Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
The setting sun cast a shimmering hue of gold across the cerulean sea as I made my way past the outcropping of rock that dotted the pristine shoreline. I was making good time, though thoughts of why and where I was bound seemed inconsequential as I luxuriated in the exquisite feeling of weightlessness that enveloped my body. Inexplicably and without warning I was suddenly drawn into a vortex of sound dominated by the shrill chant of a woman armed with a microphone, who standing ominously over me as I slept repeated the same incomprehensible name over and over again.... As I abruptly sat up in bed it took a bleary eyed moment to realize the madwoman who had somehow managed to enter my room was in reality driving past my apartment in one of the numerous vans that I and the rest of the populous would be subjected to for the next several weeks. General election campaigns in Tokyo were in full boom. From the early morning hours to late evening fleets of these horror-on-wheels invade the city, emitting messages from high powered loudspeakers atop micro buses consisting entirely of an endless repetition of their favorite candidates name.
As in most cities in Japan, Tokyo suffers from lack of regulations concerning noise pollution, and those that do exist are rarely enforced. A leisurely stroll down the bustling streets of Shinjuku is guaranteed to assail the senses with the scores of CD shops, game centers, and electronic outlets all insisting on sharing their latest hit song or promotional come-on at peak volume by mounting speakers on their storefronts. Entering one of the department stores that line the teeming avenues in hope of gaining a reprise from the commotion, you're confronted instead with a series of glaring announcements promoting any number of bargains to be had that day. As you step upon the escalator a sonorous voice that appears to descend from the celestial sphere instructs you in no uncertain terms to “stand on the center of the step” and to “watch your children carefully”. Merging once more with the cacophony outside, you meander aimlessly down a narrow alleyway when the seductive voice of a woman hidden from view beckons to you with the alluring phrase of “I'm backing up, I'm backing up”, only to discover as you round the corner expectantly she resides within the garbage trucks automatic recording machine.
Noise has always been a problem in Tokyo, and in a city that is home to more than two million cars, the dilemma is reaching alarming proportions. Adding to the confusion is the infamous ultra right wing group known as Uyoku, whose modified trucks and buses painted black and armed with massive loudspeakers patrol the inner city broadcasting thunderous propaganda and martial music at glass shattering levels, transmitting a form of high decibel intimidation that can be not only detrimental to your political views, but to your ears as well. Much less rabid in their intent but also exasperating are the mobile vendors, whose distinctive prerecorded songs played non stop and without variation can be heard blocks away as they slowly traverse the thoroughfares selling anything from grilled sweet potatoes to laundry poles. Late night suburbia is also not to be spared the onslaught. Packs of young marauders known as Bosozoku terrorize the sleeping multitudes with swarms of motorcycles devoid of mufflers which buzz mercilessly through the slumbering streets in a collective revving of motors striving successfully to simulate the sound of jets approaching the runway.
After wearing out a myriad of earplugs in an attempt to squelch the perpetual clamor, I decided one afternoon to take the long due vacation I'd been promising myself. Over the course of the next several days I made the necessary arrangements, and was soon waking up each morning to the sound of chirping birds at my friend's countryside home in Oregon. The time spent in my haven of tranquility passed pleasantly enough, but I found myself yearning to return to the excitement of the big city. Arriving at Narita airport a few days later I gathered my bags and made my way to the train counter, where purchasing a ticket I passed through the entrance gate which suddenly erupted in a peal of clangs and whistles, as in my haste I had activated the machine's alarm system by entering the wrong entryway. Moments later as I stood on the platform the blurred flash of a bullet train sped past into the darkness, the surging rush of air it expelled followed instantly by the deafening blast of its horn. Wearily negotiating the last remaining steps from the station that led home I could hear the plaintive refrain of sirens in the distance, their interminable lament momentarily superseding the din of traffic that serves as a permanent backdrop to the city. Fumbling with my keys, I paused at the door as the incessant bark of my neighbor's dog quickly evolved into a primordial wail that marked the proclamation of my return. A wry smile of resignation crossed my lips as I stepped into the foyer that led to my apartment. There could be no doubt about it.
I was back in Tokyo...
Jim Sherard is the author of "Land of the Rising Sun, A Guide to Living and Working in Japan", which can be found at: www.escapeartist.com/e_Books/Living_and_Working_in_Japan/Living_and_Working_in_Japan.html