I’m going to take a break from selling you my upcoming novel, and instead relate a little tale from a recent walk home. Enjoy. (And feel free to buy that book.)
Before we start there might need to be a little background. First off, I live in Japan and have lived here since 2004. I like to consider myself highly conversational in Japanese, but will easily admit there are shortages in my vocabulary. Still, I get by. Also, you need to know that elections are happening.
For some reason, Japan has decided the best way to raise public awareness of candidates is to have cars and vans outfitted with loud speakers and then drive those vehicles, which I call noise trucks, around the city. The politician in question may or may not be present. Generally speaking all they do is sit around and, perhaps, wave. Usually it is a recording that does all the speaking, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard a politician or two make their own.
Now, you might already be wondering, if this car is moving around the city then how do people get to know what this politician is for? That’s the thing. Usually the only message being delivered by these noise trucks is the name of said politician. A type script could be translated as follows:
“Hello! This is Taro Tanaka! I’m Taro Tanaka! Thank you! Nice to meet you! I’m Taro Tanaka! Nice to meet you! Thank you very much! Taro Tanaka! This is Taro Tanaka!”
The really informative speakers might also tell you their ages and occupations. Ok, fine, there are a few that deliver a message, but once you add together the doppler effect, the crap speakers used on the cars and the other ambient noise of a city like Tokyo, the finer points of any speech is often lost on me. I hate these cars. They are a pox. Whenever people start talking about how much Japan hates bothering others, this is one of the examples I think of about how many loopholes there are to that argument.
Now, to the story. I’m picking up my son from daycare.We go through our usual routine, putting away his things, reading a storybook or two, getting him into the ergo baby. (This is an area where I know the common Japanese word, dakohimo, but not the English. I’m talking about that reverse backpack thing that small kids can be carried around in.)
Anyway, we are off. Our daycare is a bit of a ways away. There is a bus that can speed up the journey, but I often just walk. It’s only about 2km away and during our walk we can sing songs, play a few little games, and just enjoying being together. Plus, it gives the Mrs. a little more time to herself. Which is something that I appreciate when she picks him up. Generally, it is a nice little walk. Even though it is through Shinjuku, it is off to the side and so there isn’t so much craziness going on. The sidewalks aren’t empty, but I don’t have to feel I’m constantly needing to protect my little guy from crowds.
As I said, an election is coming up. A few of the noise trucks are on patrol, but they either just neatly pass by or are coming from the other direction. Either way, only a moments annoyance. Seriously, these trucks are loud.
Then up comes the noise truck in question. I don’t pay too much attention to it a first. It has a picture of the old man politician on the back. There are some really dense kanji that I can’t really make out (My speaking better than my reading, and names of political parties are tough.) I do think it is odd that this particular truck has the katakana for Jesus on it, but other than that it has all the marking of a typical political noise truck.
It’s parked next to a crowded area, which is pretty normal for these trucks. I basically ignore it, which is pretty normal for me and everyone else. I pass by and am on my way home.
A few minutes later I hear one of the noise trucks getting closer. I roll my eyes and hope it passes soon. Its that same truck from before. I look over. There are maybe three people in it. In the passenger seat, on the sidewalk side, is the politician himself. He looks really old (don’t worry, I’m saying this for a reason). I hope the truck passes soon. It does. We are entering the stretch of this main road where there are a decent amount of residential areas on either side. My guess is they want to make the most of this by going as slow as they can. They are moving just a touch faster than I am walking. But, while I am walking at a consistent pass, the noise truck keeps stopping to let other cars pass by, or just to let the beauty of the message echo around. As a result, this noise truck and I are taking turns passing each other and I am constantly being bombarded by its racket.
Remember that typical message I was talking about? Well, this truck isn’t that. Sure, they are saying the candidates name repeatedly, but it does seem to loaded up with other messages. As far as I can tell. See, another unusual thing is how this message is being said. Usually the voices used are bright and cheerful. Often women who speak is tight, clipped sentences.
But this is different. Its a very androgynous voice. And the way of speaking is old fashioned. How do I describe it? If you are familiar with Noh, or other traditional Japanese performing arts where the magnet of speaking is stretched out and elongated, its like that. If you aren’t familiar with those, then remember in Finding Nemo, when Dory is speaking whale by dragging out all her words? It’s like that.
Like I said, I’m conversational but understanding the message here from a moving vehicle is beyond me. All I know is that we’ve been leap-frogging each other for about fifteen minutes and this is getting old.
The truck stops up ahead. Its an odd area. Construction is half finished, so you have the sidewalk, then about fifteen feet of space and then the actual lines of the road. The noise truck has stopped straddling the lines of the road. With all the times this truck has passed by me I’ve noticed that the politician’s windows are down. I tell myself that if this truck is still there, and still blaring its noise, by the time I reach it I’ll tell them how noisy they are.
As luck would have it. I get my chance. I call out to the truck “Excuse me. That’s really loud. Can you turn it down.”
Right away, I can tell that the politician is not a fan of my impudence. He yells back “It’s election time! We need to tell people about the election.”
To which I answer “We know there is an election coming up. But you are being loud. And a nuisance. Can’t you do it more quietly? Or why don’t you try just talking to people.”
He said something I couldn’t catch, so I try a new tactic.
“See, we’re trying to talk here, but your truck is so loud I can’t hear you.”
He is getting angry, and since he has been annoying me for the past quarter-hour I don’t really mind that he’s angry. Plus, I’ve noticed something here in Japan you don’t find in most guidebooks. Self important old men have a particular way of showing their anger. There is a tight-lipped, bug-eyed expression they share. And a kind of shimmer to how they move. I don’t know why, but those who have achieved this level of pompous, seem to share this feature,
Now, another neat thing about the Japanese language. There are many different ways to say “you” all of them very in politeness. Some are down right rude. He starts referring to me as one that, while not at the bottom, is still low. Makes me feel free to use it right back at him.
He’s yelling that I’m in the way and need to be quiet. I laugh and point out that it is ridiculous that he can be riding around in a noise truck and saying that someone else should be quiet. I also say that if he thinks anyone is going to be persuaded by his methods or personality then he is just an old fool who won’t get any votes.
Around this time is when he starts shouting at me to go back to my own country. I reply I live here and that my taxes help pay for these campaigns. He’s a little dumbfounded at this and his driver seems to use that as an excuse to drive off.
After he leaves I do a google search and find his wikipedia page. It’s totally worth a read as the crazy guy does in fact refer to himself as Jesus Christ, thinks everyone should return to their homeland (even if born in another country) and after running almost yearly in some election or another has still never won public office.
All I can say is that he struck me as a bit of a jerk. But then others might say I started it. And, in a way, they are right.
But seriously Japan, can we stop it with the noise trucks?
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