Our washing machine is about 14 years old and was one of the earlier "fuzzy logic" models. I'm not sure exactly how the fuzzy logic is applied in this case though I do know modern models guess the amount of water, detergent, etc. which are necessary based on the weight of the load. I also know it has a lot of buttons which allow you to choose the amount of water, wash time, etc. but it doesn't have any seriously fancy capabilities. That being said, it's still head and shoulders above our first washing machine in Japan in terms of its sophistication.
A modern semi-automatic washing machine. Note the two lids over the two chambers - one for washing and one for spinning out. If you want to know what our old machine looked like, think about this model's smaller, dirtier, clunkier grandpa.
When we first arrived, most folks in apartments were using what are called "semi-automatic washing machines". These are the types of machines with two chambers, one for washing and a separate one for spinning out clothes, and had to have water added manually. Doing a load of laundry in "the old days" of our life in Tokyo meant going through this multi-step process:
- tossing in a small bunch of clothes (about 1/3 what you'd fit in a standard U.S. machine) into the first chamber
- turning on the spigot and watching to see that it filled to the right point (if you walked away, you could bet on a flood)
- twisting a timer knob which set how long it anemically swished the clothes around,
- pushing a button to drain the water from the washing chamber and waiting a half hour for it to actually drain out
- using the spigot again to add in rinse water
- twisting the timer again so it could listlessly swish around the rinse water
- draining again with a button push and another long wait
- transferring a sopping wet wad of freezing cold clothes to the spin chamber (note: almost no washing machines use hot water in Japan)
- twisting a timer knob to get the clothes to spin out
- rebalancing the imbalanced wad
- spinning again (and possibly rebalancing again and trying to spin again)
- pulling the wad of intricately-tangled clothes from the spinner
- detangling the wad
- hanging them outside to dry
While this contraption may sound old-fashioned, the truth is that these things are still sold today. I'm not even talking about third-world countries or just in Japan where women still do many chores the labor-intensive way, but in many countries. To be fair, I've read that newer models include a drying function as part of the spinning portion of the current crop of semi-automatic washing machines. I'm also guessing they don't require all of the fiddling to add water and have sensors to add to the right water level without the user having to turn on a spigot or watch the levels. They also carry with them some green benefits like reducing water and power consumption.
The ecological issues regarding use of a semi-automatic washing machine are pretty compelling and, when our current machine goes off for its eternal rest, I'd have to at least consider the possibility of a semi-automatic for this reason alone. However, it's going to be really hard to shake the memory of that old machine and the vastly increased effort and attention it required to simply get something done which no one really enjoys doing.