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Japan Is Different

It's always a bit of a culture shock coming from Europe to Japan. Everything is just completely different from the unreadable road signs to the fact that the trains run on time. If while on holiday in Europe you casually stroll into the whitegoods section of a department store, you will, on the whole, see much the same names and models as we service day in and day out in the UK. Even in the USA this is increasingly becoming the case as their top loaders are not an uncommon sight for us. Here though things are different. Names we more associate with brown goods or even names long since forgotten in the UK are the brand leaders here: National, Toshiba and Sanyo are the Hotpoints, Hoovers and Indesits.

A quick stroll around the Akihabara, "Electric City" area of Tokyo will prove that they take their laundry machines very seriously and the words simple and basic just don't exist.

It must be pointed out that the Japanese household's washing machine will be well away from the kitchen. In fact, the most likely place to find this processor driven piece of high tech will be the bathroom, or at least the room just outside the bathroom. The main reason for this is that it is highly likely that the wash water will have been extracted from the bathtub, which will have already probably bathed the entire family! (The Japanese do not actually "wash" themselves in a bath, they only rinse and soak in it) This is achieved by a submergible pump, which is connected to the inlet water valve, or some models come with a hose and filter attachment for this purpose. The wash room will also incorporate a under floor drain thus they use a dump valve system for draining rather than a drain pump. This of course negates the need for an snug fitting, under worktop appliance as we are all so accustomed to hence twin tubs and top loaders rule.

Twin Tubs, still widely available and popular with the older generation these Sanyo and sharp models are both under £150.

10 years ago, twin tubs would be found in almost every household, now however, although still available, top loading autos are the thing to have but even these have taken unpredictable twist lately.

Most of the top loaders are of the upright, American style, although far more futuristically styled and incorporate heaters and even have washer/driers in their range which use a fan heater arrangement in the top which blows the heated air though the clothes, initially while they are spinning at full speed followed by a period of forward/reverse at a slower speed. There is also a tilted drum top loader where the tub is tilted slightly forward to allow easier loading/unloading. 

Front loaders by Toshiba and National. Demonstrating the different sizes available.

Front loaders are now a common sight in the shops, 10 years ago, Sharp, with a tie in with Electrolux, launched "nexus" type washers but failed to make much of an impact, now though large capacity (6-9kg) front loaders with tilted tubs are a common sight on the shop floors. Electrolux now market one of these which is branded "Electrolux by Toshiba"

Like it or not, I feel we had better get used to the idea of direct drive motors as, according to the information available, nearly every appliance sold in Japan now uses this form of drive be it a top or front loader. Spin speed for the newest front loaders is 1400rpm while the top loaders spin at around 900rpm. Unfortunately, I was unable to get access inside any of these appliances (I am working on that one though for my next visit) to see their construction but I am guessing that plastic tubs are now routine and the top loader construction will be similar to the LG models sold in the UK a few years ago.

This Hitachi top loader washes a 8kg load and dries a 6kg load, priced around £500.
Horizontal axis top loaders.

The biggest impact though has to be the horizontal axis tub top loaders. Forget the skinny top loaders we see at home, these are serious machines with inner drum tub flaps that interlock with the top lid so there is none of that searching for the fiddly flap catches that let the European models down. Some of these models include steam washing whereby water is heated in a separate container and forced into the tub.

One thing that the Japanese market does have in common with ours though is the price deterioration. Basic automatics are now selling at half the price of 10 years ago, but top end prices are high, the latest front loaders are retailing at the £900-£1000 mark. Customers are expecting a 10 year life expectancy but part obsolesance is common after only 7 years and, if the machine is out of warranty (as with us, 1 year standard) it is unlikely a repair man will even be troubled if the machine is more than 3 years old.

And what makes a customer chose one machine over another? Space is the main factor, and they do come in all shapes and sizes here, and often the Japanese home is on a smaller scale than that of Europe. Performance and price being the next most important factors. Washer driers are becoming an ever more popular option and it will be interesting to gauge this to our own experiences where poor performance and reliability issues have given washer driers such a bad reputation. 

Yes, that is the earth wire which needs to be clipped to an earthing point. This is due to Japan using only a 2 pin plug socket arrangement. This is Sharp's Ion Coat model and sells for around £170.
Dishwashers Japanese style, they claim to hold 40 pieces. I think those big pans still need to be done by hand!











Thanks to the DenKodo store in Odate, Akita prefecture for their help in writing this article, and special thanks to K's Denki, also in Odate for allowing me to take the photo's.

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