Living in Japan

Dealing with noisy neighbors the Japanese way

Whether it's dragging footsteps or loud music blasting at night, having noisy neighbors is never helpful in creating a happy living environment. If you're facing this dilemma, we've got a few tips to handle the situation.

With more and more people working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, the issue of noisy neighbors has stepped into the spotlight. You might have lived with your neighbor for many years yet only recently discovered that they seem to hold a megaphone while arguing or stomp around their apartment like they are a Clydesdale horse. Let me tell you, the thin walls in Japanese apartments don’t help!

We will address the noisy neighbor situation in terms of gravity, so you can gauge which approach to take.

Don’t overreact but confront nicely

The first step to dealing with noisy neighbors is to wait. Give it some time because they might just have friends over, and it’s a one-night kind of thing. It’s definitely not courteous to report your neighbor on the first incident that they’re noisy.

Now, if the TV is on too loud every night, or they play a musical instrument past 11 pm frequently, you can consider the noise habitual and start confronting your neighbor. You can bang on the wall (it’s thin enough, so they’ll get the message) when the noise occurs, or walk over to their front door and tell them nicely that you need to sleep or their volume is too loud. Often, this is more than enough to get your point across, and they will apologize or immediately lower their volumes.

However, there are those who can’t be convinced with a bang or personal warning. You can then report your situation to the property management company because they have more influence over the building tenants. Try writing a letter explaining the details of your living condition and drop it at the designated letterbox. You can also send them an email. If a noise complaint notice from the property management office doesn’t fix your problem, it might be time to take the next step, which is getting the authorities involved.

Now, if you are quite close or friendly with your other neighbors, chances are, they too are getting disturbed by the noise. You can then rely on the power of numbers and tackle the problem as a group. The more complaints the property management office receives or the more warnings that neighbor gets will send a stronger message and hopefully end the issue once and for all.

There is also another approach to handling the noise issue: the passive method of sacrifice and compromise. For example, you can buy earplugs for sleeping or headphones for working so that you don’t get affected by the noise. Sometimes this is the only way if you can’t afford to lose your accommodation.

Get the authorities involved, if needed

If the nice approach doesn’t work, it’s time to bring in the police. You don’t need to be wary of calling the police (hotline 110) for a simple noise complaint is accepted because this happens a lot. I have a friend who was talking over the phone in front of a convenience store (not even on his apartment building), and the police suddenly arrive to tell him they got a noise complaint. It turns out there was a grandpa nearby who got annoyed by his voice. When calling the authorities, you can also ask for an interpreter if you need some assistance explaining the situation.

If even multiple noise complaints nor the police don’t solve your problem and the issue gets out of hand to the point that your daily life is negatively affected, then perhaps it’s time to check your lease contract for early termination. Sometimes, moving to a better location and maintaining your sanity is more important than the costs or hassle of transferring.

Tips to avoid noisy neighbors

If you are looking for a new place, perhaps some due diligence can help avoid such issues. For example, you can check out the Dorozoku Map. It’s an interactive map of Japan that tracks which areas have more dorozoku (道路族どうろぞく) – an online term for people who are noisy based on user-submitted complaints. The website might be in Japanese only, but the brightly colored dots to indicate higher dorozoku cases is pretty straightforward to understand. The website can definitely help give you a general idea of your neighborhood, especially if you need your calm.

This might be discriminatory, but another way to ensure that you get your peace and quiet is to avoid possible noisy neighbors. For example, you can ask your real estate agent how many tenants are on each floor before choosing an apartment or if there are young children on the same floor. You can also ask if there are foreigners, given the general implication that Japanese are quieter, although there are exemptions to this, of course.

For a few extra thousand yen, you can opt for the top floor unit and one at the far end to further minimize the chances of noise pollution. By getting a unit at the top, you escape hearing dragging furniture or heavy footsteps above. Meanwhile, a unit at the far end removes one wall adjoining another tenant’s, meaning less noise. These are just a few simple suggestions when taking the approach of “prevention is better than cure.”

There are many ways to handle the noisy neighbor issue in Japan. Whether the passive approach of headphones or soundproofing your walls or the more aggressive step of getting the authorities involved, you often have many options to choose from. Lastly, you can also consider it a sign to move into a better place, and fortunately, there are also many room listings in the market. Take the tips mentioned above and get the peaceful sleep and undisturbed living conditions you deserve!

Hana is a freelance writer, finance analyst, and chef who pursues various hobbies. She aspires to be a philanthropist who helps out others in any way she can.

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