Citizens are up in arms. Their neighborhoods are being invaded by the noise generated by children at daycare centers, and must be defended. How? With individual complaints to begin with, followed, if necessary, by organized protests. Beyond that are the courts – a last but not unthinkable resort. Several cases nationwide already have gone to court.
Uneasily aware of the fact, a daycare operator called Blossom suspended its planned April 1 opening of a new daycare center in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward. The hope is that passions will die down and an amicable settlement emerge. Sometimes that happens. More often, it doesn’t.
Daycare, you’d think, is innocence itself, uncontroversial if any topic is. The nation needs children. Fewer and fewer are being born – due in large part to a shortage of daycare centers. Daycare centers take daytime charge of the preschool children of working parents. Preschool children are harmless and adorable. What’s the problem?
Noise. Children play. Playing children are noisy. That’s life. On the other hand, residents of quiet neighborhoods want quiet. That’s life too. Central and local governments struggling to fill the daycare vacuum find themselves in increasingly bitter conflict with local residents determined to defend their peace and quiet.
Nationwide, reports NHK (March 31), some 43,000 kids are on daycare waiting lists, waiting for openings. The number for the Tokyo metropolitan area is 12,447. Meguro’s waiting lists, says J-Cast (March 31), rank 8th among Tokyo’s 23 wards – 247 names long. The Blossom center would have accommodated 57. Whether the Blossom center has a future, the future will tell.
Opposition to it began almost as soon as it became known that the ward government was sounding out various private sector daycare operators about their possible cooperation. That was last October. As much as anything else, says J-Cast, residents were infuriated by the way the project was sprung on them, and Yoshitaka Nishio, president of the company that operates Blossom, admits they have a point. “We pushed the wrong button on that,” he says, meaning meetings should have been held with residents beforehand.
What he would have heard is clear from comments collected by J-Cast. Shouting, laughing, maybe sometimes crying children whose emotions and expressions of them know no bounds, are the biggest problem but not the only one. Another is increased traffic along narrow residential streets not designed for it. One comment sums things up: “It’ll turn into a completely different neighborhood.”
One of several ongoing court cases, mentioned by NHK, concerns a daycare center that went up in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward in 2006. Neighbors from day one expressed anxiety about noise. The center promised soundproof walls. They did the trick when the kids were indoors but not, obviously, when they played outside. A Tokyo ordinance in effect at the time set a maximum noise limit of 45 decibels, which plaintiffs say the center exceeds. A suit was filed in 2011 and the case is ongoing.
The ordinance in question has lately been amended, a revised version going into effect on April 1. It exempts preschool children from the 45-decibel standards and calls upon the parties concerned to reach agreement based on common sense rather than on the letter of the law. Fair enough – but between children’s rights to make as much noise as their little lungs can produce and grownups’ rights to quiet in their own homes, where does common sense lie?© Japan Today