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Japan’s problem with noise pollution

By Chiara Terzuolo

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 The legal average limit in Japan is about 70, a number based on data 50 years out of date, according to Prof Matsui of Hokkaido University who spoke about the problem in an NHK feature on noise pollution in Japan.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.

Political campaigning in Japan involves driving around in a van yelling out the name of a politician.

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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I really hate it when political candidates are slowly roaming the road with their speaker phones blurting out their campaign "promises" full blast during the day.

Although I am quite surprised at how much noise pachinko parlors keep inside. Only when the doors open do you hear the deafening noise.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

A es I agree, and further I was surprised by loud speakers on emergency vehicles, and further I wish more delivery vehicles were electric.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I wish Nissan much joy with their pro plus electric vehicle navigation system and it was good to see the golf ball (like sphero), advertisement, much noise does emanate from vehicles with traditional petrol/diesel engines.

When I was down at the docks at Yokohama, I thought if the new container trucks could be HYBRID it would help noise and the smell of air too.

In the queue they could be on electric, like in the Taxi Queue is the Prius.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

This is really nothing compared to the Horns in India and Sirens in UK.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Image this coming out of a speaker truck . . . . .


9 ( +9 / -0 )

The TV is also full of programmes in which everyone is shouting. That problem is easily solved by turning it off.

The police used to drive around at 3 or 4 in the morning where we live, shouting through their loudspeaker at the taxis parked on the side of the road (a wide road with multiple lanes and almost no traffic at 3 am). They would do this every 20-30 minutes. I complained several times and eventually they stopped. One young policeman asserted that they could use their speakers in an emergency and insisted that illegally parked cars at 4 am were an emergency matter. So there you are: if you see an illegally parked car, call 110; it's an emergency!

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Some amusing comments on here today! My biggest gripe is the spirit-crushing piped music that exists almost everywhere. They even play it on ski hills and in caves. Could you imagine the insanity of having to work in a store like Hard Off or Yamada Denki?

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Lol man I don't wanna hear it... literally! Go to Chicago and them talk to me about noice pollution. Yeah the politicians are annoying but it doesn't last long and it isn't every day. Chicago is always loud and gross.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

"according to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization, Japan is the noisiest country in the world."

The 2018 WHO report makes no reference whatsoever to Japan. It is not a report on actual noise levels but rather a recommendation for a noise limit in Europe based on examination of numerous studies (some Japanese) about the negative effects of noise.


It is entitled Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region (2018). Either the author or the academic she cites is taking the 53 dcb recommendation in this report and saying that because out of date noise limits (not data on actual noise levels) for Japan average 70 dcb "Japan is the noisiest country in the world."

Either the author did not understand (or read) the WHO report or she is deliberately misrepresenting its conents.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

The noisy Atsugi base jets got me free double glazed windows, soundproof doors, new damper system for the kitchen and new air conditioners. Now the jets have moved, so pretty cool with that.

One noise that is almost completely stopped is the clatter of motor bikes in the morning delivering newspapers starting at 3:30 am and thank the gods for that.

I still find that the mountains are wired up with loud speakers though.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

 100 decibels, almost double the WHO’s recommended 53

The decibel scale is logarithmic: add 10db and you have multiplied the energy by 10. So 100db is more like 50,000 times 53db, not just double.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

This is the noisiest country I've ever been to. Amplified noise in public is a big problem I've never encountered elsewhere.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

and the presence of several noise-creating airbases


Stopped reading right there. What a silly comment when talking about noise pollution in Japan. They other day I looked for the speaker blaring pollution at me while filling my gas tank. Wanted to cover it, but deep down inside I wanted to destroy it.

3 ( +3 / -0 )


A few years ago I had finally got my infant daughter to sleep when she was woken up by one of those cars blaring out the promise of "a quiet neighborhood in which to raise your family."

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I live in the country and when I measured the noise of the cicadas just now it was 77.9 db. so yes, Japan is a very noisy country.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Noisiest place I remember was downtown Rome. Fortunately the hotel we stayed at, a very cheap and convenient little place, had double pane windows and air conditioning, so we could keep most of the noise outside. Seems to me that Tokyo could benefit from more double pane windows. A little peace and quiet can be a real blessing.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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