Outside Hakata Station, Fukuoka, Kyushu Island.
Wheeling my suitcase along, trying to find my way in diminishing daylight, I am forced to stop a while and wait until the little red man gives way to the little green man and we are allowed to cross the street.
It is just then that the Quiet really hits me.
I look around. Buses, and taxis, and bicyclists, and pedestrians, some frantic ones and others less frantic; there is a force-of-nature-like surge of energy to all of it flowing together; overheard, billboards, neon in liberal doses. Behind me, one of the country's major train stations with its adjacent shopping center. A typical big city. A typical Asian city. But where is the noise?
Yes, it is much quieter than it ought to be. Where is the noise...?
This is my first impression of Japan, and I like it.
This Quiet fit neither my previous experiences of such places nor my expectations. Maybe I should have expected such, from what others have told me about Japan over the years. I didn't. How can a place with so many thousands of people (and running motors), in close quarters be...so quiet?
Urban noise, I suppose, is nothing more than the jumbling together of lots of small, extraneous noises, like a car honking off yonder, someone shouting at a friend in the distance, music blaring from an unseen speaker, loud conversations from passersby, a motor-scooter revving behind you and zooming by on a sidewalk, and these days, cell phone conversations. A lot of small things like that. And, come to think of it, probably the majority of these noises come from individual choices. Do I need to honk that horn? Do I need to shout at my friend? Do I need to play my music loudly? And so on.
I figure that in Japan in public, part of the social contract is "Don't make noises for no reason". This does not apply to entertainment districts or shopping areas, where noise is okay and encouraged. Outside those kinds of designated areas, I think this rule applies and is followed by Japanese loyally. When the sum total of thousands of individuals' decisions "to not make unnecessary noise" are added together, we get quiet. It seems simple, but to actually see it is amazing. Many Americans also basically follow this principle, but many don't. It only takes a few...