Panty snatching: is it a crime?


It’s the change of seasons in Japan and the favorite time of year for TV weather forecasters as they make comments and give advice to their viewers. “It is normal for people to feel hot during the daytime but cold at night,” observes one weather forecaster. “Tomorrow people should carry a foldup umbrella,” advises another. “People should carry a jacket tomorrow.” Gee, thanks.

As TV stations attempt to be more competitive, I wonder if it is an attempt to compete with the exciting weather forecasts in the U.S., where hurricanes dominate the headlines. For Japan, it seems that those little icons of the sun, clouds and rain used on the weather maps are just not enough these days — now people want animation. So what do we have now on one particular TV station? The Laundry Forecast. Yep, you get advice about hanging out your laundry in accordance with the weather. And the Laundry Forecast comes with animated icons: T-shirts on the clothesline, socks dancing in the breeze. They seem to believe that telling you when to hang out your socks will make their TV station more competitive. Either that or smelly feet have become such a big problem in Japan that people need to be instructed to hang out their socks. They are not fresh and dry until they swing back and forth on the line to an angle of about 20 degrees. T-shirts, to be properly dry, should ripple in the wind, occasionally furling.

I suppose it is possible they’re educating the young girls with Hello Kitty washing machines who don’t want their clothes washed together with their father’s clothes. “O-jii-sans” are said to have a certain smell about them, and girls are afraid their clothes will take on this smell if washed together. And if that’s true, you can imagine what could happen if they were dried on the same clothesline together! Ehhhhhh?

But I did notice that the Laundry Forecast stops at T-shirts and socks. There is a mysterious absence of advice about hanging out slacks and underwear. Maybe you don’t have to wash those.

I can’t help wonder if the absence of underwear on clotheslines isn’t a subliminal message to us foreigners instructing us on how to hang out our laundry. You see, almost all foreigners, including Asians, make the mistake of hanging out their underwear with the rest of their laundry when they first come to Japan. Don’t do this! Underwear is special and should be hidden from public view. Besides, it may well get snatched. The dirty truth is that Japan has underwear thieves! Take it from someone who has been a victim.

My firsthand experience with panty crime came when I was using a coin laundry to wash my clothes. I left for a few minutes while the clothes were washing and came back to find my clothes dumped out on to the floor. The thief must have been in a hurry, with lots more coin laundries to canvass and panties to snatch that day. Sure enough, my panties were missing.

Later, the owner of the coin laundry, a woman, came in. I explained what had happened and she said, “Oh, really,” and proceeded to unlock the washing machines and empty the coins into a purse. I pointed to the small camera in the upper corner of the laundromat and suggested the scene must be on film. “Oh, we don’t use the camera for that,” she said. Right.

It seems strange that no one seems concerned enough about underwear theft to stop it. Maybe it’s like umbrellas: if you can’t find yours, it’s OK to “borrow” someone else’s. Next time I’ll take out underwear insurance when I order from the Victoria Secret catalog.