Despite Japan’s international image as a country of serene temples and quiet gardens, according to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization, Japan is the noisiest country in the world.
To prevent negative effects, the WHO recommends avoiding being exposed to noise over 53 decibels. The legal average limit in Japan is about 70, a number based on data 50 years out of date, according to Prof Matsui of Hokkaido University who spoke about the problem in an NHK feature on noise pollution in Japan.
While the WHO’s numbers are likely to be a bit skewed due to the vast size of Japan’s major cities and the presence of several noise-creating airbases, there is definitely more than a grain of truth to this decibel-intense soundscape.
Even in local news concerns about noise pollution are rising with noise coming in as one of the top reasons citizens complain to the Environment Dispute Coordination Commission, a government organization that oversees environmental disputes.
Noise pollution in Japan’s cities
Of course, in rural areas, there are plenty of pockets of quiet. But in major cities, the combination of a culture of constant intrusive alerts and warnings, salespeople screaming out deals and stores’ background music, thin walls and seasonal (obnoxiously loud) local election campaigning, creates a situation in which your ears are constantly under attack — whether you’re consciously aware of it or not.
Japanese train stations, in particular, seem to be a haven of noise, with constant overlapping announcements and megaphone-wielding staff. In 2008 a doctor independently measured the sound levels of several stations and found that Tokyo hubs like Ueno and Tameike-Sanno were buzzing around 100 decibels, almost double the WHO’s recommended 53.
Nonetheless, on the surface urbanites appear to have adapted to the cries of the city. As a lover of peace and quiet, I thought I had managed to control my exposure to noise pollution well, by choosing a relatively quiet place to live and trying to avoid major stations and tourist areas as much as possible.
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