Sunday, May 16, 2004

For a nation that prides itself on its sense of peace and propriety, the Japanese love their noise.

I wrote once before about the music that can be heard in a multitude of places throughout Japan, some of it difficult to classify as music, but I'm not talking about that, generally, attention-grabbing sound. I'm talking about just plain noise. Walk into almost any place of business here and the staff shouts "irasshaimase!" Try to say this word as fast as possible and you can reach a close proximity to the Japanese version. I've become quite good at mimicking shop clerks and izakaya staff.

The subway stations are noisy places, as you might expect, but I think they do it bigger here. Not only are there little chimed tunes announcing the arrival of a train, which is stylish, if you fancy such things, but there are also buzzers that sound when the doors are about to close. Once on board, the magic lady-voice of the train spews the next destination, which may be a key transfer station, in both Japanese and English.

In front of large department stores or near major arcade or shopping areas, there are perhaps a dozen people shouting at passers-by. They want you to come into their restaurants or karaoke bars, many holding large signs, passing out flyers or tissue or augmenting their voices with megaphones.

Pachinko parlors may be some of the noisiest places on the planet. Imagine hundreds of tiny steel balls flying around in a vertical pinball machine chock full of metal pins to bounce against. Mix this incessance with ear-splitting house music, cartoon voices and music from the video displays (which double as a simultaneously operating slot-machine), and the real voices of the MCs rising above the din to announce the current big players, and you have an experience that leaves you numb long after leaving, yet some people play the game for hours on end. It's the right approach to running a casino, though.

Aside from that, it's a fine Spring day with the rain drowning out even the sound of the traffic.

No comments: