Living space in Japan is limited. At first glance, Japan’s population density of 336 people per square kilometer seems deceptively low. In fact, it is lower than that of Belgium, which is 370 people per square kilometer. We should, however, take into account that only roughly 20% of Japan’s surface is fit for human habitation, due to the large amount of mountainous terrain, thus leading to an actual population density that is much higher.
Japanese people therefore tend to live in much smaller houses and apartments than Belgian people do. This limited living space has sparked numerous creative solutions to save on space. One of those is the tiny iron, accompanied by an equally tiny ironing board.
I had already seen an extensive range of small irons when shopping at an electronics store but hadn’t paid much attention to it at the time, since they also had Western sized irons. I was very surprised, however, when during an afternoon of crafting my friend showed me her ironing board. It was so tiny! And it was intended to be used while sitting on the ground, as you can clearly see by the short legs, although it could arguably also be used while sitting at a table.
My friend told me that she doesn’t like ironing and who could blame her with such tiny implements. It must take ages to iron one item of clothing. Japanese clothing store Uniqlo has cleverly responded to the ironing conundrum in Japan by developing a range of ‘super non iron’ shirts. This again shows how Japan is all about convenience, which I love. It also illustrates how the Japanese love to use the word super in their branding. To Western ears that sounds a bit funny. It always puts a smile on my face whenever I hear it. Somehow it makes everything sound cute and powerful at the same time.
After writing this article, I found out that non-iron clothes are full of chemicals that are harmful to the environment, so I am no longer a fan of non-iron clothes.
For comparison purposes I will describe a Belgian ironing board. It stands on high legs and is about three times the size of the Japanese ironing board. Belgian irons are larger and often have an external steam generator, which produces more steam and helps to iron more efficiently. With the Belgian setup I actually quite enjoy ironing. For honesty’s sake I do have to mention that there are also many Belgian people who dislike ironing.
Despite my ravings about the wonders of large ironing boards and external steam generators, I would probably also turn to the tiny Japanese iron if I lived in a Japanese ‘one room mansion’ (ワンルームマンション). A one room mansion, as the name suggests, has only one room of about 10m², with a very small bathroom and cooking area. The one room mansion blocks often look a bit depressing to me, with rows of uniform doors, leading to identical square boxes.
What is your experience with ironing in Japan?
I live in the US and have always been anti-iron. As a child I grew up with the stand-up large boards with big heavy irons. Funny that you title the post with “Flat Iron”. To me, or the region where I live, a flat iron is used to flatten the curls our of your hair. They do come in large and compact versions but are all hand-held. You clamp down on your hair between to hot flat plates and run it the length of your hair. What do you call these in Belgium?
In Belgium, I would call it ‘stijltang’, which is a Dutch word. In the region where I live, the North, we speak Dutch. In the South people speak French. And in the East they speak German. So in those parts it would be something in those respective languages. In English I would refer to it as a hair straightener. Maybe that’s British? Or an invention of my own?
For the title, I had first written iron but then I was worrying if it would be clear enough. So I looked in a dictionary and got both ‘iron’ and ‘flat iron’. Flat iron seemed clearer. But maybe that’s British English? Maybe I should change to using iron after all.
Anyway, thanks for letting me know about the meaning of flat iron in the USA. I am always very interested in regional linguistic differences.
Why are you anti iron by the way? And do you then just accept life with wrinkled clothes?
I carefully chose my profession at a young age not to involve anything that required ironing. I do own a blouse for proper meetings, which are extremely rare. But I shopped for it specifically to be a no-iron shirt.
i never like those tiny ironing boards. well, i dislike ironing. period. but if i have to do some, i’d rather use a high legged ironing board so i could iron when i’m standing.
I have an Italian ironing board that stands like yours with a Sanyo iron that is similar to yours in size. But I also have a tiny steamer that I can conveniently use when I need to take any wrinkles out of the garment I need to wear on the day. It’s made by Panasonic and works wonders. I have the white one: http://panasonic.jp/iron/steamer/
I was thinking of getting a steamer! Some things are just so difficult to iron, while they are steamed in no time (like some dresses). Does the steamer take a long time to heat up?
30 seconds max! And you would feel it heating up as you let the steam emit. This Panasonic product seems to be only available in Japan. I cannot find any English site for it.
I’m sure I can find something similar here in Belgium. Thanks!