David Chart's Japan Diary

June 28th 2005

Once again, I don't have a lot to report. I've been working, and not doing a great deal else. This is likely to happen more and more frequently, particularly once I've moved and settled down. The number of exciting new experiences is dropping off, and time and money for trips around Japan are both in shorter supply than they were. I also can't say much about my work; my writing projects are confidential, and I can't say anything about individual students, because that's confidential too.

On the other hand, there is definite value is putting something up on-line every week, so I'm thinking about what to do. For the moment, another Japanese cultural difference.


All Japanese homes have balconies. I don't think I've come across a single exception while I've been here. What's more, balconies serve the same two fundamental purposes. First, they are somewhere to put the outside half of an air conditioner. Second, they are somewhere to dry laundry. Hardly anyone in Japan uses tumble driers, and no matter how rich someone is, they still hang their washing out. You can see it in the high-rise blocks in Tokyo, which I am told makes it look like an American ghetto. Except, of course, that flats in the ghetto usually cost less than $350,000.

This may be partly a response to lack of space; most Japanese homes do not have gardens. This is obvious in the case of flats, but even houses often have no outside space to speak of. They might have a parking space for a car, and that's it. It is also, I suspect, to do with building regulations. Japanese planning laws are generally loose, but one thing they do limit is the ratio between the surface area of the plot and the internal area of the building. In a lot of areas, the internal area can be no more than twice the area of the building plot. Balconies, however, are not internal area. Nor are covered car ports if they have no walls,so those are also common. In particular, a room over an open car port is quite a common sight. Thus, a balcony gives you more space without breaking the law. (On the other hand, roof gardens seem to be rare. That's probably a consequence of the heavy rains in the summer, or massive snow falls in some part of the country. Flat roofs aren't a brilliant idea.)

Whatever the reason, even 40-storey skyscrapers in the centre of Tokyo provide every residence with a balcony, and people dry laundry there. It is, of course, much more environmentally friendly than using a drier, so in general I think I'm in favour of this particularly cultural difference.