When I arrived in Japan, one
of the first things I noticed, apart from the snow,
was the level of traffic noise. Coming from, a relatively
quiet part of the world, it took me some time to
adjust to my new downtown surroundings. However,
adjust I did. Over time I have become somewhat desensitized
to the continuous noise everyone in urban Japan
experiences to some extent- I even became accustomed
to the incoming aircraft that would sometimes fly
over my house in three-minute intervals en-route
to Nagoya’s old airport in Komaki (a big ‘hurrah’
for the new Centrair International Airport for taking
air traffic flight paths decidedly away from my
course, there are countless beautifully serene areas
in Japan, but the fact remains that Japan, on the
whole, is overrun by unwanted ‘noise’.
Consider this compelling MOE (Ministry of Environment)
statistic: in 1997, 87% of inhabited areas failed
to live up to minimum environmental quality standards
where noise level was concerned. At the risk of
overstating the dire state of affairs, that means
people in nearly 9 out of 10 areas are being inundated
by noise above acceptable levels.
Sure. Let’s take a look at what this actually
means for us by briefly examining how sound overload
affects our level of alertness.
environment is aurally represented by a continuous
cacophony of sound received through the ear and
lower auditory system. The brain sifts through the
massive amounts of incoming acoustical data and
selects to focus on that which is most relevant
to us. The brain receives impulses from the auditory
nerve, which, in turn, allows us to regulate our
vigilance and alertness. This means that, the noisier
a place is, the more wakeful we tend to be.
when does noise affect us?
the day noise might be considered less of a problem
as it is an acceptable part of the society we live
in. Although people tend to deal with noise a lot
better during waking hours, noise still has some
rather serious effects on our level of comfort and
well-being. Anyone out there who has ever worked
in a sales office here in Japan can certainly appreciate
this. However, after a long day at your place of
work, it is nice to picture some tranquil space
waiting for you at home- a serene little island
(very little in some cases). This mirage fades all
too quickly when you reach your sofa and remember
that your apartment is situated at the intersection
of two main roads or, even worse, next to a train
line- not a great deal you can do about it. So,
you grab a beer from the fridge, settle into your
futon and slowly drift off to sleep. Despite the
noise, you manage to get to sleep, so noise wasn’t
a problem, right? You might be surprised.
at night can have some profound effects on us while
constant drone of traffic interspersed with the
extremely annoying “biker gang” revving,
all seasoned with a dash of emergency vehicle sirens
may be having more of an effect on your peaceful
slumber than you think. In fact, there are a variety
of detrimental effects resulting from exposure to
noise during sleep. These include, for example,
having trouble even getting to sleep, changes in
the depth or pattern of sleep, waking up during
the night (whether you are conscious of these events
or not), increased blood pressure and increased
heart rate. These are merely the effects that can
be observed during sleep disturbance. The other,
more noticeable effects can be observed (and felt)
the following day. These can include the ‘didn’t
get a good night sleep’ feeling, fatigue,
increased irritability, mood swings and decreases
you getting the picture?
in mind that you may not even be aware of how this
noise is affecting you. Let me give you an example.
The other night I had, what I thought, was a peaceful
night sleep. I got the standard eight hours recommended
by every doting mother and yet awoke feeling tired
and run down. It all started to make sense when
I heard from my wife that she had had a terrible
night’s sleep due to dreams about karaoke
booths churning out nothing but audio tracks of
revving motorcycle engines.
what can we do to minimize the effects this aural
carnage is having on us? Move? - A drastic suggestion,
but not as silly as it sounds. Listen to heavy metal
in your broom closet until you go deaf? - Definitely,
as silly as it sounds.
Let’s take a look at some easy-to-implement
solutions that can help and that won’t require
moving vans or treatment for tinnitus and that can
actually increase the pleasantry of your little
Check the window and door seals in your apartment.
Sound can, and does, get in through even the smallest
of small cracks. You can buy weather stripping and
filler from a hardware store- a very cheap solution
with some remarkable results. Just make sure you
don’t modify the apartment permanently without
your landlord’s approval, or you’ll
have even more noise to deal with.
2. Turn off any appliances you don’t need
to leave on. Some appliances produce frequencies
which can be disturbing to sleep.
3. Buy some thick, full-length curtains- the thicker,
the better. This will help absorb some of the sound
coming through the glass and will dampen any sound
reflections inside your apartment (like turning
down the reverb).
4. Check out some noise-canceling headphones. An
extreme option, but Sony makes a great headset that
cancels out noise under the 300 kHz frequency range.
This can be quite helpful when you consider that
an idling diesel engine can produce large amounts
of low frequency sound in the 20 to 150 kHz frequency
range. These headphones are perfect for deadening
the drone of outside traffic.
5. Respect your neighbors, so that they respect
all sounds rather “commonsense,” doesn’t
it? It is, but sometimes even the best of us needs
a little reminder from time to time. ETJ fully hopes
this ‘reminder’ will help to make your
environment a little better.
Berglund, B., & Lindvall, T. (Eds.). Community
noise. Archives of the Center for Sensory Research,
1995, 2(1), 1-195.