Having bad neighbors can be a nightmare. Having bad neighbors in Japan, with its bureaucratic mountain to climb, a language barrier to overcome and not wanting to upset the wa (harmony) between everyone, is a nightmare of Japanese horror movie proportions (though my particular experience thankfully didn’t involve a curse-emitting VHS player.)
How my story began
Around April last year I began to hear music coming from my neighbor’s apartment – the unmistakable sound of bad drum and bass. Not wanting to upset the “wa”, not wanting to get the police involved, and not possessing the Japanese ability to write a note saying, “Have you heard of these new inventions called headphones?”, I dealt with this the only way I knew how: through passive aggression.
Complaining Japan style
I was told to do this “Japan style” by my landlord. This required me to write a letter complaining about the noise, and giving it to the manager of the building. This is a common first step in Japan when it comes to neighbor complaints. The manager then posts a noise reminder note (addressed to everybody) on the building noticeboard later.
So for a while, I followed the proper route of keeping a dated log and giving letters to my landlord every time my neighbour played music loud enough to hear from China. But I was worried that my lack of Japanese may have been too much of a hinderance and that they weren’t taking my complaint seriously.
Involving the police
Then, on one night of trying to sleep to a soundtrack of particularly hardcore techno, I had had enough. I rang the Japanese emergency number (110) to report the loud noise. I told the operator I wanted to speak English, and within a few seconds, they connected me with a translator who reported my problems and asked if I wanted an English translator to be sent out with the police. Fortunately for me, although a translator was with the local koban (police box), my Japanese friend had answered my call to arms.
As soon as my mighty army had assembled, I threw my friend at the officers like a linguistic hand grenade. Meanwhile I looked out the window trying my best to appear as sad and pensive as possible in the hopes that they might feel extra sorry for me. I even threw in some sighs when I thought they were looking.
The police ended up visiting my humble abode six times. Each time we’d have the same encounter. They’d send an English translator out and ask me for an update. Once they were satisfied, they’d go and knock on his door, be refused entry by him and then remind him through the intercom that perhaps one in the morning wasn’t the best time to be playing bad club music.
The War of the Trash and Letterbox
With the police interventions proving ineffective, I put a complaint directly to the management company of his apartment. They phoned him to give him another warning as apparently he already had one to his name. However, without him admitting to playing music, there wasn’t much the management company could do.
Then, returning home one night, I noticed a large amount of rubbish and newspapers stuffed into my letterbox. I didn’t think that much of it at the time. But I began to notice a pattern; whenever my neighbor returned home, my letterbox would mysteriously be filled with junk mail. I assumed he was just being friendly by letting me know about all the amazing deals I was missing out on.
When I saw him reaching into the bin, several times, and stuffing everything he could into my letterbox including a bento box, broken umbrella and a rather fascinating collection of used chopsticks, I knew for sure. The last straw was when, upon reaching into my letterbox/personal new bin, I pulled out a porn magazine and some used tissues. I’m still trying not to think about exactly what those tissues were used for.
A friend and I took some of the letters to the police (we found out he was taking post from other people’s letterboxes and putting it into mine). They took my fingerprints and kept a few for evidence, then sent me on my way.
A small victory
Eventually, after all the complaining to management and theatrical sighing in front of the police to no avail, I moved out. Though my noisy neighbor wasn’t the main reason, he did provide a good excuse to go. The management company agreed to waive my early leaving fee, hinting that the money came out of my neighbors deposit – a small victory, I guess.
As far as I know, he’s still living in the apartment. Who knows, maybe he’s switched to soft jazz? Here’s hoping.
Tips for surviving bad neighbors in Japan
If you find yourself with a bad neighbor, here is some advice to help you get through it all:
- Start by writing a letter detailing the situation (remember to keep a log), and give it to the manager of your building (if you’re in an apartment complex, there will usually be a window/letterbox to drop it off in).
- Never confront the neighbor directly. In Japan, this can cause more harm than good.
- Don’t be afraid to call the police – playing music late at night is against the law. Call them on the emergency number 110, and ask for an English operator. You can request a translator to be sent out.
- Make sure to stick to the Japanese way, and if the situation gets worse, you can visit your local police station (not a koban), and go to the department which specifically handles neighbor complaints.
- Even if you lack the language skills, don’t worry. You can visit both kobans and police stations and ask for police translators to support you.