Thursday, December 07, 2006

Cleaning On My Mind

Several things have put cleaning at the forefront of my mind as of late. For one thing, every time I pay the rent, I think about cleaning. Our landlord lives next door to us so we always drop by with the rent money around the 28th of each month. When I go in, I am presented with an absolutely immaculate entryway which leads into what appears to be an immaculate home. Granted, the landlord built a huge, new house about 8-10 years ago so their place is less than half the age of ours but it's definitely about more than age.

Usually, I walk into their spacious entryway (about 100 pairs of shoes could fit in their genkan without overlap or crowding) and hand over the money with a little booklet which they use to keep a record of our rent payment record. Each booklet lasts 2 years (the term of one rent contract) and they write the date and amount of payment on the page then stamp it with their name stamp (hanko). The inkan which makes the hanko isn't stored near the entryway because it's a very important item used for bank and other legal transactions. It essentially functions as a signature in Japan. In fact, most Japanese stamp rather than sign documents. If someone steals your hanko and bank book, in theory, they could take all your money from your bank account. However, I've never heard of this happening. (I may be confusing or misusing "inkan" and "hanko" here because I've sometimes heard "hanko" refer to the whole apparatus and sometimes to only the mark...I'm sure someone savvier than me will step up to the plate if I'm wrong.)

Since the inkan is in a back room somewhere, the landlord or lady always takes the book from me and goes trotting (literally) off to the back room to stamp the book. They always do this after meticulously counting the rent money in front of me. They don't do this because they don't trust me. They do it in order to avoid conflict or misunderstanding in case of any error. While they are in the back room, I have little to do but twiddle my thumbs and look around the entryway. If I could take a picture of it, I would, but it's a bit rude to snap shots of their home without their consent and it'd be just weird to ask.

So, I have had many chances to wile away some time checking out the same area again and again and I can say without hesitation that there is not one nook or cranny of that place with one speck of dust. From the top of the large picture of goldfish on the left to the crevices of a statue with a woven-look on a huge cabinet for shoes on my right to the tops of a long row of closets, there isn't any dirt or dust to be seen. It confounds me and makes me feel inadequate at the same time.

To be fair, the lady of the house spends all her time doing housewifely duties with some part-time care of her grandchild thrown in and I can't see all of the house but I'd wager a fair amount that it's just as clean. I can mollify myself by saying that she doesn't teach part-time or pursue any academic interests or use a computer but that's just a justification. I'm guessing she's an expert at her craft. The energy and time she must put into this amazes me. She's a dynamo.

The other things that have got me thinking about cleaning are a recent post on What Japan Thinks about smells in Japanese homes and Helen mentioning in her blog how her cleaning tends to go unnoticed by her husband. The survey translated in "What Japan Thinks" actually made me feel better since I don't think my house smells like "poo" so I've got to be cleaning better than some Japanese people. ;-) And I tried to console Helen by telling her that my husband doesn't notice my cleaning either and that I think it's a biological incapability of men when it comes to not seeing dirt or disorder.

crushed crap on the kitchen wall

I actually don't mind cleaning and enjoy it at times. The only problem is that it's a minimally-rewarding experience. In Tokyo, the pollution is such that you get a ton of soot and dust all over everything. In the case of our apartment, the crappy wall covering is also constantly flaking off. Literally, within 6 hours of dusting, you can visibly see the tops of furniture pick up a new fine layer. Within a day, it looks like you never touched it.

nubby crap on the bedroom wall

My former boss, who has lived in places more ancient than ours in his history in Japan, also said he thinks living on the first floor is worse for us because people walking around on the second floor causes dust from an old place like ours to constantly rain down from the cracks and crevices. Since little sunlight gets in, I don't often see dust falling. On the odd day when the angle between the buildings and our limited exposure to direct sunlight falls just the right way and a shaft of real light gets in through a window, I can see tons of crap floating in the air in a constant shower of particles.

So, it's pretty much a losing battle but I still vacuum twice a week and dust once a week to keep the level of dust down. If nothing else, it's kept my husband's allergies at bay for the last several years.


Roy said...

If you makes you feel better almost all my close Japanese friends are complete slobs and their houses are so disgusting that I never visit them. Not all Japanese are clean and tidy.

As for the dust problem, I would seriously think about investing in an air cleaner. Japan has some really cool ones that suck all the dust and other bacteria from the air. I still haven't gotten around to getting one myself but maybe when hay fever season rolls around I will.

Shari said...

I'm a little surprised that their homes are so disgusting that you won't visit them. And, yes, it does make me feel better. ;-)

I was going to mention that we have an air cleaner from the states and it is supposed to clean an area the size of our entire apartment 4x an hour but I figured I'd already gone on too long in that post. It may be too old and not as effective as it could be. I doubt any air cleaner could mitigate the dust problem much but I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

I've asked some of my (female)students and they say they experience similar problems in old apartments.

Tokyo Rosa said...

shari, like roy, i hung out in some nasty apartments in japan. one guy i dated had a really horrible place--and this was a huge apartment in a really ritzy neighborhood. i don't think the place had ever been cleaned!

there's a series of books (i can't remember the name, maybe it's "tokyo apartments"?) that shows the inside of many tokyoites' places. you should take a look (i saw it in tower records in shibuya) you will be REALLY surpised at the inside of some of the apartments. disposaphobia much??

Shari said...

I'd love to see that book! I should see if it's the kind of thing Amazon Japan carries. It's not so much about making me feel better though it may do that. ;-) I think the way people set up their living spaces says a tremendous amount about them.

I have seen inside the windows of some apartments while walking by them and generally see a ton of clutter. One person on the way to one of the supermarkets I frequent has what looks like a hundred shoeboxes crammed on top of a shelf full of misc. crap. The room that faces the window (which has a curtain but it was open) also looks like a junk pile. I just figure those aren't the norm. I could be wrong. ;-)