5:50 AM: As For the Radio’s Volume, Lower it, Please

An insomniac writes:

On Saturday morning, I was untimely ripped from a rare deep and peaceful sleep sometime before quarter to six – by what might have been the Japanese National Anthem as NHK Radio went on the air. Then the Japanese folk music began twanging its way from the next balcony over to mine and into my room: my neighbour was at it again.

This time of year in Osaka is when the humidity, although it’s going to get far worse in August and September, really starts settling in. Air conditioners cost a lot to operate, and I don’t like leaving mine on while I sleep. I make do by opening the windows (I have screens) and artfully arranging two fans to help me sleep at night. I think most of my neighbours do the same thing and comport themselves accordingly. Sound carries in these buildings, and there’s an unspoken etiquette that keeps everyone on good terms. As a rule, everyone maintains Balcony Silence until 7:30 or 8 AM. Slack is naturally cut for the sound of air conditioning, for people who go to work early and have to hang their laundry out before they leave, and the like. Give and take goes a long way in Japan.

My neighbour, though, has opted to just take. She did this last year, too, shortly after moving in during last Open-Window Season, but my problem was solved then by simply moving my futon to another part of the room until late-August, when aircons are unavoidable and windows are closed. This spring, however, her radio – a very good one, apparently – could be heard faintly through the walls as she readied for work. The volume’s been going up, incrementally, ever since. Then she started opening her windows. Then came Saturday morning.

Now I’ve only met the woman once, by accident, on the elevator. She looks to be in her early 50s and might live with her sister, or she might have a husband or a brother who visits from time to time. I’m not sure. People come and go, but all I hear is the radio. That one time I met her, she said we must be neighbours and mentioned something to the effect of my liking coffee, which could have meant that she’s seen me at the local Mister Donuts or was making a veiled reference to the sound of my coffee grinder (which, since I normally get up at 8, shouldn’t be a big problem for someone who wakes up at 5:30). I don’t even know the reading of her name (in kanji, on her door), since she never introduced herself, not even when she moved in. The introduction custom (which I followed when I moved in four years ago), is to go door to door handing out soap or towels to the neighbours, begging their indulgence. (imagine doing this in Canada: What?! Do I look like I need a bath?! {slam})

At 5:45, I couldn’t take it any longer. I staggered to my feet, bleary-eyed (not unlike how I went to bed), and headed to the computer. My erstwhile Japanese teacher once helped me compose a polite, page-long letter, in Japanese. It began with the weather (as every Japanese letter must), went on to how everyone’s doors are open in such heat but not everyone gets up at the same time, so would it be possible for her to close her door or turn down the volume of her radio until 7:30, segued into an admission that we all make noise from time to time and I am no exception, and concluded with a plea that she not hesitate to tell me if I am ever too loud. I showed it to several Japanese colleagues, who thought it the model of tact and good manners.

I never got around to sending it last year and when I booted the iBook, on the morning in question, with the intention of printing the letter off, I discovered that said missive was lost the last time the computer crashed. Well, these were desperate times: there were roaring shamisens amassed outside on my balcony. I reached for a Post-it note, scrawled in messy Nihongo: 午前5時50分です。ラジオのボリュムを下げしてください!(It’s 5:50 AM. Please turn down your radio! ), and stuck it to her front door. I never really got back to sleep after that.

As I left – catatonic – for work three-and-a-half hours later, I noticed that the note was no longer on the door. When I got to work, I apologized for my spacey state and explained. Many staff and students were mystified at my plight, since most city-raised Japanese I know could sleep on a moving tire if they had to (NB 7/13: To be fair, several also told me I did the right thing, and that she deserved it). At least three were mortified: they thought the message was a bit too blunt (blunt! good thing they didn’t know what I was thinking when I wrote it). It could be taken as a threat, because I only wrote kudasai (please do this) and forgot to begin with sumimasen (excuse me) or end with yoroshiku onegaishimasu (kindly grant me your indulgence). I explained, patiently I hope, that it was very early in the morning and the Post-it note was very small, but this didn’t seem very convincing to some. (Please turn down your radio: there are less elegant marriage proposals where I come from). I might have frightened her.

I certainly hope so. All I know is that it’s been eerily quiet on the other side of the wall for the past two days. I’d better sleep well while I can, though – the cicadas will begin any day now.

This entry was posted in Blogroll, canada, japan, Osaka, 大阪, 日本. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 5:50 AM: As For the Radio’s Volume, Lower it, Please

  1. mysonabsalom says:

    Dude, I hope you did frighten her. My asshole neighbor stole some 灯油 from me last year and I wrote a note that said, これは俺のものだ。おまえを見ている。 or something to that effect. This was better than my other plan which was to say nothing and fill my tank with gasoline instead of kerosene. This might have killed him and then killed me in the process (as his apartment is next to mine).

    Anyway, keep it up.


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