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Neighbors and Noise, More and Less and More

August 3rd, 2011

About a month or so ago, the immediate neighborhood changed: we got next-door neighbors.

When we first saw the land our house is built on, it was just a foundation, one of two which were being built on land vacated by an older, larger house. The one next to ours had been spoken for from much earlier on. Ours was finished first, however, and we moved in in mid-April.

For the following few months, the noise was pretty bad. On the one hand, the house next to ours was under construction, which meant buzz-saw and hammering wake-up alarms at 8 a.m. daily, including weekends. On the other hand, there was the incessant buzzing from the parking lot for the fitness center next door. It’s a member’s-only lot controlled by a ticket machine like in a pay lot, and every time someone left (which was constantly) a loud buzzer would sound. I noticed it when we first saw the finished house, but accepted it when it was suggested that it wasn’t that bad. Well, it was, and annoyed me quite a bit for some time.

When the new family moved in, the construction sounds died down, eventually. They were replaced by squealing kids sounds–they have three young children–but those are usually later in the day, and not too frequent. Besides, especially in this area of Tokyo, you’re going to hear kids whether you like it or not.

Something I noticed a few days ago, however, was that I had, at some point, stopped noticing the parking lot buzzer. That pleased me, as I had thought I would not be able to get used to it. Well, it turns out I hadn’t: the buzzer is no longer used. I simply hadn’t noticed when it stopped. My guess is that it happened when Sachi and I were in Nagano for her father’s funeral.

It then struck me as to why the buzzer stopped–it happened very soon after the new family moved in. Which makes sense: the buzzer was much closer to their place, and must have bugged them even more. Their family room was practically just ten or fifteen feet away from the machine; if it bothered me with double-paned glass windows shut from about four times the distance, it must have been driven them nuts over there. I haven’t asked, but would bet good money on the idea that they complained to the fitness center. I had thought of doing that myself, but had figured that it was required, some safety regulation or something, and they would likely not turn off an annoyance to me in the face of possible liability should there be an accident. Turns out I was wrong.

However, it seems that there cannot be a period without some neighborhood fixture causing noise. Just a week or so ago, starting at 7:00 am, we started hearing a frequent low-frequency noise–something like a cell phone set to vibrate, on a hard surface nearby. But it kept going, and going, and going–for hours. Turns out there’s a dry-cleaner’s about 50m away, and they have some new machine inside which makes that sound. Or, that is, an industrial-level steam-pressing-like sound which, from 50 meters away with windows shut tight, sounds like a cell phone vibrating.

Japan has very different zoning laws than the U.S., and most places you can see a much wider variety of buildings. That’s why, when walking down a single block, you could see a medium-sized apartment building, an old, run-down house, a small shop, a large residence, a small-business factory, a parking lot, and a convenience store, all in a line. Oh, there is zoning, and there are rules, but many areas are much more an eclectic mix than you might expect.

You might also have heard of the concept of wa, explained as the neighborhood peace where everyone is sensitive to any disturbance or noise that might disrupt things. Well, if it exists, it sure doesn’t seem to be set on “automatic,” at least not around here. We’ll have to talk to them–at the very least ask them not to start at 7:00 in the morning.

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  1. Troy
    August 3rd, 2011 at 11:45 | #1

    The more I think about it the more I’d like to retire to some isolated place out on the Izu hanto.

  2. Luis
    August 3rd, 2011 at 11:49 | #2

    Do you say that because you did know that location was just struck by a sizable earthquake, or because you didn’t know?

  3. Troy
    August 3rd, 2011 at 13:22 | #3

    nah don’t follow J-news that but I do know that Izu is ground zero for the Real Big One.

    Can’t have nice scenery without some tectonic potential!

  4. Tim Kane
    August 4th, 2011 at 02:52 | #4

    Well, in American Common Law, you can file a nuisance action. It is not dependent upon who was in the neighborhood first, or anything like that.

    A land owner is entitled to quiet enjoyment of the land. If someone violates that, then they are subject to a nuisance action. The standard used, as always, is reasonableness, and the court also uses a balancing test.

    Does the nuisance offend an ordinary person in a similar situation? What is the cost of eliminating the nuisance?

    Turning off a buzzer for a parkinglot machine seems to be easy. The low frequency vibrations is another thing. Is it unreasonable? What do your neighbors think of it? If everyone finds it a nuisance, then it is easily unreasonable. Then comes the balancing test, can an alternative be found that is more reasonable? Or does the cleaners have to go out of business to satisfy the neighbors? Is that fair? That sort of thing.

    Of course, Japan has its own legal system – and it is much more crowded so I’m sure the standards are vastly different too. But there must be an actionable way of going about this, or the health club might not have bothered to turn off their buzzer, because doing so was obviously cheaper than the neighbors bringing some action to their complaint.

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