Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Random Memories #7

This beauty, so clean, fresh and lovely an appliance, was named the "Neo Queen", and was kept on a balcony that was favored by the more well-appointed cockroaches in Tokyo.

I have a lot of pictures of things which most people almost certainly do not have a picture of. For instance, I have a photo of the very first time I laid eyes on my husband, our first hug, and our first kiss. This was all due to the unique nature of our relationship, as my attentive readers may recall.

I also have a picture of many mundane things which people probably don't take photos of. Well, that's probably not true in the internet age when people blog about everything from how they cut their toenails to their first pair of jogging shorts. However, twenty-some years ago, people didn't take pictures of their new toenail clippers because they didn't have blogs to display them on and they didn't want to pay to have prints made to send to family about something so trivial.

In my case, since I was half of a long distance relationship and my boyfriend wanted to show me his new environment, I have pictures of a lot of the things which I used in Japan for the first time. I have a shot of the first rice cooker, first mini gas "stove", first tiny refrigerator, and first annoying as hell to use washing machine in Japan. Though not earth shattering in their importance, even at that time these things (well, not the rice cooker) represented inconvenience which was above and beyond what I experienced in the U.S. 

The picture on this post is the washing machine in my boyfriend's apartment. Some of you may recognize it if you grew up in a home that lacked an automatic washer. These deals required you to manually add water (cold in Japan, of course) to the left side which had a tiny plastic oscillator that handled an extremely tiny amount of clothes. Once you put in sufficient water, which took forever and you had to watch like a hawk lest you overfill and have to drain it off, you added laundry and let it roll anemically. After that, you drained it like the slowest tub in the world and proceeded to manually add the rinse water and go through the weak agitation again. Finally, you dragged the sopping wet clothes over the a tiny basket on the right which would never balance properly as you attempted to spin most of the water out of the clothes.

This blue machine was the first one I used in Japan in 1988, but I also got one of my very own a little over a year later when I returned there in 1989. At that time, these were still pretty normal, especially for apartments. Even though everyone was using automatic machines back home for years before this, such labor saving devices were not de regueur in Japan. I'm not certain why that should be the case, but I can speculate based on things I observed and my personal opinions about the way in which women are regarded.

I read blogs written by several women who are married to Japanese men, and have heard a certain comment firsthand which reveals the way in which housework is looked upon. At least 4 women in relationships with Japanese husbands have said that, at one time or another, they said that they "washed the clothes and hung them out to dry". For those who don't remember from some of my posts (and it'd be easy not to remember with 972 posts in the can at this point), most people do not use or have clothes dryers." When women state that they "washed the clothes", their husbands say something to the effect of, "the machine washed the clothes, not you." Of course, the wives are upset that their efforts are belittled in this way, but notion among at least some Japanese men is that women are spoiled by such labor-saving devices and that it's hardly work at all when the machines are doing things.

Housewives in general are held in higher esteem in Japan, which is a good thing. However, because they are home all of the time, their individual efforts aren't always seen as valuable and their time absolutely is not. Labor-saving devices like dishwashers and clothes dryers aren't popular because women are seen as having the time to spend on such work. My guess is these pathetic washing machines (which are still sold in Japan!) stayed in use far longer there than in other countries because the laundry duties could be labor-intensive since it was perceived that women had the time to mess about with them. 

There are other possibilities, of course. One is that they were cheaper to make and buy and Japanese folks just preferred the extra work and crummy results (clothes came out very dingy from those things) to spending a little more. Another may have to do with size or shape. However, we used less space with our small automatic (4.1 liter) machine than we did with the semi-manual machine. In fact, we used exactly the same laundry area with an enclosed plastic base for both types. Yet another is that they use less water. Still, few people use them now so something has changed and I think it is the fact that more women are working now than 20-some years ago. 

At any rate, finding the picture of this machine reminded me of a lot of hated and time-consuming laundry duty in my early days in Japan as well as vivid memories of the unbalanced spin basket. Is it any wonder that I stopped wearing jeans after going to Japan? They were absolutely impossible to handle in such machines. 


  1. All my life (I'm 32) we have owned a washer and dryer. But my mom wouldn't let us use the dryer until our clothes was air dried out on the line. Her reasoning was that it used less gas and it faded our clothing to use a dryer (I guess the sun doesn't?). As an adult I enjoy the luxury of using a machine to do my wash and drying. I think I would probably complain if I had to do my laundry like you did in Japan. When would I find time to blog?!

  2. My first apartment in Japan had a similar machine--although mine was quite old and beat up at the time.

    I wanted to use hot water, so I "MacGuyered" a solution--I ran a hose (that I bought at the home centre) from the bathroom to the washer.
    When one of the head office people saw our machine, it was quickly replaced for an automatic one. I certainly appreciated how much less effort it took.
    When I moved back home, I bought a model that was reminiscent of that second (better) machine. And I still dry my clothes on the line as long as I don't need them right away.

  3. I've often wondered if the same thought process leads to kids having to clean their schools on their hands and knees with tiny rags~ since kids have endless energy, why waste money on mops?

  4. I live in Malaysia, which is similar to Japan with regards to the position of housewives. In many relationships, women are expected to put up with the housework. I personally know some women whose husbands expect them to cook, do laundry, and clean even though those women also work.

    Anyway, we used to own a semi-automatic machine. I still remember being on laundry duty as a teenager. I had to sit in the kitchen (where the machine was) to fill water, move the laundry between the buckets and 'oversee' the machine doing its work. I once flooded the kitchen when I got distracted watching television in the living room. Good times =)

    We now own an automatic washer but it breaks down so often. We're actually considering buying a new semi-automatic washer because its generally more robust.

  5. My father and I lived in Japan in the late 70's. We lived in an apartment for the first year and I have vague memories of the washing machine system you described and frequently doing a lot of loads because of the size of the machine. My memories of that original machine rated as a form of torture since it was a lot of work.

    When we moved into a house I don't remember what we did for washing so I have to assume that we moved up to something a little less hectic.

    As always, great post Orchid.

    1. For awhile, when we were doing particularly poorly economically, my family had one of these as well (in America). Doing laundry for a family of 4 using one of these was just as you say - lots of loads because of the size. They are clearly designed for apartment dwellers and single people or couples. It absolutely is just one step up from old-fashioned wringer washers (the sort with the moving roller that you fed clothes through one as a time), which was itself one step up from beating clothes on a rock down by the river. ;-)


Comments are moderated and will not show up immediately. If you want to make sure that your comment survives moderation, be respectful. Pretend you're giving feedback to your boss and would like a raise when you're speaking. Comments that reflect anger or a bad attitude on the part of the poster will not be posted. I strongly recommend reading the posts "What This Blog Is and Is Not" and "Why There Were No Comments" (in the sidebar under "FYI") before commenting.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.