Sounds of the city (2016.05.02 [Mon.])


 For a while I had been dreaming of a certain kind of home office when I stumbled across a real estate listing that felt as if it had read my mind, and quickly made the decision to rent. It is a big decision, but that has been the case for every one of my favorites residences over the years. I suppose you could call it intuition, or just striking the right nerve. But after one of the most difficult moves in my life, I find myself here.

 My home is right at the foothills of the mountains, up a steep slope, but I adjusted to the hike surprisingly quickly. A friend joked that at my age a little cardio never hurt. I’m in a two-floor building, so the view is not spectacular, but I can see the port and a sliver of bay. Come summer, bluebottles flock around some neighbor’s camphor tree. Someone’s vines are beginning to crawl up my wall.

 To the side, I can make out the sloping street between homes lit wonderfully by a street light. Partial glimpses of people flitter across the field like fragments of DNA.

 If I let my imagination wander, the scene is like the gateway to Taruho Inagaki's alternative world, Hakuban-kai (meaning a thin-plate world). Watching the comings and goings of people through dreaming eyes lets me drift back to a feeling I had in my school years, playing at being a junior detective. I can still make out traces of the hardboiled Hanshin modernism of the 1960s here and there in town, and though this is the first time I’ve lived in this neighborhood, it somehow feels like I’ve come home. It’s a feeling I’ve been enjoying since finding my place here.

 This is the first place where I have been able to accept the sounds of the city. Someone once told me they enjoyed opening their windows and listening to the ensemble of sounds, and here I suppose I have the same regard for these as part of the local ecosystem. People talking, babies crying, the calls of dogs and birds, the more distant sounds of construction and traffic, car horns.... The totality of these makes a distinct urban soundscape, something sadly absent on Post Island, where the residential areas were arranged by designed to make way for the trucks hauling goods, and are exposed to their noise from morning to night. Of course, the bosozoku biker gangs have their own peculiar roar as well. I suppose all may someday form a part of Japan’s traditions, but for a son of the suburbs like myself, they have never felt familiar. Not that that is necessarily a good thing...

 Shortly after moving in, I ran into my second-floor neighbor, who asked if I wasn’t bothered by the noise. Without thinking much about it, I said “No,” although I had often heard the sound of piano playing from their room. But never once did I feel that this was irritating or intrusive. Had she asked instead whether I could hear anything from the room above, I would have replied, “Yes, I can you playing the piano.”

 To be honest, she is quite a good pianist, and from the first I felt her playing to be a lovely accompaniment to the scenery. But no matter how skilled, the sounds was of someone practicing, which is very different from a recorded work. Nonetheless, for me this was just another part of the soundscape. I was happy to have such a talented musician nearby. Who could call it noise?

 Come to think of it, my family home in Toyonaka was a two-story wooden-framed house in a similar neighborhood, and I can recall hearing the sounds of shamisen playing from a home across our back garden on summer evenings. Back then it wasn7t unusual for young women to play the shamisen, and looking back I remember the sound as part of the audial environment, in the same way insect calls create the autumn ambiance. No one in my family ever remarked about such background sounds; they were accepted without question or complaint.

 It seems that in communities these days (and mine is no exception), the sound insulation of floors and walls and differences between contract terms have come to be a constant source of disputes between residents. Perhaps that is even the main source of these conflicts, but I think that such reactions are themselves the problem. Not all neighborhood sounds should be treated as annoyances. Thick floors and ceilings are part of the problem; culture dies in such insulated environments.

 If this town were too quiet at night, with no human sounds, it would actually be unsettling. Silence is scary. The owner of a local Parisian cafe (where Edith Piaf is always quietly playing), also says this place becomes like a ghost town at night. He’s a lively sort, always ready with a “Bon jour! Ça vas?”, is well known in some circles and like me is new to the neighborhood. Before that, he also lived on Port Island. Maybe this is what they mean by a strange connection.