The Great Clothesline Brouhaha of 2009

November 22, 2009

Much in the same fashion that Westerners shake their heads at the notion that Asians devour seaweed or wear T-shirts with mangled English slogans, Asian folks from time to time have more than a bit of fun at the expense of Westerners, particularly Americans. Most recently, this took place as a result of the release of a news article about American regulations prohibiting the hanging of laundry on backyard clotheslines. I glanced out my bedroom window in Saitama, a suburb of Tokyo, where on a clear day I can see Mt. Fuji in the distance, and was met with this tableau, admittedly partly of my own making:

A bit later in the day, I took a bike ride along the river that runs a few blocks from my house. The neighborhood is medium upscale, I suppose, the sort of ‘hood where people can certainly afford a dryer, but once again, the colorful bloom of airing clothing erupts from every window ledge, veranda, and deck.

I think it is kind of pretty, especially in the grey winter that characterizes much of the Northern Hemisphere. Saturday was a particularly lovely day, unusual at this time of year; the sky was a deep cornflower blue, not a cloud in sight. Lots of laundry, though.

Apparently everyone had been listening to the weather report, which promised twenty-four hours of crisp clear skies. A brief aside: Tokyo weather reports are remarkably accurate. When they say that a storm front is moving in and will arrive at 2:10pm, you can see the clouds at 2:05, but the rain will not begin until 2:10. It is as if it obeys the orders of the meteorologists. American weather reporters should come here to learn their craft; there would be a lot fewer spoiled picnics and wasted car washes.

Japanese people cannot understand why anyone would restrict hanging laundry to dry. It is cheap (basically free, after the initial investment in clothespins, line and pole), it is ecologically sound, it extends the life of your clothes, and they really smell good (not that chemical-fresh smell of dryer “softeners”). If the wind is up, line-hung laundry emerges remarkably wrinkle-free as well.

It seems there is a groundswell movement afoot in the US, though: some states are enacting laws preventing clothesline prohibition. Florida, for example, has a statute (163.04, in case you care) which says that cities, the state, homeowners’ associations, etc, cannot prohibit the use of energy devices based on renewable resources. Who knew that the simple clothesline would one day be an “energy device based on renewable resources”?

Meanwhile, the Japanese are mightily amused at all the brouhaha. And, I must say, so am I.