There is very little I don't like about Japan. One thing I can add to that very short list is the Japanese laundromat.
I have never owned a washing machine. I've never lived in a place large enough to accommodate one. In New York, in Los Angeles, in Paris I would take my laundry to the laundromat. In New York, if you are lucky, there are laundry facilities in your building. But even if you aren't so fortunate, laundromats are everywhere. You never have to go far with your bag of smelly clothes.
In Japan, it seems, everyone has a washing machine, even in a tiny 215 ft2 (20 m2) apartment like mine. I don't mind sleeping with my refrigerator, but a washing machine is where I draw the line. Because everyone has a washing machine, laundromats are pretty scarce. The nearest one to my apartment is more than a 1/2 mile (1km) away.
The laundromat looks more or less like what you would expect: industrial-sized washing machines and dryers, linoleum floor, fluorescent lighting, a couple of tables for folding and some rolling baskets. But you know you are not in the States, or even France, when you look at the machines: everything is in kanji. Of course, you're in Japan! So what does "cold wash" look like in kanji? I look up these two words in my dictionary (I came prepared). 寒い - cold. 洗う - wash. I figure out the wash part, but I have no idea how to select the temperature.
Okay, let's use our intuition. There are four choices: two colored green, one colored blue, one colored yellow. Blue is cold, yellow is warm? No. The blue selection indicates 12 kilos of laundry. That sounds like more than I have so I rule that out. The yellow selection is only ¥100. That is too cheap for a load of laundry so I rule that out. That leaves me with the green choices: 8 kg or 4 kg. I go with 4 kg.
I notice a little sticker with what looks like a box of laundry detergent and a scoop and a red "X" through it. Do not use soap. Hmm. Laundry without soap. Interesting. Frustrated and helpless I decide to ask a women that has come in, the only other person in Kyoto without a washing machine. We fumble through our languages and I conclude that the soap is automatic. What?! What does it smell like, this automatic soap? Do I like the fragrance? Who decided on this national laundry detergent? Was there a contest among soap manufacturers to see who would get this contract?
In goes the laundry, in goes the ¥1,000. That's almost $10, by the way, for one load of laundry. I noticed the machine was warm when I put my clothes in, but didn't think anything of it. It goes through the actions a washing machine should, filling with water, draining, spinning, etc. Except...when the washing ends, and I go to remove my clothes the door is still locked. Then it begins to spin again. I realize the machine has begun to dry my clothes. Nooooo! Anyone that has ever seen me do laundry knows that I line-dry most of my clothes. Now I'm upset. There is nothing I can do but watch.
Defeated, I stuff my clean (is it?) laundry into my bag and walk the long walk back to my apartment. Naiveté can be a funny thing.