All the dishes, all the time
I don’t know about other people or other married couples and familes, but in my family I am the one left to wash most of the dishes in the kitchen sink, and I wash almost every dish, cooking pot and piece of tableware we own each and every day. Like many Japanese, we do not have a dish washing machine in our kitchen. There’s just no space for it. My wife being the sort of person that she is, I am usually (not always) the one left to do the dishes by hand. I don’t know what it is about my wife, why she does it, but in the course of a day she uses almost every cup, glass, plate, bowl, knife, fork, spoon and cooking pot and utensil that we own. That does not mean that we possess very few of such things, making it easy to soil everything quickly. Not at all. We have a fair supply of all the necessities. But my wife uses one thing only one time. Full stop. Then she puts it in the sink (or leaves it lying around someplace for me to discover later). If she has a drink she uses a cup then puts it in the sink. Five minutes later, if she drinks again, she uses a fresh cup. Soon the sink is overflowing with utensils begging for a wash. Often I have to spend 15-minutes in the evening washing dishes just so I can clear enough space to brush my teeth at the kitchen sink (where we do such things here). Often I think of it as a real annoying drag. But still more often I think of it as a case study of a clinincal personality, and I look forward to describing it to other foreign men I know who are married to Japanese women so that we can compare notes.
If I was still a single man I would drink out of bottles only, re-use bowls, plates, pots and tableware numerous times before washing, and minimize my consumption of energy. I have grown to think that females naturally consume more energy than males. I don’t mean that they waste electricity (which is true of my wife, anyway), but that their normal daily existence is more high-maintenance, labor-intensive and energy-intensive than mine (or any male’s).
Often when I come home in the evening I discover every light in the apartment left on, with the wife and kids sitting in the TV room. I open the door, call out “I’m home” (“tadaima”), and then go through almost every room in the house turning off lights that my wife left on: the entrance, the toilet, the overhead kitchen sink light, the main kitchen light, the bedroom light, the second bedroom light, the second toilet light, and so on. When I grew up in Canada there was much talk about the energy crisis, and I was taught to turn lights off when I leave a room to save energy. Of course, as it turns out, there was no energy crisis at all, only the politics of money - just like today. But I remain cast in the mold of my upbringing. Even though I live here among Japanese, I really cannot imagine what kind of upbringing they experience. Or, rather, I can imagine it, but explaining it to a foreign audience requires a corollary explanation of the Japanese world view, which most people see as leading away from the original point.
In a nutshell, the dominant Japanese view of what is “normal” and “natural” is unrecognisable to the dominant Canadian views of the same. For Canadians, it is natural to wash dishes when they are dirtied. Not so in Japan, or at least in Chez Piper. In Canada, it is natural to turn off lights when they are not needed or in use. Sometimes I long for that kind of logic. Any kind of logic, really, since logic dos not seem to be a Japanese forte.