Japan is a noisy place. It’s not traffic noise. Although there are a lot of sirens in the city I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I remember hearing car horns honking. It’s not chattering people, either. On commuter trains Japanese are very quiet - thankfully. Chattering foreigners are the problem on public transportations. Those tourists just won’t shut up! The problem in Japan is the inescapable, ubiquitous public service announcements. Even many Japanese complain about them. So many announcements to watch our step, not to forget anything when we step off the train, hold the hand rails, welcome to the shop, or goodbye and come again, be careful of your belongings, stand behind the yellow line, be careful of the approaching train. On and on. These announcements are loud, too! Some people complain that they can hear train station announcements in their apartments hundreds of meters away from the station. Some say it represents the infantilism of Japanese, a people in need of constant supervision, advise, reassurance and instructions.
On Saturday, October 11, 2014 The Japan Times English-language newspaper ran a story on exactly this topic, “Making noise about keeping the decibels down.” In addition to the many noisy public service announcements, Japanese political campaigns feature candidates roaming the streets in vans with loud speakers mounted on top blasting their names all over town. The Japan Election Law prohibits door-to-door solicitation/campaigning, which is a tremendously good thing, and this explains why candidates have to resort to patrolling the streets shouting their names. It’s all about name recognition. It's not a very sophisticated political election strategy because there is nothing intellectual or intelligent about it. It does not involve the presentation or debate of any policy ideas. It's only about name recognition. Kind of childish, really.
The Election Law specifically limits campaigning to the hours of eight in the morning until eight in the evening. What bothers me the most is the sight of candidates with bull horns outside train and subway stations before eight a.m. soliciting (berating) sleepy voters with their cacophonous howling. They want to be lawmakers but they start out breaking the law by campaigning before eight a.m. Something ought to be done. Newspaper stories should be published. Arrests should be made. The sad reality, though, is that a complaint against, or arrest of politicians making illegal early morning campaign noise would simply be met with incomprehension.
The sad and disturbing thing is that Japanese do not and cannot differentiate between cacophonous public howling and free speech. In fact, the right of political groups like ultra-right wing neo-fascists to roam the streets in black vans playing antique martial music and making anti-foreign pronouncements that rate as certified hate speech in most other developed countries is defended as a free speech right.
The case of illegal political candidate noise reminds me of “Annoyed teen punches lawmaker giving speech outside train station” (Japan Times, Tuesday, October 29, 2002) that reported an assault on Democratic Party of Japan House of Representatives lawmaker Yukichi Maeda not for political reasons, but just because he was noisy and annoying. I have always admired that unnamed teen.
Published in The Japan Times newspaper on Thursday, October 23, 2014 as “Lawbreakers from the get-go.”