LET’S LIVE: Doing the Laundry

Having moved to Japan at the tender age of 24, it can be hard to tell exactly how much of the ‘common sense’ (‘joushiki’ in Japanese) is limited to only Japan or is part of the fabric of life everywhere. I finished uni then skulkd around my hometown for a couple of years before making the move to Japan, so my experience is limited.

One thing I’m certain is different, however, is how Japan goes about doing the laundry. I knew something was afoot when I walked into my very first Japanese apartment to be greeted by this hulking, shimmering white monolith next to the toilet. It looked like an iPhone had cross-bred with a hyperbaric chamber. But upon closer inspection I could see that it was in fact my new washing machine. But where was the porthole? Not on the front, as I was used to in the U.K., but on the top. A vertical washing machine. Back then I found that mind-blowing.

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Oh, but that was just the beginning of my laundry-based adventures. It was imperative that I buy a laundry pole before washing my dirty clothing: moreso than back home, it’s extremely important to the Japanese dry their clothes outside. The sun is seen as the ultimate drying, bacteria-zapping wonder this side of the solar system (literally), and apartment agencies will proudly advertise any living space with a south-facing veranda. Weather reports inform viewers, along with today’s weather and temperature, if today is a good day to do laundry. And nearly every living space, large and small, has a place you can install a laundry pole for hanging your laundry out in public. My LeoPalace apartment was no exception. So off I went to the homeware store to pick up the smallest laundry pole I could find – which was still taller than me – and slide into the handles poking out the back end of my apartment.

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If I’m brutally honest, I rarely used that pole for the first year I lived there. Partly because the back of my apartment looked directly over the playground of an elementary school, and I was none too keen about young kids having a direct view of my drying undergarments. But the other reason is because I was in love with the alternative method of drying, the one which my wife loathes to use unless it is a full-blown typhoon outside: the shower room.

You see, most shower rooms in Japan have their own pole installed, above the bath. It’s not for people to do chin-ups and bathe at the same time, but as a secondary place to dry washed clothes. You hang your clothes up, close the door, and set the fan to blow hot,dry air for how many hours you want it to. After the set number of hours, fan switches off, and boom! You have a fresh stack of presentable clothing once more.

But I’m getting ahead of myself: I still hadn’t done my first wash. The buttons were bewildering enough: where were the dials for choosing temperature and time? And despite recognizing the word ‘start’ in Japanese the darn thing wouldn’t start.

Finally, out of desperation, I looked around the base of the washing machine. The base was a pre-installed platform, one every apartment has, bolted into the floor, so you have no choice where your washing machine will go in your Japanese apartment. Which was a shame, because I wasn’t fond how my washing machine was there to greet me at the entrance of the apartment, lurking at the end of a dark corridor like HAL. And there, in the far corner of that base, I found it: a thick beige dial that, when turned, opened up the tap for water to flow in to the washing machine. Was this a thing other countries had? Or was it just Japan? I couldn’t tell, this was the first time I’d booted up a washing machine for the first time.

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At last, which a cunning combination of checking the internet and stabbing various buttons, I got a standard wash going. Oh, but that wasn’t the end of the surprises! When my washing machine merrily beeped its completion of its first wash, I pulled open the lid to pull out – not roasty-toasty clothes, but ice-cold garments instead. Yep, turns out that Japanese washing machines almost exclusively use cold water only. At first I was horrified – how on earth was that going to clean the clothes! I might was well just throw them in the lake! – but over time it’s come to grow on me. It’s environmentally friendly, there’s zero chance of colours fading, and it cleans better than I initially thought. That being said, when I took my wife back to the U.K. for a family visit, I did go overboard with the temperature setting on the washing machine there, bleaching some of her clothes of all color. She weren’t pleased, not matter how much I insisted it was trendy!

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