Feb 17, 2004

Listen... hearing nothing

Today I stayed inside working most of the day, too. I heard the same sounds as yesterday, minus the oil truck and plus a thrift shop truck.

Because we live in Nerima-ku toward the outside of Tokyo's 23 wards, our neighborhood is a relatively quiet area of residences and small businesses between one downtown to the east and the cities of Tokyo to the west. Naturally, we're insulated from certain city noises.

Here are some sounds I didn't hear the past few days:

Kogal - One of Japan's weirder exports. This started out as just a high school girl thing, but turned into a phenomenon. While the boom may be over, they're still out there, trust me. Using their outdoor voices indoors, loitering, and doing whatever else good kogals do. This guy offers an amusing, if somewhat whitebread, mistaken and naive description of Japanese youth culture, including the kogal.

Sound Trucks - seems to be the best overall description for these beasts. They tend to belong to, but are not limited to, right-wing organizations. (Stores sometimes use them to announce grand openings, and election time really brings the noize.) As you can see from these wallpaper-size pics, most of them have two or three top-mounted mega-loudspeakers both in front and back. Then what do they do? Drive around town blaring anthems and slogans at inhumane decibel levels. The Ministry of the Environment has recognized them as a social problem and, in typical Japanese fashion, recommended that "measures be taken." But as you can see in the Noise Regulation Law, two articles related to traffic noise have been deleted, and the penalties are a slap on the hand with a withered 1000-yen bill.

Missing Elderly Announcements - these we heard almost daily during our year in Shizuoka. Somebody wanders away from a nursing home - say, a 78-year old man in brown slacks and a gray sweater - and the city would broadcast this information over a PA system that looks like the tornado sirens back in Nebraska. First time I heard one of these I had no idea what they were saying. Huh? North Korea lobbed something else up? Foreigner curfew? Nope. Just return old Jiro if you find him.

Elevator Girls - and other disembodied voices of commerce. Elevator girls may not be as common as they were during the Monet-soaked bubble heyday, but some places still employ them. Like my favorite Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku. What do they do? Welcome visitors to the elevator, read off the product offerings on each floor, and bow 2,500 times a day. Stores that can't afford a real elevator girl, or entry way girl, or whatnot, use the "Welcome to our store/bus/restaurant/etc." voice recordings found elsewhere throughout Japan.

Cicadas - because they come out to play in the summer. There're lots of different kinds, too... but they're all loud.

For more on sounds I may or may not be hearing, please read "Noisiest Nation in the World?"

Soy of the Day - a triple-dose today. dinner. miso soup with fried tofu. lunchtime. miso soup with mochi and thin-sliced leek, topped with kaiware daikon (daikon radish sprouts).


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