Laundry Day: Mastering Your Washing Machine

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Photo by Becca Takano
July 13, 2017

One of the hardest things for foreign people living in Japan can be doing simple things. When I first arrived in the tiny backwater town of Asanogawa — a place so insignificant, the Ishikawa Prefecture tourist information office thought I’d made a mistake when I asked how to get there — I suddenly discovered that outside the big cities, even supposedly easy things like posting a letter had become a tricky, frustrating task.

One of the things that really stuck in my mind as maddening during my time in the middle of nowhere was trying to wash my clothes. After all, I was pretty terrible at doing the laundry in England, let alone navigating the tricky kanji on my Japanese washing machine!

One advantage of a baptism of fire is that you soon learn — even if you get singed in the process. Before I’d even mastered the 挨拶あいさつ (self-introduction) that I was supposed to use at each school I visited, I had learned the words for the chemicals used for washing things. I doubt I’ll ever forget the words for 洗剤せんざい (detergent) and (柔軟剤じゅうなんざい (fabric softener).

To actually begin using your washing machine, you will first have to learn how to it on.

Turn it on

Luckily the “on” button is usually pretty clearly marked or raised from the other buttons. On most machines, the button is written with the いり kanji. On my washing machine, it was written as 電源入でんげんいれ.  However, even if it’s written slightly differently, it should be easy to find.

Get washing

After this, you will want to start your wash.

Usually, this button will be written in katakana as スタート. On my machine, this button also has 一時停止いちじていし written in small print underneath it and the kanji means that I can suddenly stop the washing machine with the same button should I want to. Some machines may also have a 予約よやく button around the same area that is used for scheduling your wash.

While that is not hugely difficult, the more tricky part comes from using the other functions on your washing machine.

Although it can be tricky to arrive in Japan for the first time not speaking Japanese, the initial frustrations can serve as a good motivation for learning the language.

The standard wash

Most washing machines will have some settings for fine tuning your wash that can make all the difference once you learn how to use them. Often written as different “コース,” these include 脱水だっすい (draining), すすぎ (rinsing the clothes) and for people on a water meter 水量すいりょう (water use). All of these functions are incredibly useful modes that are often overlooked.  

Special features

More expensive machines may have special features such as エアジェット (air jet), お湯取ゆとり (reuse water from the bath in the washing machine), つけおき (intense wash for whites or soiled clothes) or even a 部屋干しへやぼし (to wash the clothes for drying inside the house) function.

While the 部屋干し function initially seemed useless in the Ishikawa countryside as I could easily dry my clothes outside; when I moved to downtown Osaka and saw the pollution outside, this function became a godsend.

Although it can be tricky to arrive in Japan for the first time not speaking Japanese, the initial frustrations can serve as a good motivation for learning the language. While it can feel intimidating at first, you’ll soon find that you can recognize some of the kanji on your washing machine. After all, you will likely be seeing those characters almost every day. With a little bit of e, fort you can soon master your machine and the Japanese language.

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