Tokyo is, in my opinion, a pretty noisy city. In residential areas, it’s quiet, but for the most part, hearing other humans being humans and doing humany things is unavoidable. Train stations and shopping centers sometimes get to volumes so loud you have to yell just to have a conversation. While this is to be expected when living in a metropolis like Tokyo, some of it we could do without. Here’s a brief(ish) overview of some things that make noise…but really, really don’t need to.
1. Overenthusiastic Employees
Japan has a way of letting people know about deals, new product availability, discounts, etc.. It’s called SHOUTING AT YOU IN CLOSE PROXIMITY.
In more popular, traffic-heavy areas of the city, this is more prevalent, but it exists just about everywhere to a certain degree. It’s common for shop and restaurant staff to stand in front of their place of business and say “irrasshaimase” (roughly, “welcome”) every eight seconds. Not all businesses do this, and it’s not constant, but it’s definitely a thing.
The next level of this I see in city centers – Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Akihabara…places stuffed with people. Employees stand outside the store with a microphone that is hooked up to a sound system on the sidewalk. The employee quickly and loudly reads deals the shop has going, often while music is blasted. Barring access to a sound system, staff will yell into the street, wave signs at passerby, or even use a bullhorn. I’ve seen men on ladders yelling advertisements through a megaphone with one hand and waving a sign with the other.
Here’s a prime example – this photo is from Takeshita Dori in teen haven Harajuku. Her job is to stand on the stool and make you painfully aware of “Claire’s Last Sale”. Sounds ominous.
These advertisements are noisy, but for the most part, surprisingly easy to ignore after a while. The thing I wonder most is: how effective are these tactics? I never see a flood of people hurrying to a shop just because someone is yelling deals at them.
2. Garbage trucks…from hell
Next on the list of unnecessarily noisy things: the garbage trucks in my sector of Tokyo. Think of ice cream trucks when you were a kid. I remember listening for the happy melody of the approaching ice cream truck on summer afternoons. It heralded the bringing of ice cream straight to my house – few things are that awesome (even now, I must admit).
This garbage truck is similar in that it plays a song as it drives around the neighborhood. It is dissimilar in that the truck circles the neighborhood at about 8 or 9 AM and the happy little song it plays is loud enough to wake people from sleep, thus reminding them to put out their garbage in case they have forgotten to.
I sleep in whenever it is humanly possible. These trucks have disrupted my sleep many, many times. I can’t imagine that so many people forget about their garbage as to warrant this jingle feature. This isn’t present everywhere in Tokyo – I guess I’m just lucky and ended up in a zone where some local community leader had had enough of forgetting his garbage, so he instituted this rule.
This is a crappy photo I took with my phone from my balcony several months ago. At the time I took it, I was groggy and grumpy from being awakened by the offending blue truck, and swore to my sleepy self to reveal to the world the terrors of the morning garbage alarm.
Other automobiles make noise – vans advertising new albums and concerts, phone applications, government officials – you name it. People are paid to drive these vehicles around populated areas while the message and/or music is blasted from roof-mounted speakers. If you’re unlucky you end up sitting on a street corner one of these cars happens to be circling. I once saw a caravan of humvees roaming the streets of Shibuya blasting Usher’s music to promote his new album.
3. Motion activated deals
The last thing on today’s list (though by no means the last unnecessarily noisy thing in this city) is the supermarket. Some supermarkets have motion activated messages. As you move past a certain item in the store, the message will trigger, and suddenly a Japanese voice will loudly describe the amazing deal they currently have for mustard. The messages are programmed to be specific to whatever section of the store you’re in.
I find myself actively avoiding aisles in the supermarket where I know these are just because I don’t like being shouted at about tuna prices while I’m on my way to pick up eggs. These are not in all supermarkets, and I don’t always notice them, especially if the supermarket is busy and noisy anyway, but they’re there.
These things (and more) were nearly silent aspects of life in the states. While I can see the ultimate purpose behind these noisemakers and understand their place, I could do without them. Tokyo needs all the quiet it can get.