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?