My Beautiful Laundrette

I come here every Sunday morning around 7:30. A very peaceful time of the day even in Tokyo.

The sculptor,  Eddie Kienholz  made an installation called The Beanery  in 1965. I went into that installation in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam about 20 odd years ago. It had a profound effect on me. It’s an installation that allows the viewer to enter an environment (a bar) at that period in the 1960s. I can’t remember what his comment about the piece is but I do remember a mannequin bartender with a clock as his face. In fact, the eerie  sense of presence is supplied by mannequins,  the human element for observatory purposes. If that was Kienholz”s intention, it worked, I got that sinister feeling I was not alone. For me, this laundrette has a few similarities to The Beanery in its construction. For one, evocative, nostalgic and aesthetic environments.

When entering the laundrette every Sunday, the smells of warm damp washing and soap powder fill my nostrils. Smells prevalent to student days. Visually, it’s a little different here to back home. Yes, you still hear the machines dragging their heavy loads, the squelching of the water and the climatic spin at the end. However, the washers here, open from the top, not by a round-windowed door. Even though one can’t visually witness that climatic frantic spinning where the soap suds are smacking hard, violently against window, just the sound supplies those mental pictures. Another visually engaging aspect are the soap or razor dispensers. All bearing the hallmarks of worn; the grimy coin slots, scratched paint and sticky labels peeling at the corners. This laundrette wouldn’t look out of place in a Mike Leigh film or a lyric in a Kinks song. However, when I look outside the window, I see a modern environment living in measured time but I’m standing in an interior where time is seems has been forgotten, well, slight exaggeration, the coin washers take 38 minutes!  But you know what I’m getting at. Oh yes, you might be wondering why you can see a razor dispenser, well, you can take a shower in here too. How considerate!  I tell you what, with the humidity setting in hard now, I was tempted to take a dip this morning.

The good old laundrette, a nostalgic place where in the past, and even now, I’d take along a library book or a footy magazine. And if I had neither, there was always someone I could have a chinwag with, always.

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The Smell of Tatami

Phrase Reference: ‘over here’= in Tokyo

At my new residence, I may only reside here for a short time as the owner intends to knock the house down and build something modern. Criminal! I thought. Anyway, I thought it might be worth documenting as I haven’t commented much in the way of interiors or dwellings recently.

Cycling or just casually strolling around neighbourhoods over here is an experience of architectural exploration for me. You can generally work out the year the house was built by identifying familiar characteristics, either by the shape of the windows or the style of the front door etc. Unless a modern building has some notable stand-out features, I generally take more interest in old wooden structures, especially ones that are over 40 years old, partly dilapidated and covered in ivy. Heaven!


When I first lived in Tokyo, old wooden houses were still fairly common to see around the ‘Ku’ (inner city) and ‘Shi’ (the suburbs). When I use the term ‘old’, that means built it the 70s or 80s. ‘Old’ has an entirely different meaning over here. Observing and documenting residential architecture in Tokyo has always been an interest for me. I got the bug while house hunting in Tokyo about 15 years ago. Every weekend, we viewed a considerable amount of places. Ranging from old shacks (my cup of tea) to state of the art interiors. Some of them way out of our price league, though it was engaging being shown round and just acting the part. You could say the house viewing experience was akin to going to an art exhibition made up of entirely installations and industrial design. We generally viewed old houses. The older the house, the cheaper it is to buy. Plus lease holders are exempt from paying property land tax for houses built over 30 years ago. And that saves a few quid on your outgoings each year. So regarding property, the trend over here is, basically, you buy the land and knock down whatever structure is presently standing upright on it. Mad isn’t, it?


The following slideshow presents ‘at a glance’ interior and the exterior

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Interior/Exterior Characteristics

The next slideshow presents typical characteristics of an interior built between the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. The main characteristics would be wooden sliding doors, a variety of patterned glass, squatting toilet, a visible electric system and not forgetting the smell of the tatami mats. From about 30 photographed objects, I’ve whittled it down to about half a dozen. The more prominent, identifiable and characteristic objects survived the cut!

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The Ome Shack

This weekend I stayed with my in-laws (or ‘The Out-laws’ as I sometimes cheekily refer to them!) in Ome. Ome (Translation: Japanese apricot) is in the Kanto region of Japan; a beautiful, scenic area about an hour away by express train from central Tokyo. Unfortunately, my father-in-law hasn’t been very well in recent years so every now and again, when my mother-in-law needs assistance, I go up and help out.

Their bungalow is deep in the Ome countryside. A 25 minute walk or a 5 minute bus ride from Ome train station. Depending on weather conditions, I usually opt for the walk. It’s a pleasurable stroll through the old town, snapping ancient shop fronts and stunning decaying structures along the way then across the bridge and into the Hatanaka area. Whenever I’m in this part of the world, it’s a welcome relief to get away from Tokyo’s overbearing concreted metropolis and find myself engulfed in the natural surroundings.

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Their bungalow was built in the mid-60s and it still retains a lot of its original features though in a serious state of decay now. I’ve always been fascinated by the higgledy-piggledy interiors. Dated British sitcoms spring to mind; Steptoe & Son and Only Fools and Horses. In photographic terms, to some degree, I can see characteristics of Richard Billingham’s photobook, Ray’s a Laugh. Due to my mother-in-law’s reluctance to throw things away, the bungalow has become a cross between a bric-a-brac shop and a history museum.

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Each room is filled with objet d’ art and lost ephemera can be found everywhere. National and local newspapers stacked up high in the corners of each room. Collections of Badminton journals, books on botany, wildlife, cookery, judo etc dating back from the 70s and 80s.

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My mother-in-law’s shodo (Japanese calligraphy) proudly decorates some of the walls in the living room. The crème coloured washi paper now orangey brown. The sliding doors that no longer slide, nicotine stained walls, cat claw marks, crumpled boxes of vegetables, trays of dried fruits and chili peppers drying out, broken draws, cassettes, telephones, fax machines, empty boxes, greasy surfaces,  hole-ridden curtains, dead plants, turtles, the list is endless. Such a colourful visual spectacle!