Editorials

Tolerating the voices of children

Are the voices of kids playing or chatting with each other so noisy as to constitute a disturbance to the local community? The question has come into the spotlight as a growing number of facilities for children, especially day-care centers, receive complaints from nearby residents that the kids are being too loud. While efforts are afoot to build more nurseries to support working parents, some municipalities are reportedly being forced to postpone or abandon plans to build such facilities in residential areas.

People who are bothered by the sounds of children need to develop a greater tolerance for them since kids are the future of Japan. At the same time, day-care centers need to build closer relations with their communities and local residents to win their support. They also should, of course, make efforts to ensure the children in their care are well behaved.

Trouble involving day-care centers for children is growing more serious these days. In early October, a 43-year-old man in Kokubunji, Tokyo, was arrested for allegedly threatening with a hatchet a father who came to a local day-care center to pick up his 6-year-old child. According to the police, the man was angry that children at the facility were being too noisy and had called the municipal office the day before the incident and threatened to attack the children.

In the summer of 2012, residents in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward filed a damages suit against a day-care center, demanding that the “noise” from kids at the facility be stopped. They cited Tokyo’s by-law for maintaining the environment, which in part says that nobody should produce noises that exceed regulation standards. While the suit is still pending, a resident in Kobe’s Higashinada Ward took a similar legal action and the first hearing was held in early September.

Setagaya Mayor Nobuto Hosaka recently wrote in Asahi Shimbun’s Web edition that his Tokyo ward, which is promoting the construction of nurseries, is confronted with the “old and new problem” of complaints from residents about such facilities. Some day-care centers have no choice but to restrict the hours in which children can play outdoors or to tell children not to shout, he says. Setagaya — a densely populated residential area witnessing an increase in the number of people with babies, a rare phenomenon in today’s Japan — plans to build 29 more day-care centers within five years.

Some facilities are reportedly taking installing sound-proof walls and double-paned windows to keep the children from disturbing nearby residents. Others, meanwhile, are trying to become acquainted with neighbors by inviting them to their facilities to show their activities or by taking part in or helping to organize local community events. Such efforts are important because if the neighbors begin to view the facilities and the children there as part of the community, they will have a greater tolerance for them. Thus such efforts should be encouraged.

Parents of the children at these facilities can also help reduce neighbors’ complaints by teaching their kids not to shout in public places, and by trying to be quiet when they drop off the kids and pick them up.

Some people may get irritated by the shouts of many children simply because they are not used to their presence in the neighborhood due to the declining birthrate. They should keep in mind that they were once children and probably just as noisy.

Germany, another nation suffering from a declining birthrate, used to be plagued by lawsuits filed over the noise children made at day-care centers or playgrounds. In 2011, the Bundestag revised a law controlling exhaust emissions, soot, noise, smells and vibrations, giving a special status to the sounds made by children and making it impossible for residents to file noise-related suits over them.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has started considering a revision to the by-law for maintaining the environment so that sounds made by children at public facilities will not constitute noises to be regulated by the by-law. If such a revision takes effect, residents near day-care centers will lose their legal right to sue over the noise children make at such facilities. In a survey held from March to September, 42 of the 62 municipalities in Tokyo said they received complaints from residents about children’s voices, with 40 of the municipalities them calling on them to revise the by-law. Two municipalities said they have had to postpone or stop construction of nursery schools due to opposition from residents.

Even if the by-law is revised, some people may continue to complain about the noise children make. Such people need to recognize that children do sometimes become noisy, and that it’s a normal part of their growth process. Municipal governments can help to enlighten people about the importance of the community as a whole helping children to develop, and serve as a bridge between day-care centers and neighboring residents to help them get along well together. People must realize that children are the future of rapidly graying Japan and work to create an environment in which their presence is not only welcome but encouraged.