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Washing Clothes in Japan
by Joel R. Voss aka. Javantea
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April 11, 2006 14:57 JST
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It seems that I might be the first American to not know how to wash clothes in Japan. Don't get me wrong, I can wash 3 loads of laundry in America. This fancy new foreign washer, though. Perhaps my colleagues (gaijin) are pressing random buttons and getting it right. Or maybe they are so good at Japanese that they can read the kanji on the first try. More likely my fellow gaijin have asked help from a person who knows how.

Anyhow, there was no one to help me with my first wash, so here I am to help you. First, a few keywords to help the search engines: Howto Wash Clothes in Japan. User Guide to Washer/Dryer in Japan. How do I use this darn washer?

Washer/Dryer from Japan
The thing looks like it has 15 buttons. It only has 6. First, if it is off, press the tall button on the far right. If it does not come on, there might be a light switch next to the bathroom's light switch that turns it on. Once it's on, there's a button on the far left that controls water level (水位 [すいい] suii). Press it any number of times to select the correct water level.
The next one is wash (洗う [あらう] arau). This sets how many minutes to wash.
The next button is not in the dictionary, but it probably means spin (すすぎ susugi).
The next button is dry (脱水 [だっすい] dassai).
The next button I haven't figured out. You can probably leave it be.
The next button is Course (which color, etc). Pick the correct one or if you don't understand, leave it alone.
The final button is Start (スタート). If you knew katakana well, then that should be no problem at all. The last kanji on the button is 止す [よす] yosu. This means to cease. The button also halts the washer/dryer.

Add the detergent. How do you find detergent in the grocery store? Look for the kanji for washing above. Instead of (洗う [あらう] arau), it is (洗剤 [せんざい] sensai). So to ask for it, you would say: "sensai wa doko desu ka?" My detergent calls itself (洗たく [せんたく] sentaku). It also uses the katakana クリーナー kuri-na which translates into cleaner.

Half an hour later your clothes are clean and dry. What marvel of modern engineering? What I think is probably the most important lesson is that home appliances are not meant to be terrifically difficult to operate. Your first time using something may be terrifically disorientating and may ruin all your clothes, but look for the on button and the start button and you should be in pretty good shape. Benkyou ni naru na!

Don't get me started on the gas powered kitchen sink.
Kitchen sink from Japan

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If you are interested in traveling Japan, feel free to e-mail me.