Hey kids, keep it down — graying Japan annoyed by children’s noise

by Miwa Suzuki

AFP-JIJI

As the population declines, intolerance of children and the noise they make is increasing in a society growing less accustomed to hearing them, some child care experts say.

While convenience stores blare electronic greetings and political candidates shout through high-volume megaphones at train stations, day care centers are putting up sound barriers to muffle the din that toddlers make, and sports clubs are restricting the times that youngsters can play outside to avoid upsetting the neighbors.

Child care experts and politicians have voiced concern that this creates a self-perpetuating problem: Despite the falling birthrate, it is seen as less acceptable for parents to expect nonparents to put up with inconveniences caused by their offspring.

When it comes to complaints, “it’s now happening daily,” said Masako Maeda, a specialist in population at Konan University in Kobe. “As society has fewer and fewer children, people get less used to hearing them.

“It’s a vicious circle: Fewer children makes people less accustomed to hearing the noise they naturally make, which spawns complaints about them and contributes to the growing feeling among younger parents that they don’t want to have more children.”

Maeda said that when she was involved in a project to build day care centers in Yokohama, she faced a lot of opposition from people living nearby.

“We were once told not to take the children for a walk” because they make too much noise, she said.

Nobuto Hosaka, the mayor of Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, who has built up a sizable following on Twitter for his comments on the issue, said he fears for the future of a country that can’t tolerate the natural noise of children.

“I’m told that kids at one junior high school got complaints from people living nearby about the chanting when they were doing running practice,” he said. “Now they have to practice in silence.”

Outdoor playtime at one day care center is limited to 45 minutes a day. Whatever the weather, a traditional festival in another town now has to be held indoors.

“Of course we need to be considerate toward people living in the neighborhood, but it is impossible to make places where children play in total silence,” Hosaka said.

People who complain don’t grasp the connection between these noisy youngsters and their own future, he said.

“It is astounding those people who worry about their own pensions and how society is going to pay for social security won’t tolerate” the people who are someday going to pay the taxes that foot the bill, he said.

An official in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, said the number of complaints about noisy children peaks in the summer when youngsters go to outdoor pools.

One possible explanation, she said, is that more people in densely populated areas stay at home during the daytime as the population ages.

Around a quarter of Japan’s 128 million people are 65 or over, while the birthrate is falling short of the level needed to keep the population stable.

Children under 15 years of age account for just 13.2 percent of the population, the lowest in the world and less than half the global average of 26.8 percent, according to United Nations figures from 2010.

In Taiwan, which also has a low birthrate and an aging population, the Environmental Protection Administration in August 2011 clamped down on noise.

It introduced a rule allowing for fines of up to 15,000 New Taiwan dollars (about ¥50,000) for people who disturb the quiet of others living in the same building.

The move drew criticism from parents of young children, who complained they were being unfairly targeted.

“It’s impossible to ask children to sit still all day long so they don’t make noise,” said Annie Shen, a teacher in Taipei and mother of two boys, aged 1 and 6.

In Tokyo last year, a family sued a day care center for ¥17.46 million in damages for their mental suffering and demanding the facility stop making noise.

“We asked the family to make a public filing of their complaint,” said Hiromi Yamaguchi, president of JP Holdings, operator of the day care center.

A lawsuit “would determine which side is right,” Yamaguchi said, noting the center had erected sound barriers and limited the time children can play, but that wasn’t enough to stop the family from complaining.

The suit is still in the courts.

Japan has known for a long time that it has a problem with a low birthrate and in 2005 the government created a Cabinet post to help tackle the problem.

December’s change of government brought the 15th occupant to the post.

Kuniko Inoguchi, the first person to be named state minister for handling the declining birthrate, said Japan must understand that children are not a social nuisance.

“People’s values are wavering,” she said in an interview. “We have to push child-bearing issues to the top of the social agenda so that fewer people think these kinds of complaints are acceptable.

  • disqus_YCAh4DniKC

    Unbelievable. I`ve already heard of landlords in Japan reluctant to rent out apartments to people with young children or teenagers which is unfair as it is but this is going too far.

  • A M Corbett

    Unbelievable yet believable. I`ve already heard of landlords refusing to rent apartments out to people with young children or teenagers and that`s unfair enough as it is, but this is going way too far. Get over yourselves whoever you are.

  • JohnG

    Maybe it’s time to make communities separate; Those who have children and want children, and those who don’t. Senior communities on one side of the nation, and youth and families on the other; this way those who forgot their life can live the remaining time in their own peaceful world.

    • Elliot Patton

      LOL. Sounds like The Giver, which my students are reading at the moment.

  • Ben

    i’ve always found japan’s rule of no noise after 10pm in residential areas to be effective and fair. the 2 times i’ve ever had a problem with noise were an old guy who used to start up his angle grinder as soon as it was light (4:50am in mid-summer) and the people upstairs refusing to sit down to their computer (on the floor) quietly instead of collapsing down to it with a loud bang when they got the urge to use it at 2am.

    • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

      I lived next to a business and their management felt that Tuesday night at midnight was right time to install (on the roof, by crane) their new heavy-duty air conditioners. When I called the Police and they arrived, I was told that there was nothing they could do. Apparently, the business has a right to pass on inconveniencing itself (by not doing this during working hours) to me and my 30-some neighbors, who didn’t get a wink of sleep between 12 and 4 am.

      Whether the noise is an ongoing rave, death metal, construction, or the laughter of children, it is all the same to me. Noise is noise and the law should not be making exceptions in particular cases, it should be upholding property rights consistently.

      • Ben

        ouch! though maybe it was the lesser of 2 evils, did the crane block the road meaning it would’ve been inconvenient for even more people if they did it during the day? i do know the legal limit for construction noise is 65db during the day and 55db after 10pm, and most road blocking construction i think by law has to be done at low traffic times, the same thing happened when they were building a bridge over an intersection near my house.

  • Steve

    I live next to a child care facility, and live with the noise of children every day–singing, playing outside, music on festival days, teacher’s voices, etc. There is a high school nearby as well, and I often hear orchestra practice, and sometimes taiko drumming. I work from home most days. Frankly, I really don’t mind any of this noise. It does not bother me. To the contrary, I find the noise of children playing at recess kind of enchanting. Let them enjoy their time as children. Perhaps this is because I have a six-year-old son. How could I possibly criticize the noise of other people’s children while expecting people to respect the freedom of my child to be a kid? Maybe it just takes a bit of empathy.

  • JusenkyoGuide

    Oy vey…

  • Joseph Flo

    Children tend to be rebellious if they are forced to be quiet. it is wrong for trying to bottle them up in silence. Such treatment can have tolls on the children. Lastly Japanese Children are very well behaved so I find this Hard to believe that people have a problem with them

    • Miyazaki Wataru

      apart from the well behaved part, i totally agree. Japanese kids are like kids anywhere else in the world. Somebare well behaved, others are tiny monsters. lo

  • Nishinomajo

    Of course children should be allowed to be children. But unfortunately, more and more parents think that the anti-authoritarian approach means to let them do whatever the heck they want and however loud they want. To all those people saying that those cute little things in neighbouring kindergartens and schools don’t bother them: Dear Sir/Madam, you are a very lucky person indeed who does not have to work nightshifts and sleep during the day.

  • Joseph FLo2

    Okay maybe Japanese kids can sometimes be brats/ Little Monsters but they are nothing compared to the spoiled brats in the USA. I would know, I have had to live with them. I find it disappointing that this issue is still a back-burner issue and that it is not front page. Japan must realize that there is no way to have a economic recovery with out young people who will later support the elderly people. This article tells it as it is and I hope to see more of them out soon.

    • disqus_Gvs3G32z1K

      As an American I can’t help but find your belief that children of different countries behavior is vastly different hilarious. I’ve worked in countless schools in the US and now in Japan and guess what? Kids are kids.

    • Matt

      Or the spoiled brats in Canada where I live now…They are at least as bad or worse than the American kids…They just pretend to be oh-so-nice for show when they need to.

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    “As society has fewer and fewer children, people get less used to hearing them.”

    As people get older they get crankier. And more entitled when they take a pension that their grandchildren are paying into but will never ever get to receive.

    The “noise” of children merely reminds the elderly of their guilt of leaving this world in such a horrid state for the young. of course they would complain, this reminder makes them uncomfortable.

    But, it’s precisely because of attitudes like, “We have to push child-bearing issues to the top of the social agenda so that fewer people think these kinds of complaints are acceptable.” that you have this kind of situation in the first place. It is basically the admittance that the state is unwilling to protect property rights consistently.

    People want their privacy for many reasons. Would it really make any difference whether the noise was children or death metal music? The result is the same. Noise pollution is pollution, whether these elderly people deserve it or not.

    Sure, kids can scream all they want, in a place where their cries aren’t echoing into someone else’s apartment. You want it to be different? Looks like you need to move somewhere else where you have more privacy too. Can’t afford it? Looks like you should have thought about that before having kids and moving to cramped Tokyo, instead of expecting other people to tolerate your failure to make good decisions with your life.

  • xnastka@gmail.com

    Well then, I’d appreciate those graying to be quiet, too, in the national parks, during their strolls and hiking. You just wouldn’t believe how noisy they are!

  • 思德

    You know, an old man sat next to me at the Mister Donut today and was constantly gurgling and chortling making all kinds of noise the whole 15 minutes he was there, and there was also a toddler and her mother in the store. I wished the old man would have been quiet rather than the child who was making normal toddler noise, not being bratty or anything.

  • KKRat

    There are too many non-sense law suit that against national interest. Low birthrate is killing their nation. Change the law to fit the needs of child care center. Fine this non-sense people with heavy penalty.