Sentaku (Laundry)

My combination washer/dryer 

Sentaku — I have talked about this before on the blog… how in our small apartment in Tokyo, we have a “combination washer/dryer.” But today a friend back in the US posted a photo on her Facebook of a combo washer/dryer. Her mother has just moved into an assisted living facility, and that is what is in her new apartment. It made me think about — all over again — how cultural differences show up everywhere, even in something as “simple” as doing the laundry.

In her Facebook post, was my friend’s obvious surprise and shock that when she put in a load of laundry for her mother, and programmed the machine for a wash and dry, the machine came back with a finish time of 6 hours and 5 minutes. Yes… that is shocking to find that one small and simple load of laundry could possibly take over 6 hours to complete, using a machine!

Lol… welcome to the world of the combination washer/dryer.

Seriously… It seems like such a great idea! Throw clothes into the machine, set it, and come back later to find nice, clean, dry clothes without having to transfer them to another appliance. But I have yet to hear from anyone who has a positive opinion of them. Maybe, somewhere there is a combo machine that actually works, but mine does not!

My machine has function modes: wash only, wash/dry, and dry only. 

My washer/dryer is only used for the “wash” function. I long ago gave up trying to dry anything in it. It does just fine as a washer — and occasionally I will put DRY towels back in to soften them on the “dry” cycle, but to try to wash and dry the same load not only takes hours, but also gives pretty sad results. My machine has no way to “tumble” the clothes — being a “top loader” — and instead just spins and blows hot air. The clothes end up twisted and tangled and wrinkled beyond belief — and still damp. I have had to rewash clothes just to get the wrinkles out.

Inside the washer/dryer tub.

Also, transitioning from a machine that uses water to wash, to a machine that blows hot air to dry, is not a very efficient way to go. It takes the machine a long time to dry itself out — let alone to get wet clothes dried out. It may sound like a good idea, but I feel that it is a technology that just hasn’t had all the bugs worked out. For me, it is just too much trouble, and too much time to mess around with. The “combo” machine saves neither time nor money! My clothes go out on the balcony to dry.

Clothes drying on the balcony bar.

And… I see that most of my neighbors do the same thing. Most apartments here have drying bars on the balconies to hang clothing and bedding. Our balcony is very utilitarian. Wide enough to walk along, and hang clothes on, but too narrow for much of anything else. I wash clothes early in the day, and hang them to dry in (hopefully) sunshine and breeze, and bring them in again in the afternoon. This is the usual and accepted laundry process in urban Tokyo. And — I think it is that way in many urban areas. I have friends living in urban London, and urban areas in France, who do the same thing with their laundry. One of my UK friends commented that it seemed silly to pay money for the electricity to run a dryer, when you can air dry clothes for free. She has a point.

But, being from suburban US, I just took it for granted that everyone had a washer AND a dryer. My mother got a clothes dryer when I was 10 years old. I never had the experience of hanging clothes out on a clothesline. Having a clothes dryer seemed like such a necessity. I never considered I would ever live in a place where I didn’t have one.

To be fair… I know there are people here who do have clothes dryers. And I know that some even live in our apartment building. I know this because, on occasion when I open the balcony doors, I can smell drying clothes (dryer sheets). Our small bathroom COULD accommodate a stacking washer and dryer, although I am not sure how the dryer would be vented. But I am sure it could be done.

Clothes drying in the “wet room” under the room dryer.

After 2 1/2 years, though, we have gotten used to doing the laundry without a dryer. With just the two of us, we don’t have that much laundry anyway. I don’t mind hanging it out on the balcony. True… I am sometimes at the mercy of the weather, but in a pinch I can also hang laundry in the bathroom (wet room) and use the room dryer to dry it. Also, there is space for a hanging bar in the bedroom if necessary. No problem… this is just another item to add to the list of differences we never considered “when moving to a foreign country…”



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My husband and I were both born and raised in Kansas, but for the past 20+ years we have been living in Atlanta, Georgia. Now, with our children grown and out of the house, we have the opportunity to spend two years living in Tokyo. My husband will be working with the Japanese counterpart to his American company. UPDATE 2023... After 4-1/2 years in Tokyo, we returned to Atlanta. Now we are heading to London for a three year job assignment!

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