Enjoying Your Japanese Meiwaku Towel

Do you ever have one of those days where you perform major remodeling on the exterior of your home, inflicting several weeks of construction noise and dust on your neighbors? I hate it when that happens. In the United States, it’s all just part of the background noise of barking dogs, leaf blowers, raucous backyard 2AM parties, and whatever else constitutes the normal neighborhood experience.

Here in Japan, they take a different approach. Sure, there is still a lot of noise pollution. Having someone swing a hammer on your next-door neighbor’s roof for an entire week is never going to be pleasant. But when it comes times for your own major renovation, you can balance out the noise with a meiwaku towel.

I received one of these amazing noise-compensation devices just last week. Here is how it works. When someone is about to embark on a noisy project, the construction company obtains a brand-new hand towel for each adjacent household and wraps them in a plastic sheath printed with the company logo and a heartfelt “We are so very sorry for the noise” message.

My very own meiwaku towel.

A few days before work begins, the company visits each neighbor, hands them the towel, and profusely apologizes in advance for all of the noise and trouble that this building work is bound to cause. It’s a nice reminder that in Japan, consideration of those around you is embedded in the most ordinary tasks of daily life.

The term meiwaku (迷惑) means “bother,” “nuisance,” and other troublesome words like that. I won’t define “towel” here, but I should confess that I am the only one who calls this a meiwaku towel. It is just an ordinary towel, and typically not a good quality one. And yet, handing your neighbors a token gift like this in anticipation of troubling them goes a long way toward continued harmony within the community. I can’t explain it, but I had a sense of gratitude in receiving this towel that went way beyond the noise I am likely to endure over the next few days.

Even if you are not living in Japan, you might consider offering a small gift to others if you know you are about to inconvenience them. It doesn’t need to be a towel. You can also give snacks, an improving book, a gift card to a nearby restaurant, or even just a greeting card with an appropriate message. It won’t mitigate the trouble you will cause them, but some of your neighbors may think, “At least they tried to make it better. I appreciate that.”

[Image Credits: こうまる/photo-ac.com]

Tim Odagiri

Tim Odagiri is an author, software developer, and the host of Japan Everyday. He has published more than a dozen books and hundreds of articles covering technology, current events, and now life in Japan. Find his latest books at OwaniPress.com.

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