Over the summer I have come to realize that my entire apartment and everything in it has been and is rotting. The summer rain and humidity has caused everything to become perpetually damp. Since Japan carries some kind of vehement hatred of electric dryers, nothing ever feels truly dry.
Here’s my typical day in the rainy season: Bike to work in the rain, wearing waterproof gear so that I’m not drenched by the time I get to work. Get to work and realize that I am still drenched because it’s 85 to 90 degrees with 100% humidity, and I sweat all over the inside of my gear. Remove gear in the non-air-conditioned dressing room at school and hope it has a chance to dry. Try to change clothes while sweating profusely, to go sit in a non-air-conditioned office and teach in non-air-conditioned classrooms. At the end of the day, return to the locker room to put rain gear back on because it has started raining again. The rain gear is still wet, but you’ll sweat through it anyway so what’s the difference? Bike home in the rain and hang up your gear in your humid apartment. Turn on the fan and hope they’ll be ready for tomorrow. Take a cold shower and dry off with a semi-dry towel, only to go to bed and start sweating again because your bedroom is also not air-conditioned. Repeat. I actually heard someone once refer to an electric dryer as a “beacon of light” in the dark rainy season.
This horribly vicious cycle has caused totally unexpected things in my apartment to mold. Here’s what’s succumbed to bacillus acremonium so far:
Shoes, that’s right, and more than one pair
Clothes (which resulted in over $100 dollars worth of dry cleaning when we got back from summer vacation).
Highly preserved foods such as maple syrup and jam
A Camera bag
Our front door
Closet walls and floors
Living in California my whole life, I was absolutely unprepared to deal with all this excess moisture. I needed someone to give me “A Dummy’s Guide to Living with Humidity” when I moved in. Tips like “Buy disposable dehumidifiers and put them everywhere” would have been useful. Even if I had been on the offensive, huge hindrances have thwarted me at every turn because of Japan’s bizarre methods of trash disposal and non-intuitive apartment design.
There are no personal garbage receptacles in Japan. You must store up your trash and take it to designated collection sites only on the designated days, which usually occur only once or twice a week. So in the mean time, you have multiple bags of different kinds of trash sitting around somewhere in your apartment. We have only one place in our apartment to put said trash; a “pantry-like” closet in our living room that is lined with raw, unvarnished wood. You’d think with all the brilliant engineers living in Japan that someone would have remember that wood absorbs moisture. Our closet absorbs all the lovely aromas coming from our accumulating pile of refuse.
In the winter, when we moved in, we didn’t realize just how bad this would become. We were given no furniture whatsoever, so the food that should have gone onto shelves and the clothes that should have gone in a dresser were piled up in these wooden closets. Then the rain and the humidity came, and the closets became rank with decay. The walls began to mold, and the ripe scent of hot trash attracted fruit flies and ants. How does the Internet say to deal with fruit flies? By leaving out rotting fruit to attract and trap them! Awesome, I’ve got plenty of that lying around, but I kind of wanted to CUT DOWN on the amount of insects and living fungus breeding in my domicile! Sometimes, I even want mold around but in the form miso paste and not ruining my fresh produce. One of the reasons I only grocery shop on a daily basis is because the produce has already begun to decay by the time I get it home. When you’re paying $4 for peaches, this is extremely frustrating.
Crawling in my skin, I try to take refuge in the one place where personal hygiene remains sacred, the bathroom, only to be yet again thwarted by Japan’s inane shower system. Is there no respite from the mold?! Furious by now, I curse this country I now call home and angrily demand how the Japanese can live like this? Oh yeah, they stay at work for twelve hours a day, go out to eat, bathe at a public sento and basically only use their apartments for quick naps. Damn you! How are us poor slobs who can’t afford the lifestyle supposed to stay clean? Perhaps my new tactic for getting a raise at work should be to come dressed in my molding apparel, offending the noses of everyone near me and eliciting sympathy as I slowly melt into a pile of fungus a la the Wicked Witch of the West…
While I wouldn’t label myself a “clean freak,” I value basic sanitary conditions, and have found myself so grossed out since the rainy season started that I now disparage the idea of Japan being a “clean” place, or even a first-world country. What country can dedicate their energies to developing state of the art robots and yet be at a loss for designing outdoor trash cans? Why isn’t there a robot that hunts down and kills mold? WHY? How can they demand that people use less air-conditioning to conserve energy while still perpetrating the idea that one must be totally covered up in public? Even more frustrating is that Japanese personal hygiene is also causing problems. How can a culture so obsessed with body cleanliness be so laissez-faire with mold, insects and the home?
At our schools, air-conditioning isn’t typically available (one or two rooms might have it), but it is required that you wear a suit until June 1st. How can the Japanese retain the belief that depriving air-conditioning from children in school is necessary to “toughen them up” when 1,488 people in June were recently admitted to hospitals in Japan for heatstroke? Answers to these questions have been posited by others with more education and cultural sensitivity than I. If you are interested in some answers, here’s a great place to start.
All of you who have experience with humidity and/or monsoon season can feel free to laugh at my dismay and pat yourselves on the back for learning to put up with a truly awful aspect of having to live on planet Earth. For those of you planning to come to Japan, read the suggestions offered by the websites below before the rainy season and avoid my mistakes. I haven’t even touched on taking care of tatami mats yet…