Urawaza by Lisa Katayama
Urawaza is the Japanese art of finding a way to make more of what you have. If you have rice water, figure out something to do with it.
Lisa’s book is a list of Urawaza. Each Urawaza has an illustration, but it also has a scenario(sometimes unlikely, sometimes very realistic) for why you would need an Urawaza, how to do the Urawaza and why it works. For example, you can lessen the shock you get from getting out of a hot tub and into the cool air before sucking on a couple of ice cubes beforehand. You won’t experience quite the same shock because you’ll have cooled down at least a little.
You can get coffee stains out of carpet with spinach water and another ingredient.
What I liked
I lived in Japan for almost three years so I like to learn things about Japan. I have never heard of the concept of Urawaza, but it definitely makes sense. You take a problem and you solve it with the things you have on hand, or the things you might have thrown away. The rest of us would call these “life hacks.” There are entire websites dedicated to life hacks. Urawaza is simply the Japanese way of life-hacking, although, Japanese people do take life-hacking to the extreme, especially space wise. Apartments and houses aren’t very big. How are you going to do everything you need to do in that tiny house?
An Urawaza, that is essentially Japanese culture, is having your entire bathroom be the shower. I wish I had that. In actuality, Japanese bathrooms tend to have a toilet room, often with a small sink, or a built-in sink( you have special toilet slippers), an area with a sink/counter/mirror whatever, then the shower area. The shower area generally holds the tub and the shower. You can get the entire room wet. Sometimes, there are entire bathrooms that you can get wet. This concept is a way of making the bathroom a little more space efficient, but also making the bathroom more useful to more people at once. If somebody ate too much curry, the person in the shower doesn’t have to hurry out of the shower as a result.
I love little things that are useful. I like to know how to do things with little. For example, did you know that you can use just vinegar, water, and baking soda to get some pretty terrible stains out of your carpet? It really works. I’ve been attacking the carpet at my house with a vengeance since I moved in; baking soda and vinegar performs quite the trick.
When I was getting my first degree, an art degree, I had a professor that often said that being an artist was being a problem solver. As an artist, you thought about something, and you figured out a way to make it happen, which invariably involved solving a lot of problems. I think we should all strive to be problem solvers. We should all look at what we have on hand and decide how to better use it, or give it new life, or spend less money trying to do something.
Oh, and, I also loved that this book explains a bit of the science behind why certain things work the way they do. These things aren’t just magic; there’s science behind them.
What I didn’t like
The book could have been longer. The Urawaza could have been more detailed. I know for a fact that there are all kinds of interesting Urawaza that the Japanese people use that could have been in this book. For example, you want to grow yellow squash and goya, but you only have a five foot by five foot garden space. What do you do? Well, if you were an enterprising Okinawan, you would erect a scaffolding over your garden space. There would be four posts and a wire frame would be spanned between the posts. You would plant your plants that like to stay put in the garden plot, then plant your goya near the posts and let it trail up the posts and then grow across your wire frame. Your goya would hang down from your trellis in its bumpy glory and your squash would be all happy on the ground. I can’t tell you how many times I saw this very thing in Okinawa.
Notice, I didn’t pluralize Urawaza when I used it in what could have been a plural sense–Japanese doesn’t have plurals. You just infer from the context of the sentence if the word is meant to be plural or not. おいしいすし could be that you’re speaking of one piece of delicious sushi, or multiple pieces of delicious sushi.
In case you’re wondering what goya is–it kind of looks like a cucumber with a bad case of acne, technically some sort of squash. It’s bitter and very high in antioxidants, so it’s very good for you; it’s one of the reasons cited for why Okinawans live so long.
Urawaza–life hack–whatever you want to call it–it’s a good idea.
What’s your favorite life hack/urawaza?
Did your family pass down interesting life hacks to you?