When people think about moving to another country, they usually get excited about the big things – exploring, learning the language, trying the food. When you arrive, you realize that there are other things that need attention as well. Not many people consider small everyday tasks that they will be experiencing, like doing laundry.
What I was used to:
In Canada I either lived with my parents or in an apartment. My parents, like most Canadians, own a washer and dryer. Most washing is done with warm or hot water, and clothes are either hung up to dry or put into the dryer. Due to the long cold winters, it’s not common to hang up clothes outside for large parts of the year. An indoor drying rack is a must have.
All of the apartment buildings I lived in had laundry rooms with coin operated machines. Most apartment laundry rooms close at a certain hour to avoid noise for nearby apartments. This, and the fact that you were using the same machines as everyone else in the building, meant some planning ahead was necessary.
Washing clothes in Japan:
Both of the places I lived in Japan had free laundry machines, however they only used cold water for washing. Cold water works fine for most items of clothing, but I found that tough stains don’t go away as easily. For the first time ever, I had stains on the collars of my work shirts that wouldn’t go away. This required occasional visits to a dry cleaner.
Finding a good dry cleaner is important. When I lived in Kawasaki, there was a cleaner between Hello House and Noborito station that all of the English teachers used. The staff was very polite despite the general lack of Japanese language skills of the teaching community. They did a fantastic job – the crease they put on my pants was so sharp I probably could have cut bread with it. They also kept a list of the local teachers’ names in English and katakana (Japanese script for foreign words) to help with pronunciation. I wish I had remembered the name of the cleaner so I could give them some free advertising!
Don’t forget drying:
Drying clothes is almost always done by hanging them up outside. One of the most useful things a person can own is what I like to call a clothes octopus. It is a plastic hanger that clips on to your clothesline and has a number of small vertically hanging clips on the bottom. They are very useful for hang drying anything that you can’t put on a hanger.
I was not used to hanging my clothes to dry, so it felt a bit strange displaying all of my laundry on the balcony for everybody to see. It’s not like I had anything particularly embarrassing, it was just unusual to display my wardrobe to the public. However, the more time I spent in Japan, the less self conscious I felt about it.
Folding it up:
If you are in another country for a short time, you remember the big exciting things that you get to see and do. Spending a longer time in another country provides a great opportunity to appreciate some of the mundane, everyday things as well. I would have never imagined when I moved to Japan that I would end up being able to write 500 words about washing my clothes, or that someone might actually want to read it! However, a quick Google search shows that this is a common concern. Check out some of these other (likely better) articles on the subject: