Domestics Spotting

If there is one obvious flaw to the Japanese character it’s their refusal to lose their rags in public situations. Aside from the occasional commute-based freak-out and a fair amount of muttering to oneself, your average Japanese will avoid making a scene in public, so when it does happen, which it does occasionally, it’s worth rubbernecking.

As a “firefly”, a smoker banished by a non-smoking spouse to the balcony where he makes little fiery lights dance around with the tip of a burning stick of slow suicide, I am privy to a lot of gossip-worthy eavesdropping on my neighbours. There is one activity me and the wife like sharing out there, though, which is listening in on domestics. For some reason the apartment building opposite ours is rife with marital difficulties and on more than one occasion have we stood outside, enjoying the cool evening air and the many shouts and threats that drifted on it.

Two instances spring readily to mind. The first was a domestic quarrel, which we pinpointed to an apartment at our height, to the west, in the opposite building. In it, we gathered, a male was paying heavily for some dalliance, presumably, as a woman was screaming at the top of her lungs at him for a good hour orso. In a relentless tirade she screamed and cussed and swore at the guy in a high pitched, piercing shriek. Congreve was almost correct if only his line read “Nor Hell a Fury, like a Japanese woman scorn’d”, though, granted, that wouldn’t have scanned as well. If you want to experience pure, cold, naked terror it lies in the face of a Japanese woman in a rage. Japanese, as a language, has never sounded scarier and hormonal fury never looked as much like bleak obliteration as the time one peers into the eyes of a Japanese woman with a bone to pick. And in this instance too, though we neither of us doubted the guy had it coming to him, whatever it was he had done, we actually felt sorry for the poor sap as he sat there silent in this turbulent whirlwind of abuse. We tried to pick up words in the tirade, but it’s difficult when it’s screamed at such a high pitch. It involved money, uselessness, idiocy and the like. My guess was infidelity, though the wife suggested some theories revolving money and the possibility the man had been profligate in times of need. Once the storm had died down, we listened as we heard windows slide shut from various points between our two apartment buildings. We needed a sit down after that one.

More recently was an instance of mutual domestic squabbling. In an apartment in the opposite building, slightly higher, diagonally opposite of ours, a couple were fighting tooth and nail at extreme volumes. I was, in fact, in a back room when the wife informed me of the spectacle, and we both went to the balcony, drinks in hand, to listen. Again, it was hard to pick up words, but in instances like these “baka”, which is your catch-all word meaning anything from “you rotter” to “die in Hell”, was bandied about liberally. This time, however, the male side was represented in force. The man was equally vocal at his screaming wife indicating that there was probably more at stake here than a little marital slip. “Wakatte iru yo!” too was heard many times, which in polite conversation means something like “yeah, I know”, but in the context of arguments could mean “I’m not a gosh-darn idiot, you know!” This is priceless stuff most Japanese language schools sadly don’t teach. This exchange burnt out quicker due to its intensity. We heard a slam of a window and a continued but muffled shouting match which eventually died down as I had run out of vodka and the wife’s favourite television show was about to start.

As for your average Japanese male marriage is one long primrose path I am surprised we don’t hear these kinds of exchanges more often, but when we do, we always make a point of enjoying them together. Like the grunts of gorillas in the mist we share a nice moment together as these rare pieces of vocal evidence of Japan’s disintegrating peaceful society are borne aloft the barmy summer breezes.


  1. I was, in fact, in a back room when the wife informed me of the spectacle, and we both went to the balcony, drinks in hand, to listen.

    I had to laught out loud at this statement. HAHAHA!

  2. Man... and all I hear out my window in Tokyo are screaming 20-something drunks between midnight and 3 am.

    I have more than once yelled "urusai!" as loud as I could from my 4th floor apartment just for fun, which surprisingly has 100% of the time quieted them up!

  3. Wow. I can't wait to get to Tokyo and have a listen. I can only imagine, at this point, how fun they can be, but man! I can't wait!

  4. When I visited Japan I witnessed a man shouting belligerently at a woman walking her bike through a crowded crosswalk. He was rolling his R's in that awesome way that extremely angry, tough Japanese guys do. It was like a yakuza movie right there in person!!

  5. Just the other week I saw a guy yelling his lungs out at some poor customer service people in my local supermarket. Everyone had stopped shopping and started gawking. Unfortunately I couldn't tell what he was saying, but whatever it was, he was pissed off. Maybe the sneaky, staggered price increases had finally got to him after he found that his favourite brand of natto had gone up 10 yen.

  6. I have no idea how common that stuff is but there were some serious arguments in my neighborhood as well, usually at 3am by the same couple. Lots of stomping and banging which made it even scarier. I just put my headphones on.

    One night it involved a car and some guy inside revving it and smashing into something. I surprised no one called to police.

    But, at the same time, my first apartment in Balitmore the people upstairs used to argue like someone was going to die. Then later they'd screw like it was their last time ever.

  7. Same here Gman, the neighbours that argue the loudest also seem to have the wildest, and most frantic sex...

  8. I think that my family have some sort of italian blood in their veins because we are very loud even when we are not fighting each other, and the quarrels are usually related with money (or with the lack of).

    Anyways we are the kind of family than we can trust each other.

    I bet that our neighbors do not understand us.

  9. "Nor Hell a Fury, like a Japanese woman scorn"

    You're not kidding there.

  10. Apropos Japanese mores generally, the author Jon Courtenay Grimwood delightfully described a conversation between two salarymen as being of the kind that "...looks, to the observer, like the verbal equivalent of a punishment beating."

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