True Quiet

When the family and I moved to our current home almost two years ago one of the most noticeable differences between here and the previous neighbourhood was a distinct lack of noise. The sounds from traffic were distant and the thrum from industry was absent. After seven years at the relatively convenient apartment in Kasugai, we were now wholly ensconced in a suburban location complete with natural sound dampening in the form of hills, parks, and an ageing local population. Over time we started to notice a distinct lack of other forms of pollution as well. The air is cleaner most of the year1 and, because there are no pachinko parlours nearby, the night sky is often incredibly alluring with its hundreds of visible stars. I had wrongly believed that this sort of quiet calm would not be possible while living in a densely populated part of the country.

However, quite a bit has changed over the past month — and this week in particular — as people across the country have started to isolate themselves from neighbours.

It wasn't too long ago that when Nozomi and I would go out for our evening walk that we'd see dozens of planes flying overhead. Their running lights would signal their terrestrial origin and, if the aircraft was on a domestic flight plan, we'd hear the distant roar of the engines as the jets moved an incredible amount of air. The same, too, for cars. Our evening jaunts typically take place as people who work in the nearby cities are coming home. Every few minutes there would be a rush of five or six vehicles racing past the park to get home before dinner cooled. A pair of community busses would often pass by. Two or three delivery trucks would be seen performing their rounds. Each one of these vehicles creates a noticeable amount of noise, albeit not nearly as much as we learned to tune out with the previous home. However, with the government request that we practice "social distancing" and work from home if at all possible, public transit is forever running on their Sunday schedules and most vehicles are conspicuously absent from the roads. The last two days have seen more vehicles taken off the road as several prefectures across the country have declared a state of emergency, further reducing the need for people to travel to any of these locations. Today the governor of Aichi prefecture, where I live, also declared a state of emergency. While there is no legal requirement for people to stay in their homes, many people will abide by the government guidelines that we go outside only when it is necessary; a hard sell during the few weeks of gorgeous spring weather before the crushing humidity of summer sets in.

Now here we are. In a place that is utterly silent from the hustle and bustle that once constituted daily, suburban life.

While Nozomi and I were in the park for her evening walk we2 counted fewer than 3 cars and 2 aircraft in twenty minutes. The night sky has the same number of stars as before, but they seem less hurried without the visual distraction that comes from blinking attention-seekers. The mail hasn't come all week. Deliveries in the area are generally finished before sunset. More people are working from home and, oddly enough, kids are at home taking their school courses online. The people we do see outside keep to themselves for the most part, wear a mask, and seem to be walking more to stave off cabin fever than for the exercise. The neighbourhood is truly quiet. So much so, that conversations can be heard across hundreds of meters.

The last time I could appreciate this level of background noise was when I travelled to New Jersey for business two years ago. The time before that I was the morning after 3/11. Before that? I lived in an ocean-side apartment I could barely afford in Steveston, BC … right on the edge of Lulu Island. That was in 2004.

As more of the country isolates itself in order to reduce the risk of contracting the Wuhan Virus, COVID-19, I wonder how much quieter the area will become and for how long. This will not be "the new normal" by any stretch of the imagination.

  1. We do still get the "yellow dust" from the Gobi Desert every spring. Gone is the black dust from factories and highway traffic, though.

  2. By "we" I mean "I", as Nozomi cannot count … to the best of my knowledge.