Mastering Laundry in Japan

Devan Baird

Japan is known for being a land of cutting-edge technology. From robot hotels to bullet trains, it is an electronics paradise.  But, when it comes to laundry be prepared to travel back in time a few decades. It can be a bit of a challenge to get laundry done when most of the country does not own a dryer and resorts to hanging their clothes outside to dry all day.

Unlike in many Western homes, most homes in Japan have the machine attached to a water line that needs to be turned on every time before use.

How to use a washing machine in Japan
Photo by Devan Baird

The connectors for the machine can be found both inside and outside of apartments. Occasionally you will see apartment buildings with rows of machines outside the door greeting the people who live there.

How to Use a Washing Machine in Japan
Photo by Devan Baird

How to Use a Washing Machine in Japan – Button Translations

Once the water is set up it is time to move on to the buttons. If you are not well versed in kanji before you move to Japan, you might have some difficulties figuring out how to use your machine. The kanji here can be daunting but don’t worry, its easier than you think.  If you want the most basic automated wash cycle, to start with, turn on the machine using the button with 運転 入/ 切 on it. This is the power button.


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How to Use a Washing Machine in Japan
Photo by Devan Baird

Next, the larger set of buttons, as seen above, allows you to decide what kind of course or コース you want to set your laundry on depending on what you need washed. For an automatic wash just hit the power button and press start or スタート.  This is the easiest way to wash clothes and the washer will determine how much water is required.  Just remember to close the lid of the machine.

How to Use a Washing Machine in Japan
Photo by Devan Baird

Now that the easy part is out of the way you must learn all the kanji shown here… just kidding. These buttons shown above tell you what stage your laundry is in during the wash cycle. The lights above this specific machine will light up to indicate what it is doing at any given time.  If you miss one of these stages or want to do just one of these steps, for one reason or another, you would just push that and then start (スタート).  For reference here is what each of those stages mean:

水量     water volume

洗濯  / 洗い / あらい     wash

すすぎ     rinse

脱水     spin dry



室内干し     indoor drying / hanging clothes inside

Here comes the fun part, hanging up your clothes to dry outside. Walking through the streets of Tokyo you will see apartment buildings covered with futons and clothes hanging outside.

How to Use a Washing Machine in Japan
Photo by Devan Baird

This is extremely normal in Tokyo and people will often question the need to use a dryer because it can be considered a waste of electricity. To accommodate this, many stores (or Craigslist!) offer a variety of drying racks based on space and what is being dried.  From spinning circular racks to ones with a hundred clips, you be able to find anything you need to fit your drying space and needs.

How to Use a Washing Machine in Japan



Drying can be a bit difficult when it is rainy or during the winter so clothes will often be dried inside. Though, this can cause some complications if you need an item of clothing cleaned within 12 hours.If you are completely opposed to letting your unmentionables blow dry in the wind, then Japan does have a pretty good supply of laundromats available to you.

how to use a washing machine in japan
Photo by Devan Baird

For 100 yen or about $1USD can run your clothes in a dryer for 10-20 minutes. So, it can get pretty pricey if you are doing laundry multiple times a week. It’s much cheaper to just let nature do all the work for you.

Japan can present many cultural challenges, but laundry isn’t one that you should stress yourself out over.  A couple tips to remember though are to bring your clothes in as soon as it gets dark and remember to use fabric softener. This reduces that wonderful outside nature smell that can come from hanging clothes. One last thing, be sure to check the weather beforehand.


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One Response to “Mastering Laundry in Japan”

  1. Fred Chopin

    Very handy article. Thank you!


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