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Japan Life Tips: How to Live with Noisy Neighbors and Bugs?

In the previous blog post, we looked at expectations vs the reality of moving to Japan. Carrying on with this thread, it’s probably best to know some customs and common protocol when it comes to living harmoniously side by side with your neighbor.


Japan is a community-minded culture, and although in the cities, particularly individuals, keep to themselves, there may be times that you want to engage more with your neighbors or community. So how do you be a good neighbor in Japan? In this article, we go into detail to help you keep the ‘wa’ in your uchi space.


Introducing yourself to your neighbors in Japan.


Although this is becoming less common, an excellent way to get familiar with the neighbors is to go an introduce yourself. However, this might be easier said than done if you do not speak Japanese. Also, in the city, more and more people keep to themselves and may not even open the door for you.

If you are confident in your Japanese, by all means, go ahead and knock on the door of your neighbor’s apartment or townhouse. In Japan, it is custom to give something when meeting neighbors for the first time. This helps make the daiichiinsho(第一印象) or first impression.


The most common gift to give is soba, or sweets, but try to make sure it isn’t just a Kit-kat that you found at the local supermarket. Usually, department stores will have a special section for such items.


Why not use a noticeboard?


When you knock on the door, be sure to take a big step back so that your neighbor can see you. If you live in an apartment complex, and you don’t feel comfortable knocking on the doors of your neighbor’s room, try speaking with the 管理さん (Building caretaker) there might be a general noticeboard that you can post an introduction paper too.


Why is it important to be a good neighbor in Japan?


There are many benefits of keeping up good relationships in the neighborhood. Speaking from personal experience, if you know are on speaking terms with a few elderly neighbors, you will likely often hear when there are good sales at the supermarket and may receive your fair share of omiyage.


Finally, in the event of an emergency, you will want to be able to band together, and having neighbors who look out for each other is a win-win for both parties. This is especially true if you are not so confident with your Japanese speaking ability in the event of an emergency.


Handling noise complaints in apartments


There is a saying in Japanese 壁に耳あり、障子に目あり, (the walls have ears, the sliding doors have eyes). Although most of us do not live in a yakushi, even those of us who live in an apartment will come at one point another question if the walls are made of paper.


Hearing family disputes, loud music, and occasional bumps in the night are all part of the package of living in a city, and Japan is no different. However, what do you do when your neighbors’ friend visit descends into an impromptu dance party?

There are a couple of realms of thought on this subject.

Before starting either train of thought, we would recommend brushing up on your building policies as to how they handle noise complaints.


1. The I don’t speak Japanese path

Step 1: Write a letter


The official way of handling the problem is to write a letter of complaint to the building caretaking staff. In the note, be sure to keep the details factual and brief. Be sure to list the times and dates of the noise.


This will usually cause the building staff to post a note on the bulletin board, asking all residents to keep the noise down. It is likely the caretaking staff will also speak with the noisy neighbor and issue them with a warning.


Step 2: Speak with the Koban


If the situation is ongoing, don’t be afraid to go down to the Koban and speak with the police. Although, it might sound heavy-handed depending on where you come from. In Japan, noise complaints are pretty much the nightly residential Koban’s bread and butter of calls. The great thing about Japan’s Koban is they can arrange for translators and interpreters over the phone to assist with the process if it is causing you grief.


Step 3: Look at moving elsewhere


If despite all these attempts, you are still in a difficult position with your neighbor, it is probably in your best interest to move on. Although this comment might annoy a few readers, it has to be noted it is not worth escalating the situation more.


There recently have been several incidents recorded of noise complaints escalating to criminal levels, and not many (any?) seem to have a happy story. What’s more, if you have made several complaints, you might able to negotiate an exit with your landlord that does not leave you penalized.


I do speak Japanese/live with a Japanese partner, and I have won the support of some neighbors' path


Before I share how some of our staff have solved noise complaints, I would add that before you do this that you do record the date and time of the complaint as a report regardless.


Step 1: Speak with other neighbors


There is a concept in Japan called 世間の目 (lit eye of society). Whether you are Japanese or non-Japanese, being under scrutiny by Japanese society is an incredibly uncomfortable experience.

If the noise issue is bothering you, and you are on good terms with other neighbors, voice it up with them as it is likely bothering them also (even better if you can get your noisy neighbors, neighbor involved too).


Step 2: Once you have made your posse chose your course of action


Please speak with the group and hear how they want to deal with the problem, unless you are very confident it is better to let someone else in the group be the leader.


You might find that you follow the above steps, or you may find that the group is encouraged, and some of you go directly to the neighbor in question and speak with them directly. I have been in both groups, and the situation seems to solve itself quickly.


Dealing with bugs


If you are lucky to live in the countryside, you are likely to have another type of neighbor – Bugs! There are a few types of bugs, and there are easy ways to remove them, but let’s look at some of the most of the common types of bugs you will find and how to get rid of them or prevent them from coming into your house.


1. Giant Hornet


Unless you are living quite rural, you are unlikely to meet these hornets. The Suzumebachi is quite large (hence the name sparrow bee) and is incredibly painful when it stings. If you happen to see a Suzumebachi nest, you are probably going to want to report it to your city hall, and they will likely send an exterminator out to get rid of it. Don’t try to deal with the nest yourself. Hornets can get quite angry if you are stung, apply antihistamine cream, and go to the hospital.


2. Giant centipede


The Mukade is a creepy looking black creature that crawled out of your nightmares. They are all over the countryside and if you live near rice fields or forests, especially if the dirt is being turned to plant new crops. You are going to find a bunch of them.


The Mukade is a real mean angry bug; they are aggressive and do chase you (calm down any human could outwalk them). They are venomous but not fatally so, and also poisonous if you touch them (for whatever reason), they can secrete a poison that irritates if it touches you.


If you read around, you will hear of overly dramatic ways, the brave Japanese people of the Inaka kill them. Often with fire or boiling water. A simple vacuum is the easiest way to go.


Use a vacuum


In any case, mukade usually appears in wet areas with clutter (they like to hide), so as long as you are not a slob, you will probably be fine. If you are still troubled by Mukada and want to prevent them, look for Mukade chalk in the homeware stores. This powder can be put around the door frames and windows to stop bugs (and vampires) from entering your house. If you have pets nearby, don’t use the chalk because it can be poisonous.


3. Huntsman Spider


Huntsman spiders are found all over the world. The ones in Japan can grow to about the size of the ones that you can find in Australia, although according to our local Australian staff seem to be a little faster and more active. Huntsman spiders may look a little scary but are quite harmless.


They are not venomous and love to eat cockroaches and other pests that may live in your building. If you decide that you want to move this friendly bug on, we recommend using a glass jar and firm cardboard to trap the bug while it is on the wall and then release it outside.


4. Cockroach


Cockroaches are also another bug that you can see all over the world, but in Japan, it can fly!


Cockroaches are not the worst bug in the world, but it is never fun when you wake up in the middle of the night and step on one only to hear a squish. To get rid of cockroaches, you can either use a spray (although that may cause the roach to fly). However, you can also buy baits from the supermarket or hardware store.


It should be noted that Huntsman spiders love eating cockroaches, so it may be another reason to let one stay in your abode.


5. Geji Geji (House centipede)


Geji Geji may look like it is straight out of a horror movie, but it is entirely harmless. What’s more, like the huntsman spider, Geji Geji is a good little buddy to have around as they get rid of the nasty bugs.


If you want to get rid of Geji Geji, look at using the same method as removing a huntsman. Once you have done that, look for any cracks you may have around your house and try to seal it.


Being a good neigbor in Japan is important

Well, that concludes our article!

What do you think of living in Japan? We would love to know. Also, what do you think makes a good neighbor in Japan? 

If you’re interested in living and working in Japan, check out jobs with Interac!

About the Author

Brian McDonough is a consultant at Interac, Japan’s largest provider of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). Originally from the US, Brian has lived in Japan for over 25 years, giving him a unique perspective on the cultural differences and challenges people face when moving to Japan. He has first-hand experience of working in Japan as an American.