Expatriate Games

Expatriate Games

My company just transferred me from its Tokyo headquarters to its San Jose branch office for a few months. It’s funny, doing this so suddenly after living for so long in Japan. I feel like a pseudo-foreigner.

I’m dealing with three reverse-culture shocks as I get re-acquainted with domestic American life here at my furnished one-bedroom California apartment.

1. Clothes Dryers

The washer/dryer unit that’s included in my apartment feels foreign to me. Because of cultural reasons that’d take a book to fully explain, standalone dryers don’t exist in Japanese houses, let alone in apartments.

Basically, due to a lack of space, dryers in Japan only come built-in as a dual-function within the washer. And it’s an expensive, high-end option.

Still, even the people who own these basically just ignore the dryer. This is because all Japanese feel they MUST  hang their washed, wet clothes outside every morning to air-dry. This selfless act of energy-saving drudgery is an essential part of being a good Japanese, and always has been.

Japanese society expects everyone to do it: housewives, the super rich, fugitives on the lam.

Hanging clothes

If you don’t do it, your neighbors will surely notice and start to whisper about it, and their sidelong glances will come to torture you.

Heeding to this mindset is why now having my own personal dryer is threatening my cultural identity. I forgot that blasting my wet clothes with 40 minutes of raw American power is my Constitutional birthright!

I love it, but the thing about it is….Japan’s ruined it for me. I just can’t enjoy pigging out on electricity like I used to.

And another drawback of all this power is the other wastage. Yes, I’m talking about that other standard feature of American dryers: their magical ability to lose your socks.

After my first wash load here I took my clothes out of the dryer to find that one of my new business socks had disappeared without a trace in there. And a gray and mysterious newborn baby sock had suddenly appeared in its place.

This is further proof that all American dryers are connected to a space wormhole that transports your lost socks to a world called “SockLand”:


2. Garbage

In the meantime, I’ve also experienced a guilty pleasure at being unchained from my exhausting, ecological, taking-out-the-garbage duties in Japan.

In Japan, I spend 10 minutes almost every early morning carefully separating my burnable trash from the unburnables. In a rush to make my morning Tokyo train, I have to squash our perfectly-tied little garbage bags with my foot to make them fit into the tiny, cute, standard Japanese-sized garbage can.

Here in the U.S. now, I simply stuff my trash into any big, untied bag I want, whenever I feel like it. I then toss it carelessly over my head and into one of those vast steel dumpsters on my way to my gas-guzzling SUV rental.

vast dumpster

I must shamefully admit that like most Americans, I only like the idea of being ecological. But being ecological? Well, geez…I mean, only if other people, like, see it and give me extra credit for it.

In Japan, good ecology is already built-into daily life. People just don’t make a big deal out of it like they do in the U.S. Of course this is the way it should be, but it just won’t do here.

It’s because good ecology takes work. And while work is the national religion in Japan, we Americans need a little Scooby Snack for our effort.

3. Toilets

Which leads me to the confusing and downright primitive toilet situation in the U.S. With all the squawking these days about smart devices, green energy etc. etc., how is it that the entire S&P 500 just leaves this country saddled with Soviet-esque industrial design, mass-of-toilet paper, cold-seated toilet technology?

And how can a society that salivates over every new iPhone release neglect such a basic and…ahem…bottom-line need?

(And seriously, what in God’s name is going on with this country’s bathrooms? Click here to read why GQ magazine calls American men’s bathrooms “scatological crime scenes”.)

Maybe Apple needs to come out with an iToilet to civilize the American bathroom. Because people need to be fired at TOTO, Japan’s leading toilet maker, for somehow failing to unleash their amazing electronic seat, bidet “Washlet” toilet on the blatantly needy American market. (if you think I’m exaggerating: according to Wikipedia, 72% of Japanese homes now have Washlets, and they’re standard issue now in most PUBLIC  bathrooms, which means a homeless Japanese enjoys more toilet luxury than an American billionaire).

public Washlet

TOTO’s Washlet Control Panel

This is a device so lovingly designed and rewarding that I promise you it’ll become like another family member to you, as it has for me.

Not only is the Washlet ecologically superior – it all but makes toilet paper obsolete – but its long list of perks are universal: There’s the soft, heated electronic seat….The way the washlet menu houses countless controls to customize, like nozzle angle, stream force, water temperature and an addictive “pulsating” mode…..And the way it’s motion-activated auto-cleaning spray  prepares a lovely, misty morning toilet bowl for you first thing in the morning:

All you need to know is that Google is a believer. I’m hearing that the bathrooms at its famous, cutting-edge Mountain View headquarters are stocked with Japanese Washlets.

So get ready, the signs point to a coming global digital toilet invasion. America, I beg you: Give Japanese toilets a chance.




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  1. 1

    Great post! Enjoy your time in San Jose, I was thrilled to visit Japan Town last year and take home some of the goodies I can’t find in TX.

    • 2
      Mike Thuresson

      Thanks again for the comment….I think I’ll swing by Japan Town in San Jose and see what a 2-month toilet rental will run me!

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