The evenings in Tokyo have been relatively cool this past week but the days have been pretty warm. Since our apartment is not especially airy due to his location in the building (bottom, center of a two-story building with larger buildings on either side and a big cement wall), we prefer to leave our windows open at night to allow the days heat to bleed out overnight. This has some unfortunate side effects.
Last Saturday evening, we were lying in bed trying to sleep around midnight (because we both had to work early the next morning) and, as usual, had our very noisy air cleaner on to create a field of "white noise" that drowns out most local sounds when we heard some very loud and animated talk coming from what sounded like just outside our window. Considering how loud the air cleaner is, that was quite impressive volume.
One thing about living in Japan is that you find people are often in their own doorways or on their own balconies and no further away from you than someone is in a big living room/kitchen in some of the larger houses in the U.S. Because of this, you can hear people very well and they know it though they sometimes choose to blithely ignore that fact.
Last Saturday was one of those occasions. My husband looked out our living room doors and saw that the neighbors up and across from us were standing outside on their balcony smoking and talking loudly. This sounds somewhat reasonable except that it was just after midnight and the balconies on these apartments are only about 2 feet wide. They are also made of relatively thin plastic and meant mainly as a means to catch laundry that happens to fall off while drying and to let people put plants out there. They are clearly not meant as a hang out zone for late-night conversations.
After putting up with this for awhile, my husband decided he'd had enough and shouted out (not all that loudly) in Japanese that we were trying to sleep. They apologized and went inside after that. I guess we're lucky that they listened to us rather than quibbled with us (or came down and beat on our door and threatened us with bodily harm as could happen in the U.S.) but they probably didn't stop for our benefit so much as for their own. I can say this because of an incident we experienced quite some time ago.
Back when we still had a laser disc player, my brother-in-law was visiting and he and my husband were watching the original Star Wars movies at a boomingly loud (though not ear-shattering) level. To be honest, it was a bit much for me but they wanted a more atmospheric experience. They were doing this between 9:30 and 10:00 pm at night and someone called our landlord and complained. The landlord then called us on the phone and asked us to turn it down because it was "too late" and the person who complained was a student and "had to study".
If around 10:00 pm was late enough to involve the landlord, I'm pretty sure that midnight would have gotten the upstairs tenants a similar embarrassing slap on the wrist, particularly if they didn't quiet down when asked to do so. It would have likely been worse from the shame point of view for them though since our situation was a judgement call as to whether or not it was too late and there's was a no-brainer.