struggle will never end, and confident that I’ll lose. 
But, self-consciousness of one’s own futility is a prerequisite for being Don Quixote! It’s this self-consciousness that gives me the courage to continue tilting at the windmill named Japan!

This concludes the introduction to JAPANESE ARE HALF FALLEN. I will be back next time with all of Chapter One.
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 While reading all those "explaining the dark side of Japan" books I posted about a while back, I noticed that most of the authors used really fucked-up, depressing kotowaza (old sayings) to show the traditional roots of self-defeating Japanese behaviors. These kotowaza are important because they are the only things that directly express  deep cultural assumptions that are usually hidden. Also they're hilarious.


Of course, all cultures have sexist/racist/just plain rude old sayings. Children should be seen and not heard!  And not all "old sayings" are actually indicative of how most people in the culture feel ("If she's old enough to bleed, she's old enough to breed.").  So, keeping that in mind. . . .




mukoumizu no kanshakumochi

truly women are reckless and hot-tempered

tsuma wa shita yori erabubeshi, tomo wa ue yori erabu beshi

Choose a wife from a lower station in life, and friends from a higher station in life.

kawaii ko wa bou de sodateyo

spare the rod and spoil the child (lit.: raise your beloved child with a stick)


Onna sannin yoreba kashimashii

wherever three women gather it is noisy (this is a pun based on the kanji for noisy, which consists of , literally, three women)


yuujo no makoto to tamago no shikaku wa nai

a sincere whore no more exists than does a square egg

[おんなのちえはさるじえ, onna no chie wa sarujie] a woman’s wisdom is monkey wisdom

nyoubo to kutsu wa furui ga ii

wives and shoes are better when old (i.e.once they have been "broken in")

compare to . . .


nyoubo to tatami wa atarashii ga ii

wives and tatami mats are better when new (i.e.: they are more attractive)


nakanu neko wa nezumi o toru

the cat that does not cry catches mice


Kiji mo nakazuba utaremai

the pheasant that keeps its mouth shut is least likely to get shot


Iwanu ga hana

lit: Not-speaking is the flower. (i.e. some things are better left unsaid;
Silence is golden)


Yabu wo tsutsuite hebi wo dasu

 Poke around in a bush and a snake will come out.

wazawai wa kuchi yori kitaru

misfortune comes from the mouth (i.e.: the words we speak, which cannot be taken back once spoken, cause great harm)

  waratte sonshita mono nashi

there is no loss to be had by laughing  (i.e. better to laugh since complaining might cause offense)

  mimi tookereba inochi nagashi

a deaf person lives long (since they don't hear what they're not supposed to)

tori o nakazuba uraremaji

there is safety in silence

kao ga kokoro no kagami

the face is the mirror of the heart (so the average Japanese person keeps a calm face) (interesting and depressing because other cultures, like  (at the risk of offending folks) Mediterranean cultures believe the same exact thing, but draw the exact opposite conclusion: the face is the mirror of the heart SO one should accentuate one's speech with  dramatic facial expressions) The Japanese interpretation of this idiom is not just colder but much more paranoid: the heart is something you DON'T want people to see.

  kenka ryouseibai

when two quarrel, both are in the wrong

aite no nai kenka wa dekinu

you cannot have a fight alone


These last two are both tied to the concept of "wa". Usually "WA" is  translated as "harmony" but as you can see – wa really means "blame the girl who got punched for shattering the harmony".  Wa makes no distinctions between perpetrator and victim.



Kaeru no ko wa kaeru

A frog's son is still a frog

motoki ni masaru uraki nashi

no branch surpasses the trunk; no fountain can rise higher than its source



Binbou nin no ko takusan
The poor have a lot of children


Matsudai no haji!

Samurai insult: “the shame till the last generation of the IE”

mi wa ichidai, na wa matsudai

life is for one generation, a good name is forever

nikumarekko yo ni habakaru

the world shuns a hated child (n.b.: but such children often grow up into people with strong personalities, for better or worse)

nikumarekko yo ni habikoru

a hated child will run wild through the world (n.b.: he may therefore be successful and live a long life, though often becoming arrogant in the process)


toshiyori ni hiyamizu:

“like cold water drunk by an elderly person”.

Japanese believe that drinking cold water makes olds cramp up and get sick.

This expression means, “Old folks should not try to have an active life or go out and have fun since they will only get hurt and it’s their own fault.”



Kusai mono ni futa
To put a lid on something that stinks (mentally or physically handicapped family member, for instance. Or one's own sexual abuse, domestic violence situation. Remember what I said about wa?)

nou aru taka tsume o kakusu

the capable hawk hides his claws; a talented person is modest

deru kui ga utareru

don’t make waves; don’t rock the boat, (lit.: the protruding peg gets pounded down) Used to indicate that being distinct, different, or obvious is not a good thing.

Most gaijin think that this means specifically THEM: people who are different looking or have an obviously different lifestyle. But actually, it's even more fucked: "Deru kui" traditionally refers to regular-looking people, ethnic Japanese people, who are doing socially acceptable jobs . . . . but they do the jobs BETTER or FASTER than their co-workers, which makes the co-workers jealous. That's it.


Yanagi ni kaze.

A will before the wind. (i.e. Follow the path of least resistance.)


Sato ni haitte ha sato ni shitagae

Literal: Entering the village, obey the village.


U wo mane suru karasu mizu ni oboreru.

“The crow that mimics a cormorant is drowned.”

ichijou no ya wa orubeku, juujou wa orubekarazu

in union there is strength (lit.: one arrow may break, but ten will not)

kazu ookereba, anzen nari

there is safety in numbers


akashingo, minna de watareba kowakunai

“red light: if we all cross together we have nothing to fear.” Apparently this one is used by drunk beuracrats behaving badly.


kaze ni mukatte tsuba suru

He  who spits against the winds spits in his own face


korobanu saki no tsue

taking all necessary precautions (lit.: a walking stick before you fall)


Hitomishiri wo suru
lit: Look at people and know.

Wait and see what everyone else thinks.

abunai koto wa kega no uchi

 lit.:  dangerous things invite wounds

homerareru yori soshirareru

rather than being praised, avoid being slandered

According to the book INSIDE THE KAISHA, this belief motivates most of Japanese decision making. For instance, if you are working at  any organization (from a rock band to a major corporation), and you notice a faster, better way to do things, you think to yourself "If i try it the new way and fuck up, I will never in a million years be forgiven for deviating from the path. But even if my new way is a huge success, I will not really get a lot of credit or praise for it." That's why Japanese society is so slow to correct its faults: there is no incentive to innovate.

minu ga hana

not to see is a flower (i.e. ignorance is bliss)

mi no hodo o shire

literally; know the boundaries of your own body (i.e. know your limits)

ishibashi o tataite wataru

cross a stone bridge by tapping on it  (i.e. be very cautious, to; be doubly cautious)

nen niwa nen o ire

one cannot be too careful 


ryouba wa benei o mite yuku

ryouba hito-muchi


a good horse runs by watching the shadow of the whip (i.e.: the horse needs only the slightest instruction as to what to do)

(a smart person will know what to do even with very little instruction)

ichi o kiite, juu o shiru

a word to the wise is sufficient (lit.: hearing one and knowing ten)

Again according to INSIDE THE KAISHA, this (and not sheer stubbornness) is why most salarimen work such long hours: if the boss hints that maybe he wants to know about minerals for tomorrow's meeting, it's the responsibility of his staff to prepare 100 reports on every concievable type of mineral, regardless of if that's what the boss actually wanted. Because to just ASK him would be unbearably rude.



hosoku nagaku

slender and long (describes a long and frugal life)

mi o koroshite jin o nasu

lit :  a candle lights others and consumes itself (i.e. sacrifice one’s life to do good)

enryou hidaruishi, date samushi

 lit.: being reserved makes one hungry, and being a showoff makes one cold

  nagaiki sureba haji ooshi

 if you live a long life, you will have much to be ashamed of

kerai o naraneba, kerai o tsukaenu

lit.: you cannot use a retainer unless you have been a retainer (i.e. by obeying we learn to command)

asobi-nin ni hima nashi

pleasure seekers have no leisure (their time is consumed by all their activities)



Ishi no ue nimo sannen

Lit: Sitting on a stone for three years. (i.e. endure a shitty job  or terrible athletics club or general peer hazing for three years, THEN decide if you like it or not)

naranu kannin suru ga kannin

to endure what is cannot be endured is true endurance (i.e.: bearing what is unbearable is true forbearance)



Sen’yu koraku

first distress, later pleasure



“Silent worms dig holes in the walls.”

Anyone know the Japanese for this one?

壁に耳あり、障子に目あ り
kabe ni mimi ari, shouji ni me ari

 the walls have ears and the paper screens [shouji] have eyes.

shinin ni kuchi nashi

 a dead person has no mouth

hiru niwa me ari, yori niwa mimi ari

the day has eyes, the night has ears


magaraneba yo ga watarenu

unless you are crooked, you cannot get along in the world

makereba zoku

lit.: if defeated, you are a traitor (i/e/ history goes to the victors)

rika no kanmuri o tadasazu

lit.: do not adjust your tiara while under a peach tree (i.e.: do nothing suspicious when you might be seen by others)

yuushou reppai

lit.: the superior wins, the inferior fails (i.e. survival of the fittest)



Shiranu ga hotoke.

Lit: Not knowing is Buddha. (i.e. Ignorance is bliss. / What you don’t know can't hurt you)


Soron sansei, kakuron hantai

in general, yes. In this case, no. (the core of the so-called "situational morality" of the Japanese)


Makeru Ga Kachi

Sometimes the best gain is to lose

fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto

in with fortune, out with demons (said on the festival Setsubun)

It's just a kid's game, but that didn't stop me from getting into a huge fight with my girlfriend over the issue of :"Is childhood really the best time to teach people to hate outsiders?"

She was like, "No, the outsiders are demons, so that's ok. And we try to bring good luck inside!" I was like, "Yeah, exactly! Can you really not see why that might push a button on outsiders like me?"

inochi no sentaku

lit.: laundering of life (a very feudal way of referring to recreation, fun. . .you know. . .WHAT LIFE IS SUPPOSED TO BE) Just give the peasants enough recreation so they don't rebel, and then return them to the fields. . .

yoitewa honshou o arawasu

when drunk people reveal their true selves



Tabi no haji wa kakisute

on a journey, cast off shame (I assume this is the one said by businessmen going on sex tours in Thailand?)



Shinto mekkyaku sureba hi mo mata suzushi

clear your mind of mundane thoughts and you will find even fire cool.




Tenjo tenga yuiga dokuson

in heaven and in earth, only I am lord.

What does that even mean??



Mukashi no joushiki wa ima no doutoku

yesterday's common sense is today's moral. Meaning that some people follow some rules with great self-righteousness, without even understanding the real reason for the rule anymore.

My pal's grand-dad explained this one to me, but I can't find it anywhere on google.


Kareki mo yama no nigiwai.

Better a dead tree on a mountaintop than no tree at all. Imagine all the faces of the kids that heard THAT one.


rengi de hara kiru

lit.: commit harakiri with a pestle (i.e. do something in an ineffective way)

  ikimi wa shi ni mi

to live is to die (lit.: a living body is a dying body)

for a huge dictionary of kotowaza (not all depressing) go here (all in japanese, I'm afraid. . . .)


mp3 post: old dirty bastard edits

OK – here is about 100 songs where ODB had one verse, edited down to JUST his verses. The kids probably have a name for this sort of thing.


This includes all the Wu albums, but it's mostly one-off random collabos. Part two also has the whole Osirus mixtape edited down. Honestly man that Osirus was kind of a rip-off. If you only have 8 bars of ODB, don't copy and paste it until the song is 3 minutes.


 part one

part two