Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My struggles with カビ

Ah yes spring, my favorite season is finally here! The sakura have bloomed, the birds are chirping, and the temperatures are just perfect for at least a month or two before the unbearable heat and humidity of the Japanese summer that will undoubtedly be accompanied by excessive amounts of AC blasting throughout the trains and stores across town.

It also means the return of an old nemesis: mold. Mold and Japan go hand in hand like... I dunno, two things that go together really well. Given my current choice of breakfast I'm gonna go with "like bananas and strawberry yogurt". Anyway, lots of mold in Japan.

My history with mold in Japan goes back to my first days here a few years back when I lived in an all tatami apartment. It was spacious and free so I wasn't complaining at all, but come spring I knew why people avoid tatami mats and go for western style rooms. I went away one weekend and left the windows open to air the place out, then came back and it half looked like I had a lawn in my apartment! You need to keep your place clean to avoid mold settling in, and this goes double for tatami mats. This was up in Tohoku as well, so I'm sure that having tatami rooms further south could only be worse.

So ok, lesson learned and I haven't lived in a tatami-based home since. Now this time around, I look in my closet the other day and what do I find? Mold, growing on some clothes! This place tends to gather condensation a bunch since it's on the 1st floor. And here I thought people avoided living on the 1st floor in Japan so people wouldn't look in their windows and/or steal their panties (girls only), but yes, the 1st floor is more likely to have bug and mold problems as well.

Now what do you do if you have mold? How do you avoid it? You need to be careful of any place where condensation might gather, such as closets, drawers, around the bathroom and washing machine, the kitchen and close to windows. In general, you need to keep the place clean, have good air flow and not allow hot air to settle if you can help it. Here are some tips that I found:
  1. After you take a shower/bath, before you leave turn on the fan, then rinse the walls off first with hot water, then with cold water. This cools the place down and gives all the hot air a chance to get out.
  2. Always turn the fan on in the kitchen when cooking or running hot water, and leave the fan on for a little afterwards too.
  3. Leave things like beds and couches set off from the wall about 5cm or so as mold tends to gather in small crevices.
  4. Buying a dehumidifier is the easiest for sure, but if you don't want to or can't afford it then there are these things you can buy at DIY shops to help handle humidity. I got a bunch to stick in drawers, some that you can hang in your closet, and bigger ones that you can just place on the floor anywhere that tends to get hot and/or moist. The closet ones were called ドライペット if you're interested, but that's just the brand.
  5. If you have tatami mats, wipe them down regularly! First you go through with a damp cloth, then a dry one. I did it once every 2-3 weeks depending on need.
  6. Clean things regularly (!!), and every now and then check areas you don't use or look every day such as drawers, spare futons, around windows, in the shoe storage areas, etc. Here's a diagram I found covering everything, although it's in Japanese.

Here's the original Japanese for a site I was looking off to make this list if you're interested. One thing I thought was interesting on the site was that it mentioned that because Japan has such a humid climate, the culture developed a bunch of fermented food products, such as miso, soy sauce and nihonshu (sake). If that's the case, I wonder why cheese never caught on here??? Sigh... I could make a whole other post about that one.

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