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Too loud? In Japan, they'll map-shame you
'Dorozoku' map crowd-sources the whereabouts of noisy kids in Japan – but who's being anti-social here, exactly?
- Highly urbanized, Japan is the noisiest country on Earth, and it's driving people to extremes.
- Extremes like reporting their neighbors to a website that has mapped 6,000 public nuisance hot spots.
- But who are the real anti-social actors here: the noisy children or the people reporting them?
Kinkaku-ji, the beautiful and serene 'Temple of the Golden Pavilion' in Kyoto. Not what everyday life in Japan looks (or sounds) like.
Credit: Henry Ngo, CC BY 3.0
Think of Japan and you may dream of serene temples and quiet gardens. Of meditative introspection in an ocean of silence. Shows how much you know.
Japan is one of the most urbanized countries in the world: 92 percent live in cities. Most Japanese spend their days blanketed in an omnipresent and near-constant cloud of ambient urban noise.
Japan has a culture of constant public announcements, both official, commercial and (at least in election season) political. In fact, a 2018 report by the World Health Organization found that Japan was the noisiest country in the world.
One oft-cited example: due in part to the barrage of electrically amplified messages, busy Tokyo train stations such as Ueno and Tameike-Sanno generate a noise level of about 100 decibels, which is almost double the WHO's recommended limit (53 dB).
With levels of noise pollution constant and high, peace and quiet are a rare and fleeting commodity for most Japanese. With that in mind, a phenomenon like dorozoku starts to make sense.
'Dorozoku' literally translates as 'street tribe', but it has come to denote a particular kind of person: the kind who obstructs free passage, talks loudly and, in general, is a public nuisance, flaunting the inalienable right of everybody not to be bothered by everybody else.
The term was popularized by DQN Today, a website that crowd-sources reports of noise pollution and other examples of close-quarter grievances, purportedly helping prospective house hunters to avoid neighborhoods plagued by playful children and overly talkative adults.
The bigger the city, the more complaints; and most of all in Tokyo – a megacity of more than 37 million.
Credit: DQN Today
Each grievance is pinned to an interactive map of Japan. Zoom in on the dorozoku map, and the country comes alive in a riot of icons and colours, each showing particular types of noise pollution. In all, close to 6,000 noise hotspots are listed, all reported and described by disgruntled locals.
The map was started back in 2016 by a Yokohama resident, who prefers to remain anonymous. The forty-something systems developer, who works from home, was prompted by a bunch of noisy children hanging around his house, messing with his concentration. He wanted the map to help other people avoid moving into noisy neighborhoods like his.
The webmaster reviews all reports submitted to the website and filters out about one in ten, because of personal, slanderous or potentially malicious content (e.g. "Only girls in this area"). He also, though more rarely, receives requests to take down reports because the issue has been resolved.
Although they probably lose something in (Google) translation, the complaints make for fascinating reading. Some examples:
Near Kashiwazaki, in the otherwise rather quiet prefecture of Niigata on the western shore of Honshu.
The voice of a kid living in a
residential area around here
is not noisy; it's like a monkey
in a zoo that is always making
noise with a strange voice.
In Hadokate, a port city near the southern tip of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, it's not just sounds that offend but smells as well.
There are many households
that roast meat even though
the space between houses is small,
and on a clear day, it smells
like roasted meat in the town.
Japan's southernmost complaint comes from the small island city of Ishigaki.
Why do you get together in the evening
Whatever the day is, multiple families
With children gather around 5 pm
To ride bikes, ring the bell loudly, play ball
And make strange noises in the parking lot.
Parents chat by the window, and children
Play on the stairs as an athletic substitute.
Tokyo is teeming with complaints. Here's just one.
Back road of shopping street
Parent-child baseball metal bat noise
and catch ball noise in a dead-end
The voice of the family who whispers it
Strange voice etcetera.
Even smaller places, like Kashiwazaki in Niigata prefecture, have their share of complaints.
Credit: DQN Today
Initially relatively small and unnoticed, the website has gone on to nationwide success, especially since the start of the pandemic a year ago. Overall noise complaints have increased significantly in Japan (+30 percent in Tokyo) since everybody–and their kids–has been stuck at home. And the number of complaints to the dorozoku website has shot up by thousands since last year.
And it seems Japan's thirst for quietude is colliding with one source of noise in particular – not traffic, station announcements, or shop music, but children (1).
With notoriety came controversy. While most observers would agree the map is a symptom of Japan's changing attitude towards children, some see it as part of the solution, others as part of the problem.
One pro-map argument goes like this: Japan is no longer as deferential a society as it once was. Where once parents would respond to criticism of their children's behaviour by disciplining them, they are now likely to direct their anger at those who complain, rather than those complained about. The online map is a non-confrontational way to vent frustration and call attention to the problem.
Crowds at Ueno station, where noise is at double the level recommended by the WHO.
Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images
A counterargument: Japan has a particularly thin-skinned attitude towards children's noise. Women who carry noisy babies on public transport have been known to receive vocal, harsh criticism for it. In 2012, residents near a daycare centre demanded that it reduce its noise levels, citing a bylaw banning noise over 45 decibels. In 2014, the bylaw was adapted to exempt younger children.
So, while the map can be seen as a repertory of anti-social behaviour, a case could be made that the real anti-socials are not the 'street tribes', but the ones who feel compelled to report them.
In the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Norihisa Hashimoto, a professor emeritus of acoustic engineering, pointed out that whether noise is irritating depends not just on the noise, but also on the listener – more specifically on their current mood and general degree of social isolation; both of which are likely to have worsened due to the coronavirus. People who complain may feel they're reasonable, but they could actually be fueling intolerance, he said.
Kids at play are noisy. And so are neighborhoods and streets bustling with life. Could it be that the dorozoku map is an expression not of rising levels of noise pollution, but instead of lowering levels of tolerance for what could be construed as 'normal' street noise?
A final factor, and perhaps a decisive one: Japan is experiencing a demographic bust. Reversing that would actually require a higher level of tolerance for youthful exuberance. Instead, dorozoku looks like a symptom of an aging society, irritably requesting that the young'uns "turn the damn volume down" and "get off that lawn."
Many thanks to Jeremy Hoogmartens for sending in this map. Images found at DQN Today.
Strange Maps #1072
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) To be fair: not just children. The New York Times reported a recent case of a construction worker stabbed to death in his parents' Tokyo apartment by an older resident in the same building, who told police "he couldn't stand the loud footsteps and voices".
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
Are "humanized" pigs the future of medical research?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested in animals before use in people. Pigs make better medical research subjects than mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup.
In recent years, our team at Iowa State University has found a way to make pigs an even closer stand-in for humans. We have successfully transferred components of the human immune system into pigs that lack a functional immune system. This breakthrough has the potential to accelerate medical research in many areas, including virus and vaccine research, as well as cancer and stem cell therapeutics.
Existing biomedical models
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID, is a genetic condition that causes impaired development of the immune system. People can develop SCID, as dramatized in the 1976 movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Other animals can develop SCID, too, including mice.
Researchers in the 1980s recognized that SCID mice could be implanted with human immune cells for further study. Such mice are called “humanized" mice and have been optimized over the past 30 years to study many questions relevant to human health.
Mice are the most commonly used animal in biomedical research, but results from mice often do not translate well to human responses, thanks to differences in metabolism, size and divergent cell functions compared with people.
Nonhuman primates are also used for medical research and are certainly closer stand-ins for humans. But using them for this purpose raises numerous ethical considerations. With these concerns in mind, the National Institutes of Health retired most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research in 2013.
Alternative animal models are in demand.
Swine are a viable option for medical research because of their similarities to humans. And with their widespread commercial use, pigs are met with fewer ethical dilemmas than primates. Upwards of 100 million hogs are slaughtered each year for food in the U.S.
In 2012, groups at Iowa State University and Kansas State University, including Jack Dekkers, an expert in animal breeding and genetics, and Raymond Rowland, a specialist in animal diseases, serendipitously discovered a naturally occurring genetic mutation in pigs that caused SCID. We wondered if we could develop these pigs to create a new biomedical model.
Our group has worked for nearly a decade developing and optimizing SCID pigs for applications in biomedical research. In 2018, we achieved a twofold milestone when working with animal physiologist Jason Ross and his lab. Together we developed a more immunocompromised pig than the original SCID pig – and successfully humanized it, by transferring cultured human immune stem cells into the livers of developing piglets.
During early fetal development, immune cells develop within the liver, providing an opportunity to introduce human cells. We inject human immune stem cells into fetal pig livers using ultrasound imaging as a guide. As the pig fetus develops, the injected human immune stem cells begin to differentiate – or change into other kinds of cells – and spread through the pig's body. Once SCID piglets are born, we can detect human immune cells in their blood, liver, spleen and thymus gland. This humanization is what makes them so valuable for testing new medical treatments.
We have found that human ovarian tumors survive and grow in SCID pigs, giving us an opportunity to study ovarian cancer in a new way. Similarly, because human skin survives on SCID pigs, scientists may be able to develop new treatments for skin burns. Other research possibilities are numerous.
The ultraclean SCID pig biocontainment facility in Ames, Iowa. Adeline Boettcher, CC BY-SA
Pigs in a bubble
Since our pigs lack essential components of their immune system, they are extremely susceptible to infection and require special housing to help reduce exposure to pathogens.
SCID pigs are raised in bubble biocontainment facilities. Positive pressure rooms, which maintain a higher air pressure than the surrounding environment to keep pathogens out, are coupled with highly filtered air and water. All personnel are required to wear full personal protective equipment. We typically have anywhere from two to 15 SCID pigs and breeding animals at a given time. (Our breeding animals do not have SCID, but they are genetic carriers of the mutation, so their offspring may have SCID.)
As with any animal research, ethical considerations are always front and center. All our protocols are approved by Iowa State University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and are in accordance with The National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Every day, twice a day, our pigs are checked by expert caretakers who monitor their health status and provide engagement. We have veterinarians on call. If any pigs fall ill, and drug or antibiotic intervention does not improve their condition, the animals are humanely euthanized.
Our goal is to continue optimizing our humanized SCID pigs so they can be more readily available for stem cell therapy testing, as well as research in other areas, including cancer. We hope the development of the SCID pig model will pave the way for advancements in therapeutic testing, with the long-term goal of improving human patient outcomes.
Adeline Boettcher earned her research-based Ph.D. working on the SCID project in 2019.
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."