Top 5 Annoying Sounds in Japan

Good morning everyone,

The good news is that they are no longer calling for rain tomorrow, the bad news is that they are still calling for it on Sunday (the day that I'm supposed to go for my long training run) and now Monday is looking grey and overcast as well. It'll remain for the weekend and into the beginning of next week, but things will slowly cool down and we're looking at daytime highs of around 8C towards the end of the working week.

Ah Japan, the land of beautiful sights and sounds. Cicadas chirping, tea pouring, wooden geta sandals clopping on the sidewalk. The country can be just as much a feast for the ears as the eyes.

Except when it’s not. There are some sounds in Japan that just make you want to slam your hands over your ears and hope you never fall victim to the same vibrations ever again. And we’re not talking about sounds you can hear anywhere in the world like crying babies or construction work, these are all fairly unique to Japan.

That’s why this week we’re counting down the top five most annoying sounds in Japan. What makes us want to invest in a barrel full of earplugs? Today, we find out.

So let’s get to it! Starting off with…

#5. Mouth sounds: “Heeee?!” and “teeth-sucking”

Japanese people themselves make quite a few sounds that you may find perplexing (assuming you understand Japanese, otherwise it’s all going to be perplexing). One of the most common is: “heeee?!”

“Heee?!” can be used to express everything from “oh really?” to “holy crap are you joking?!” Since that whole spectrum of reactions is condensed into a single word, you tend to hear “heee?!” a lot. So, it isn't annoying by itself, it's just that it's used so much.

YouTuber ShenLimTV does a good job of explaining four different levels of “heee?!” and how to differentiate them.

▼ Skip to 1:10 for the start of the explanation,
and to 2:50 for a barrage of “heee?!”

Another common sound Japanese people make is known as “teeth-sucking.” To make this sound, clench your teeth together, then imagine you just saw someone fall of their bike and react appropriately.

▼ An example of the “teeth-sucking” sound…
over and over and over and over again.

But rather than using the “teeth-sucking” sound to express feeling their own or someone else’s pain, it’s instead usually used to show that they’re thinking hard about something, or that something might be difficult. For example:

You: I’d like to return this underwear.
Clerk: Yes, certainly. Did you wear it?
You: Uh, yeah.
Clerk: (“Teeth-sucking” sound). Ah, that’s going to be a little difficult….

Neither “heee?!” and “teeth-sucking” on their own are that annoying, it’s their overuse that gets them onto this list. It’s similar to the word oishii (“delicious”). No one has a problem with the word… until you start watching food-review TV shows and you hear it about a million times...ha ha!

#4. Squeaky shoes
Apparently these things exist outside of Japan too, but they’re so common here that it’s good to be mentally prepared. For the uninitiated, it’s a simple concept: children’s shoes that squeak when they walk.

▼ The road to hell is paved with good intentions…
and you must walk down it with squeaky shoes.

Whenever you go to a mall or shopping center in Japan, you can be sure to hear at least a few pairs of squeaky shoes running around. It’s cute the first time, gives a chuckle the second time… but by the third, fourth, fifth, eight-hundredth time, you start hearing the squeaks in your nightmares.

To be fair, we can kind of see how squeaky shoes can be useful: they could theoretically help you locate your child if you get separated by just following the squeaks. Plus they have at least one other benefit:

▼ They reduce the number of tantrums because it’s impossible
to stay mad when you’re squeaking with every step.

But still, when the squeaks are nonstop, it’s almost as if the children are walking on your skull. Just be glad you can at least walk away from the kids… unless they’re yours, in which case what were you thinking?!

#3. Noises from pachinko parlors and stores

wtf-annoying-sounds-5

Walking down the street in a city or town in Japan can result in an auditory overload, but not in the ways you might think. It’s not like in New York city where cars are honking every second, instead the noise offenders here are the buildings themselves.

Some of the noisiest establishments in Japan are pachinko parlors, essentially casinos where the clientele play games of chance that pay out in little metal balls. With hundreds of machine sounds going off at once, they’re extremely noisy. If you go inside to play then you’re probably fine with it, but unfortunately many pachinko parlors have entrances with automatic doors, and if you’re just walking by, you get a nice kick to the ears as the doors open.

▼ The beginning of the video is the cameraman just walking inside, and already
it sounds like the speakers are blown out. Imagine that on your eardrums.

But pachinko parlors aren’t the only culprits. One odd feature of Japanese advertising is people standing outside of stores and restaurants to essentially shout advertisements over and over again. As you might expect, they can be quite loud, high-pitched, and are often quite different from the shriekers’ normal voices.

YouTuber Kemushichan examines this phenomenon in detail in this video:

▼ Usually irasshaimase (“welcome”) is a nice sound to hear.
Skip to 1:10 to hear how it can be used for evil.

But hey, at least if you don’t want to hear piercing pachinko or screaming shopkeepers, you can just stay at home. But at home, there’s one noise you’re not safe from…

#2. Town announcements

wtf-annoying-sounds-4

Oh no. Ohh noo. Just thinking about this is giving me horrible flashbacks to living in Okinawa, where my apartment was right next door to one of the town’s many announcement speakers.

In Japan, it’s quite common for towns and cities to be sprinkled with public announcement speakers. Now that might not sound so bad at first, right? It’s a good way to let people know if there’s an emergency or whatever. Sure, that’s great, but…

Where I lived, they used them every day.

It varies from place to place, but when I lived in Yamato in Kanagawa, my town had an announcement every single morning at 7:00 a.m. Oh yes, and that included weekends too. I thought I was going to sleep in on Saturday, but nope, we had to listen to some poor child say “good morning!” and read off announcements over the loudspeaker instead.

While the early morning ones were the worst, the creepiest ones were the announcements that went off typically around 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. where a high-pitched woman’s voice would say that “all good children should go home now!” It always gave me a dystopian vibe that made me think for a second I was in North Korea and not Japan.

▼ Just try to watch this and tell me it’s not right out of a horror film.

And the #1 most annoying sound in Japan is…

1. Electoral vehicles

wtf-annoying-sounds-2

You thought elections were bad in your country? At least you can shut off the news if you want. In Japan, the electoral advertisements come to you.

Japan has some odd laws when it comes to advertising yourself as a candidate for office. A lot of it is good, limiting the funds, methods, and amount of time that can be spent on campaigns. But when your ways of advertising yourself as a candidate are so limited, you need to pursue alternative paths to getting the word out there about yourself so people know to vote for you.

Enter the electoral vehicles.

For the few weeks of election advertisement permitted before voting, these babies roam the streets nonstop morning to night blaring out the same short phrases over and over and over and over again.

▼ Here’s a taste of what you might hear, nice and loud,
while inside of your house.

Now you might be thinking, oh that’s not so bad. Sure, once isn’t bad. But again. And again. And again. And again. For days on end. It starts to grind on your sanity and you just want to run out there and beg their smiling, waving faces for just a moment of peace.

One of the best days all year in Japan – better than New Year’s, better than Christmas, better then Golden Week – is the day after the election when there’s no more electoral vehicles out in the streets. You can take a deep breath, relax, and start counting down the days until you have to endure the audial torture again.So there you have it, the top five most annoying sounds in Japan. What are some sounds that you hear in Japan that make you long for silence?

Have a great day!

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