Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The way we washed

May 31. 2019
Antique items reveal the origins of dry-cleaning.
Antique items reveal the origins of dry-cleaning.
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By Miho Matsuzaki
Yomiuri Shimbun
Asia News Network

7,653 Viewed

A museum in Tokyo offers a fascinating look at the world of cleaning and pressing clothes

MOST OF US would tend to think of dry cleaning as a relatively modern invention when in actual fact, it’s been around for more than 100 years. Dry-cleaning – defined as washing delicate clothes with organic detergent without using water to prevent them from losing their shape – was first introduced by Hakuyosha, a company established in 1906 by Kenji Igarashi (1877-1972) and which is recognised as the pioneer of dry-cleaning in Japan.

Antique items reveal the origins of dry-cleaning./Yomiuri Shimbun

The Igarashi Kenji memorial cleaning museum, located at the company’s head office, exhibits about 200 items of laundry equipment and machines that the company has been preserving since the Meiji era (1868-1912), through which visitors can trace the history of dry-cleaning.

Particularly eye-catching is a huge dry-cleaning machine made in Japan and used more than 80 years ago. Its structure resembles that of a current drum-type washer with its laundry tub aslant. However, the inside of the tub was made of wood instead of metal.

“[The wooden tub] caused very little damage to clothes and also prevented production of static electricity, as flammable petroleum-based detergent was used,” says Tatsuya Hayakawa, 31, the company’s corporate planning department section head.

Dry-cleaning machines made in the United States and a Japan-made machine for washing with water are also showcased. The system of removing dirt by knocking the laundry around in the washing tub seems to have remained unchanged since the beginnings of machine washing.

A hand-driven dehydrater, front, from the late Meiji era to the early Showa era. A washing basin and board, back, were used before laundry equipment became mechanised./Yomiuri Shimbun

The museum also exhibits washing tools used until the washing machine appeared in the early 20th century. They include a washing bucket; a wooden corrugated washboard called “zaraita”; and a boiling pot called “nigama” in which white clothes were boiled and washed. The commercial washing bucket, unlike ones seen in period dramas, is large enough for an adult to enter.

In the centre of the exhibition room, visitors can observe the evolution of irons: A tool, hinoshi, which is a metal pan used to press out wrinkles on such large items as sheets, and a kote, used to smooth wrinkles on small parts of clothes, such as collars, and make creases. Both tools were heated with charcoal but, after electricity usage became widespread, electric kote appeared.

Irons heated by coal stove plates, by which visitors can learn about the evolution of irons./Yomiuri Shimbun

These were basic tools in the laundry business at the time of the company’s founding, as well as irons heated on a coal stove’s iron plate. Such irons were replaced by electric irons in the early Showa era (1926-1989).

“It is a rare place where modern and contemporary laundry equipment is gathered together. I hope visitors can get the feel not only of our company’s history but also that of washing and dry-cleaning laundry in Japan,” Hayakawa says.


The Igarashi Kenji memorial cleaning museum is at Hakuyosha main building, Shimomaruko, Ota Ward, Tokyo

It’s open weekdays from 10am to 5pm.

Admission is free.

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