Here is the entirety of my Japanese kitchen except for the refrigerator. See if you can spot the dishwasher. Oh, you can't because there isn't one.
I live in Japan without the following items: dishwasher, garbage disposal, clothes dryer, oven, insulated walls, central heating, fenced yard, outdoor seating or privacy, and garage. No, I didn't become a Buddhist nun and move to a monastery deep in a bamboo forest, this is just how everyday Japanese people live.
Wait. Japan?? ... Land of fancy cameras, hi-tech gadgets, video games, stereo equipment, televisions, Hello Kitty, and ubiquitous hybrid cars?
Right? Imagine my surprise. Let's start with dishwashers. Except for camping trips, the last time I had no dishwasher was in college when I lived in a cute little converted 1-car garage in Boulder. WTF, Japaaann.
Here are some reasons I've come up with for this gaping hole in daily household life:
The gender problem. Like many other shall we disrespectfully call them less enlightened societies, home care in Japan is built into the duties of women. Traditionally their role is to accept these duties quietly and willingly, which they have historically done. Think 1950s America. Until the last few decades, Japanese women have been given few equal opportunities in the career world. It's still generally accepted that most women will stay in the home and work their asses off there all day, primarily because they lack first world modern conveniences. I call it oppressive but then I'm just an insensitive, lazy westerner.
Lack of space. Lots of city-dwellers in the western world live in cramped spaces and wash dishes by hand too, female or not. In cities it's about lack of space in Japan too, many Japanese apartments don't have kitchens at all, let alone space for anything more than 2 burners and a mini refrigerator. But I live in a house, surrounded by average homes that are in fact big, even by US standards (like 2,000 square feet) so the lack-of-space excuse doesn't fly. Also, when I lived in a small city apartment in Europe we had a smaller kitchen than we do in Japan yet it included an 18" dishwasher. So it's not really about lack of space.
The trade philosophy. I suspect it's also about Japanese isolationism and the government's long-term unwillingness to trade with the rest of the world. Well, they definitely trade OUT (PlayStation anyone? Toyota? Canon?) yet they bring IN very little, theoretically to keep their economy going (until now, that is) by selling few goods domestically that are not Japanese. And they basically don't make dishwashers, or import them. (Samsung and LG are Korean brands, the lucky bastards!) At the Ikea here in Japan I did notice dishwashers on their show floor are all made by the Swedish company Electrolux, and were not available for sale. In fact, Japan does not allow Ikea to sell any appliances.
Kitchen design. I know we all like to think that everyone in Japan lives in modern minimalistic design heaven, but that simply isn't the case for I'd say about 95% of the population. Japanese houses are built quickly out of cheap materials and are not meant to last. Homes are extremely utilitarian, and they're pretty much all the same inside. The Acme grade kitchen unit (like mine, pictured up above) is one big piece and exists almost identically in most homes.
Obedience. Japanese people don't complain and they're surprisingly nationalistic and trust their big companies and government to keep the country happy. It has served them well and really, why have a dishwasher when you've never needed one before? Fuck innovation and convenience. This is Japan.
I'm clearly still working on acceptance here. To embrace my new role as top dish dog, quite the dubious honor, I have tips for life without a mechanized dishwasher:
+ make lots of sandwiches
+ get take out and dine out often
+ snacks (but avoid too many Funyuns)
+ daytime water glass = evening wine glass
+ never thought I'd say this but use paper plates and eat off paper towels whenever possible
+ wash and dry immediately and put everything away to avoid depression, bugs, and counter-surfing boxer dogs
+ try to remember to use rubber gloves (I almost never do)
+ if you have more than one person in your household, switch daily between washing and drying
+ to avoid further depression and feeling as if feminism was just a figment of your imagination, use good dish soap you really like – believe it or not I actually order Mrs. Meyers through iHerb (they have all kinds of great stuff and ship to Japan for only $4)
+ ditto for dish towels – when I'm stateside I nab plain white flour sack towels at Target
Desperate times, yo! Okaaay, more like first world problems, Japan-style.