Back to LCJ homeAbout UsYour PageContact English TreeEnglish Tree Company PolicyVisit the Business Portal

General Living

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 abode).

Of 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.

Interesting? Sure. Let’s take a look at what this actually means for us by briefly examining how sound overload affects our level of alertness.

Our 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.


So when does noise affect us?

During 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.

Noise at night can have some profound effects on us while we sleep.

The 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 in productivity.


Are you getting the picture?

Keep 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.

So, 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 island:

1. 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 you!!!

It 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.

Reference material
Berglund, B., & Lindvall, T. (Eds.). Community noise. Archives of the Center for Sensory Research, 1995, 2(1), 1-195.