The little old lady barely visible in the photo above owns a coin laundry just down the road from my house. She lives quietly on the left, while ageing washing machines and driers rattle noisily to the right. Every morning at 7.30 I pass her on my way to the station, standing outside her shop people-watching, watering her plants and generally doing what old people do. We share a cheery “ohayo gozaimasu” and I’m on my way: it’s how I start my day, and it always makes me smile. Granted, she gave me a scolding a few weeks back for putting my shoes in the drier – but it was more like the telling off you’d get from your favourite grandma if you ate too many biscuits before your tea. Inside her shop an out-of-place X Files poster from 1998 hangs alongside yellowing adverts for washing powder from decades before that. This place is retro in the truest sense of the word. A place that doesn’t want to get with the times. It is what it is.
With a population of over 13 million people, Tokyo reeks of consumerism. I’m not getting all high and mighty: my shoes say adidas just like the next man. But whenever I can I do purposely try and seek out local traders and support my neighbourhood. Which is why I like my little coin laundry so much.
I don’t have a drier in my house so I take a trip there once a week. The cycle takes 30 minutes, and while I’m waiting I walk down to a non-descript restaurant just down the street. I say restaurant, but this place is tiny: basically just a kitchen with a counter, room for maybe 10 people at a push. An elderly couple in their seventies own the place, and if you want to go to the toilet you have to go upstairs into their house and use theirs. Like the coin laundry, this place is like something time forgot. The old man cooks your dinner in front of you while his wife chats to the customers and the TV hums in the background. Last time I was there I ordered Chicken Katsu (breaded fillet) and when it came, the edges were burnt. There’s just something endearing about that. It’s not perfect, but it’s been made with love.
I don’t know, it’s hard to explain, but this solitary post basically sums up my reasons for wanting to live in Japan. For me it’s not all about the karaoke bars, the neon and the madness. It’s about the deserted backstreets, the quiet alleyways and the people you meet along the way.
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