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It’s time to get rid of sound trucks

67 Comments
By Daniel Robson

Everybody hates a speaker truck. But it’s not the politicians barking their dubious manifestos that cause me the most distress. For sure, they’re annoying, especially when you’re waiting for a late friend in a place like Hachiko Square, the lawmakers’ lies boring through your skull as you push your noise-canceling earphones dangerously deep into your ears. And yes, we all wish they’d drop dead, flopping lifelessly from atop their trucks with a damp thud and raising the first cheers of their career from the overjoyed masses, who’d crowd around with their camera phones to snap a piece of divine justice in action.

But here’s the thing: I don’t live in Hachiko Square. Nobody does. These guys can shriek their septic, blinkered rhetoric all day long, but it only affects me personally for a few minutes at worst. (Well, it depends on how late my friend is.)

Anyway, I digress. The speaker trucks I hate most are the ones advertising their services with a recorded message that blasts out on an endless loop as they drive around my sleepy suburban neighborhood, offering to collect my outsize garbage or sell me a baked potato. At 8 a.m. On a Sunday. These guys fill me with a special kind of rage: a feeling of wrath that is pure and acute. It’s the sort of hatred that I imagine pushes a budding Bond villain into finally starting that evil empire, an anger that could turn you firmly but willingly to the dark side.

Call me lazy, but my favorite pastime at 8 a.m. on a Sunday — or until 10 or 11 a.m. on any day of the week, frankly — is sleeping. It’s something of which I do very little, working as I do in an industry that comes alive at night. And given that thousands, if not millions, of people in this 24-hour city also work at night — in convenience stores, izakaya, karaoke booths, hostess bars and so on — it seems likely that others feel the same way. They say the early bird catches the worm; I’m surprised those in sound trucks don’t catch a brick through their window, tossed from the balcony of a hollow-eyed parent whose kids were woken up yet again by the blare of speakers.

One of the four trucks that come around my neighborhood bellows its voice recording over a bed of ’80s guitar-hero hard rock. As bad as that is, the "yaki-imo" truck is probably the worst. Its looped message is in the style of an ancient prayer: a somber, weighty chant that can be heard from several blocks away and wakes me with a feeling of boundless despair. There’s actually something oddly hypnotic about it — sometimes I think it would sound pretty cool over a jungle rhythm, a dance floor smash that would leave an audience feeling simultaneously ecstatic and utterly furious. I imagine leaping out of bed when I hear it, running outside with my digital recorder, and taking a sample for that very purpose. But of course, that will never happen, because I’m always too busy trying to bury my head in my pillow and claw my way back to sleep.

And what about the lone rangers who drive these pickups? There’s something terribly pitiful about an existence spent wandering the streets, peddling wares that no one really wants, about making a living from waking people up. Seriously, when was the last time you had a sudden impulse to have someone take away a piece of furniture? At 8 a.m.? On a Sunday? If you wanted to clear out your broken appliances, you’d hardly sit around waiting for a man in a passing truck to announce his services, just as you’d call an ambulance to retrieve the corpse of a loved one rather than stretching your ears for yelps of “Bring out your dead!” from a cart-pulling street urchin below. These are the sort of services you seek out and engage.

Also, I can make a baked potato myself.

Indeed, it seems astronomically unlikely that these vendors can possibly have any sort of customer base beyond lonely pensioners who employ their services as a means of garnering some amenable conversation. Surely the natural reaction of any sane individual would be to shun the blighters completely; I know I’d rather carry my broken fridge to the dump on my back in the nude than pay some noisy sod to dispose of it for me. You feed a dog scraps, and it soon comes back for more.

Politicians, you want my vote? Pledge to outlaw speaker trucks, and I’ll fight your corner for eternity. Till then, it’s early mornings all round for my neighbors and me.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

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67 Comments
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Though the players change from time to time, there are at least a half-dozen companies that regularly patrol our neighborhood (central Tokyo) offering to relieve people of their unwanted appliances, computers, anything. They start at 8 a.m. and go on until evening, at roughly half-hour to sixty-minute intervals. Because I work at home, and my work requires a good amount of concentration, these trucks are a serious distraction. After some investigating, I found there is a Tokyo metropolitan ordinance that prohibits sound trucks from operating on streets of less than 3 meters in width--and the road running alongside my building is certainly less than that--so I lodged a complaint with the ward office. I don't know if it did any good (I wasn't able to provide specific company names; though my mailbox is regularly stuffed with fliers from these companies, their trucks are unmarked, so it's difficult to know which is which), but I've noticed a definite drop in frequency, if not volume.

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It's a tradition here. Like it or not, it Isn't likely to go away soon. Next.

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Commercial trucks have been around for a hundred years at most, and transistor amplifiers about 60. Is that long enough to constitute a tradition? I don't think so

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I always really liked the Yaki Imo guy. It had an old worldly sound to it that I found soothing and somewhat comforting - I'm not sure why. It's a bit like the 5 o'clock announcement on the loud speakers telling all good kiddies to head home for the night. Always thought that was great. There is a sense of community to it. Never cared much for the electrical appliance van though.

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Yeah, the yaki-imo and tofu vendors (an increasingly rare bunch) are two of the types I don't mind; they predate both commercial trucks and electronic amplification by a couple of centuries at least... and really, the calls for recycling appliances, etc. have really just replaced the guys going around offering to exchange old clothing and newspapers for rolls of toilet paper made from recycled pulp. I don't know if trucks still go around selling aluminum or plastic rods for hanging clothes ("sao-dake").

I actually kind of support the yaki-imo guys. Most of them (according to several friends who were radical leftists in the 60s) went into the job after being hounded by the Department of Public Safety for their activities as student radicals. The job offered mobility, an ear on the street, and--oddly enough, considering the noise--a kind of anonymity.

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I like the yaki-imo truck recordings, and I've only ever heard them in the afternoon or evening in winter- the writer can't have heard one in the last few months, nobody buys them at this time of year. I'm guessing he's in a tiny minority of people who don't like the chant from those trucks, most people find it quite atmospheric.

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I too once complained...but it falls on deaf ears in Japan, just like complaints about the bikers that noisily buzz by my place.

It is a part of culture that our gaijin ears have not dealt with all our lives. We do not have the ability to just tune it out.

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Good luck trying to talk about these to the guys in the black trucks.

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Constant loud noise seems to be the new "tradition" in the wider Tokyo area. Especially in Kawasaki one feels like an Okinawan next to an US military base.

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In my neighborhood we have an ice cream truck guy But yellow bus looking ice cream truck has nothing but corn dog, chili dog, natto dog decals on his truck. Sounds like Indian music. The song is unique it's a Anka remix with a indian/reggae beat/ accordion trumpet sound. The song sounds like," Icccce creammmm Ice cream dee ka dee ka dee ka dee ka doe !! " Yeah !!! Sunday's it's hard to sleep after 9am. The tv vcr play station recycle truck is really annoying. I live on the first floor and it's a headache. I think it's kind of stupid idea to pay them to collect tv's dvd players and what not.

It's an idiotic idea.

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in other countries, the "speaker truck" would be riddled with bullet holes.

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This kind of idiocy, particularly on a tranquil Sunday morning, irks me. Why do we live in quiet area away from large roads, trains and factories only to have these farktards ruin it? One of the sodai-gomi dudes was ready to come to blows with me when I asked him, quite politely, to be quiet. Had my 5 yr old not been walking with me, I may have obliged him.

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"Especially in Kawasaki one feels like an Okinawan next to a US military base"

One does not.

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I like the yaki-imo trucks. Last season there were some women driving them. But the voices on the loudspeakers were still men's.

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i'm sure a number of them are over the legal limit on noise but nobody polices them.

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I think we need a balanced approach.

Busy stations like Shibuya, ok let the speakers carry on. Annoying? Yes! But a good thing in an open society.

Local areas. Ban any kind of noisey truck with the exception of 12pm to 7pm. None before, none after. This gives them a chance to sell you laundy poles, yaki-imo or to get your dead electronics. But after that they need to shut up and go away.

The volume should also be regulated. You do not need to hear this four blocks away.

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Maybe I should go measure my street now. I'm sure it's less than 3 meters.

During election season I could hear one of the trucks (at 8:10AM) going down the main road. The main road is about 5 minutes from my apartment on foot. How loud does your damn truck need to be? I realize no one is sleeping at 8AM on a Saturday, but still ...

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Would be nice to tone down the racket but otherwise I kind of dig them. Part of the "aural landscape" that is Tokyo. Add to that the near constant din of helicopters overhead along the Sumidagawa. I seem to have adjusted to it.

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Let them talk, because when you get rid of them no one will be able to express any opinions. They have now tried to block all free speech in America, now maybe you want to stop it here in Japan. Many who post on this site, seem to be anti Japanese. Many US military on this site. I hope that you will remember the Constitution of The United States,many have probably not seen it or even read it. When I was in sixth grade my school took me to Independance Hall in Philly Pennsylvania. It used to be the Americans Stood for Freedom, Liberty and Justice for All. But now we can make up any reason to attack and kill others we want to conguer. But it is not American people who only want peace, but another group that owns America who only wants war.

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Heh! She hatz speeker trucks! It's fanny becaz it's true!

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The election trucks are annoying as hell, but at least they are not crawling along at 10km per hour. I agree with the above posters : I like the yaki-imo trucks. Quite good, too. I've lived in Tokyo for quite a while now but I've never experienced these trucks on a weekend morning. Maybe I'm lucky.

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Often wondered if I'd be arrested driving a truck all over town asking Japan's politicians to clean up their act. No offensive messages or anything, just a foreigner in a truck with a loud speaker. Do you need a permit for this activity? I bet I'd be shut down in a second.

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The recycle guys driving around with their loud speakers is very much like cold-calling. It can be annoying but on occasions it will cause the customer to take action. I know that I have given them a few pieces of furniture over the years just because they happened to drive past. I wouldn't have done anything about if they didn't. I do agree that 8am on a Sunday is a little bit too much.

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Japanese brains seem to have a wonderful filter that enables them to disregard things I find annoying to the extreme, like ambulance sirens at 2:30 a.m., off-key karaoke and the smell of smouldering cigarette filters in public dustbins. If they could develop it for export, think of all the happy people there would be in the world.

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Whiskeysour:

In my neighborhood we have an ice cream truck guy

One of these guys?

http://daigaku-do.co.jp/

I quite like their song, and I don't mind the yakiimo and saodake trucks, probably because theirs are sing-song jingles rather than spoken. Of the vendors and gomi trucks, the ones I dislike most are those with really dreadful sound quality. The politicians are irritating but they don't hang around long. Seems to me there's a limit of a few minutes for talking in one place - at least in residential areas.

But I thought this article was going to be about the black trucks pumping out pompous, chauvinistic songs at full blast. I suppose it's already understood that everyone hates those. And that F all will be done about them. (That is not a matter of free speech. They are indeed free to say what they want but that in no way implies freedom to annoy everyone.)

As for the filter in Japanese brains, I have to conclude that they simply do not hear the hideous squeal of bicycle brakes.

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stonecoldsoba ", I have to conclude that they simply do not hear the hideous squeal of bicycle brakes."Exactly! I never leave my house without ear plugs.

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@SaveOurCountry

Let them talk, because when you get rid of them no one will be able to express any opinions. They have now tried to block all free speech in America, now maybe you want to stop it here in Japan. Many who post on this site, seem to be anti Japanese. Many US military on this site. I hope that you will remember the Constitution of The United States,many have probably not seen it or even read it. When I was in sixth grade my school took me to Independance Hall in Philly Pennsylvania. It used to be the Americans Stood for Freedom, Liberty and Justice for All. But now we can make up any reason to attack and kill others we want to conguer. But it is not American people who only want peace, but another group that owns America who only wants war.

This comment misses the point by a county mile. What does the constitution of America and free speech have to do with selling yaki-imo, and clothes-poles?

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Japan's trying to encourage people to have babies, but have you ever tried to put a baby down for an afternoon nap when there's constant noise from two or three politicians' trucks circling the neighbourhood endlessly?? It's impossible. Plus as a parent I often take my nap at the same time, because the baby has kept me up all night so I need it.

If Japanese politicians want to actually encouage people to have babies then they should outlaw those trucks from residential areas, because any parent with a young child will tell you that nap-time is sacred!

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I hope you all know that the Yaki imo trucks get the wood to bake their potatoes from where ever they can, including wood used from old houses that were chemically treated with a variety of toxins. "Itadakima~su!"

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Japan is awash with these kinds of unnecessary and annoying loudspeaker announcements. Research has linked a direct correlation to constant noise and poor mental health- might explain Japan's high rate of suicides. In any case, I don't miss those loudspeakers one iota ! I wake up to chirping birds and the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. Not a sound truck for miles and miles- why people living in Japan tolerate this assault to their senses and overall quality of life is truly sad. This is not "culture"- this is blatant disrespect for those individuals living within earshot ! I completely agree with the author here- time to dismantle Japan's culture of noise.

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Those trucks with the speakers blasting away is just a noise pollution generator that should be done away with. No one really listens to them anyway. They are just a bunch of idiots in a truck irritating people all day long. No one really wants them around and hey are just nuisance to the public which makes Japan look like a cheap place with a bunch of freaks blasting away on a horn.

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Japan = Noise Pollution

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Speaking of noise, I just read an article about hearing loss and how it is expected as we get older. What the investigator discovered was that in highly industrialized societies such as the US, Japan, Europe, people lose hearing as they get old but in less-developed areas such as northern Africa, they don't. His conclusion was because of the amount of noise in the cities, we lose our hearing over time but not because we get older - older people in poorer areas of the world have excellent hearing. Perhaps if Japan were to care about their citizens' health, there would be limits on sound trucks (either decibel limits or time limits or both) because right now I don't see any limits.

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Black/white right wing truck and politician truck I wish would go because they never follow the rules or they are right on the edge of the legal limit concerning the decibels of their noise. (though I have checked my self and they were almost always above but when I complained to the police they were to scared to say any thing!)

The Yakiimo, Take, paper recycling trucks I don't mind they are not so loud but I wish they would not come by before 11:00 on weekends or after 19:00

We have the "toyu" (Kerosene) truck that comes by but they never have any voice just a low volume music.

On the politician note, they should get in to at least the 20th century and drop the truck thing and move on to at least TV adds.

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borscht; There is a decibel limit in Japan and if I remember correctly it is 85 at so many metres away (that is why you will see decibel metres on the walls of some construction sites it applies to them to and will be enforced in their case)

But when it come to the right wing trucks and politicians the police are to scared to enforce it.

As my local area police chief said " It is best to just let them scream and move on, not to have trouble" in regards to the right wing trucks, and " If we go after them and they win the election, we will have trouble then" in regards to the politicians.

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For a philosophy of sound trucks, I recommend Nakajima Michio "Taiwa no nai Shakai" (A society without dialogue) or "Urusai Nihonjin no Watashi" (Loud Japanese that I am) my review here. http://www.burogu.com/2010/04/election-sound-trucks-yoshimichi.html

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What a bunch of whiney foreigners! Can any of you even try to get along in this country with complaining about something? Go back home and see how you like it! You'll be back here in days even with all your whiney stories!

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Every time I see one of these trucks I think of the blues brothers.

I used to live in Korea, and they would park, and blare their music/sound/pitch in the same spot for an hour or so. Lord have mercy if they stopped next to your apartment.

It's part of life, deal with it. People need to make money. If everybody was concerned with not offending anybody, nobody would make any money.

let a brother earn a livin, yo!

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I have often stood on the balcony and considered throwing an egg or cabbage at these vans, especially the electrical appliance van which does two or three laps each weekend and is extremely loud.

However, it is futile to try and change anything in this country. I can only imagine the blank expressionless face of the driver as you protested.

My other half can't understand my frustration either. They're "only doing their jobs" according to her. This blind acceptance of everything is actually even more infuriating.

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I love the nice Japanese music which is played by my gomi truck early in the morning twice a week. Its pleasant, and it lets me know they are there and its time to get up. Other than that, I hate all the others going around, disturbing the peace with their incessant meaningless whining. They will never be banned in Japan, though, because of the Japanese attitude of "shoganai."

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A lot of whining here. Try going to Bangkok and hear the trucks that drive around in the small sidestreets there. Pretty much the same as in Japan, but in Bangkok you just have a lot more aggressive people driving around.

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Often wondered if I'd be arrested driving a truck all over town asking Japan's politicians to clean up their act.

You would not be arrested, nor would the thugs who would beat you silly.

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" I’m surprised those in sound trucks don’t catch a brick through their window, tossed from the balcony"

It's too bad nobody with any pull reads these articles. I am so tired of the recycle guys. I keep a big ol' rock on my upstairs windowsill. So far I haven't thrown it, but one day . . . .

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At least it's not as bad as in Korea. they had fools driving around spraying huge clouds of malathian everywhere to kill all the mosquitoes. And I mean in all the nooks and crannies between apartments.

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Can you actually vote?

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You don't need a brick to drop on these vile vehicles. May I suggest a plastic carrier bag filled with water - it's very effective - or so I've heard...

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Most of the sound-trucks I can live with.

What I HATE are the dezible levels during movies breaks for CM. Reason of the loudness is that the movie has a max dezibel rating(with the peaks being short in the movie) yet the CM's blast away just below that max level(as they can legally).

Grr, irritates me as those CM wake up my son.

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Hint(sounds imilar though)

Drop a blown light-bulb next to the car, noisier than a shot going off(sounds similar though).

Don't ask me how I know that. (angel)

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timtak--I've read Nakajima's books and enjoyed his curmudgeonly take on things. I think of him every time I get on an escalator!

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Kugi for the tires (an old rusty one in a small old piece of wood from a box, kicked in front of the wheel, when the truck is stopping) then the driver gets kubi from his boss. Problem reduced.

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Zenny11 at 10:52 PM JST - 2nd August Most of the sound-trucks I can live with. What I HATE are the dezible levels during movies breaks for CM. Reason of the loudness is that the movie has a max dezibel rating(with the peaks being short in the movie) yet the CM's blast away just below that max level(as they can legally).

You've hit on one of my all time pet hates! Sound trucks I can live with, the TV is in my own house, still I've no control! GRRRR

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Everybody hates a speaker truck.

And how did you make this assumption, Mr. Westerner? Must be your personal opinion!

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Why not just ask the driver to turn it down a bit? Give a nice cold drink or juicy orange as a gift...should do it! Safer than dropping things on the truck or ruining the tires.

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You don't need a brick to drop on these vile vehicles. May I suggest a plastic carrier bag filled with water - it's very effective - or so I've heard...

Chunk of ice. The evidence melts away. The perfect crime!

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Ok - Ok. Let's give the drivers some fresh cold beer - and then call the police to nab them for drunk driving.

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Noise is part of the fabric of Tokyo - sound trucks may a a particular aspect of that, sure, but most other big cities are noisy. i love the bravado of all the posters who are goong to shoot/throw rocks at/throw water bobmbs at these trucks. Fast way to the local lock-up.....

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The relative silence of Japan amazed me after moving here from Taipei, where everything is loudspeakered. Still, how the sound trucks here (at least in Kumamoto) signal the seasons comforts me: tofu in the summer, yakiimo in the winter.... The symphony of the city, if not for the election and right-winger trucks.

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Ok - Ok. Let's give the drivers some fresh cold beer - and then call the police to nab them for drunk driving.

Make it "third category" beer and I'm with you.

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Blow the b*stards up, I say...

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Sleeping till 10 or 11? Gotta love a disgruntled hung over english teacher crying about missing sleepy time! Maybe consider changing this category from commentary to rant!

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We actually used to have these Campaign truck right near my place because of a major ward office Library and ward activity centre built a few years back.

But that ended because of some old guy who lived right next to were the trucks parked, He at first asked them to turn the sound down (they refused) then he would call the police and make quite a scene well all that didn't work so he started collecting his urine and started throwing balloons filled with it from his 3rd floor window at them.

Made for quite a scene was even on the news and this being "shitamachi" the neighbors came out in support of him.

So in the end he was never charged and now we no longer see or hear the trucks except at the station!

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genji17;

I to try and sleep in on Sundays as do my Japanese neighbors!

None of us are "hung over English teacher" I'm a single father of 2 up at 5:30 everyday from Monday to Saturday and my friend and neighbors are your typical Japanese "salary man" working most days till the last train with only Sunday left to perhaps sleep in!

And we all complain about the "Take" truck early Sunday mornings and because of our location the Right wing truck driving down the main road in to central Tokyo blasting their Marshal music!

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Hey you forgot,

... to talk about the guys who drive the black truck and vans with mega watt speakers on top, playing that very loud, old right-wing, red_a_my,key-_tone, nationalist, yasakuni-yak, gaisen sha, bullshyt propganda music.

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It's easy people - water balloons (or other such thing) to the speakers. Practice on the annoying but slow-moving ones first (work on aim, if it misses the speaker, it's useless. Then work your way up to stealth/sneak attacks on the black vans. Maybe a super soaker would be a better idea for them. To be clear, don't aim at the truck, only the loudspeakers (when they are mounted externally). Probably a concealed location would be a good idea, too. They put up with no nonsense, but if they can't find you, they can't get you. I always hated the political ones oozing like a slime mold past my university with their propaganda at 100+ decibals. Short out the speakers on those ones, and life is good. I heard coca-cola does wonders for electronic circuitry (kills a laptop), maybe that's another tactic. pretend to trip and "spill" one right into the speakers if they are low enough...

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Sleeping till 10 or 11? Gotta love a disgruntled hung over english teacher crying about missing sleepy time! Maybe consider changing this category from commentary to rant!

Hahahaha...completely agree with you.

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tsurubushi: that makes me curious, has anybody ever attacked (verbally, physically, or stealth) a black sound truck before? was there a violent response? i've always considered getting up in their face and yelling a few of my remarks at them thru my own speakerphone myself, but i don't want to get nicked by police as a gaijin in this country if they start a fight..

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Can you send them out my way? Theyd be good entertainment for my neck of the woods. Im always annoyed the potato guy either doesnt come close enough, or I cant find my wallet in time. And tofu?!?!? Please! A huge fluffy baked potatoe makes a nice lunch for the kids. You can keep the other sort if you want.

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