Forgotten spirits get their revenge in Japan by destroying your laundry. Appeasing them requires vigilance, patience and a calm disposition.
To calculate the percentage of clothing your washing machine will destroy, you can use this metaphysical equation:
X = S + B / O
Here, X = items of clothing lost, S = number of times you’ve accidentally worn shoes in your own hallway, B = the number of times you stood in your bathtub to shower and O is the amount of money you’ve spent on omiyage.
The Japanese Laundry Machine As A Failure of Coordination
First, clothes go into a mesh laundry bag, then into the machine. Japanese washing machines use a grinding motion guaranteed to damage an item of clothing every time it’s used. Instead of having the machine destroy your clothing, you use a bag which destroys your clothing while trapping it in lint and dirty water. Soap goes into the machine and you turn on a hose which literally has no access to hot water. The soap doesn’t dissolve properly in cold water.
Then it’s meditation time. The water fills, drains, fills, drains as a stuttering grinding mechanism twists your clothes into cotton mulch. Make a wish, then walk to the other room and wait for the machine to finish its black ceremony.
When you hear the chime, open the lid and assess the damage. My first offering was an Oxford shirt, which had small strings ripped out of the collar. Wash 2 was more benevolent and merely smeared my favorite shirt with a flower-scented, yogurt-textured soap residue.
Swaying in Idyllic Zephyrs
Since there are no driers* in Japan, everybody hangs everything on the porch. I imagined the wind rippling through my clothesline, sending stray moisture gently aside as a benevolent, two-scoops-of-raisins sun warmed them.
In daily practice: You battle against constant humidity. I’ve lacked a towel for two days on account of flash floods. I live in perpetual fear of finding a cicada in my boxer shorts. Crows fly off with socks.**
Because nature here has human intelligence and hates foreigners, you must deal with clothing at the exact right moment. Waiting for your dry clothing to get “dryer?” Your greed will be punished with a flash flood. Hang too many clothes on the line and something will fall into the muddy gutter of your concrete porch.
The Correct Way to do Laundry in Japan
Apparently, the correct way to hang laundry in Japan is to buy clothes hangers – the same kind that you have in your closet – and hang them that way; then use clothes pins to keep the fabric stuck to the hangers; then use a special plastic thing to keep the hangers attached to the clothesline. They look like the plastic adapter you would use to play a 45-speed record on a 33-speed turntable, only bigger.
I am not sure whether this experience is universal or limited to my particular economic class in Japan. I’m well-off; some people have to run a hose from their kitchen into a machine which then leaks water all over their floor. If you are coming to Japan be warned: Laundry in this country is inexplicably difficult.
* Driers in Japan are electric. This means that driers don’t exist in Japan.
** Seriously, crows will fly off with your socks.