With a new Netflix series streaming on both sides of the Pacific, our reporter ponders what America sees in Japan’s tidying-up master.

With Netflix now available in Japan, there’s something interesting going on right now as the country gets to see Tokyo native Marie Kondo applying her methods for tidy living, developed while living in compact Japanese homes, to the much larger canvas of American living spaces via her Tidying Up with Marie Kondo series.

Our Japanese-language reporter Yayoi recently started watching the series, but at first she wasn’t sure why Americans would be interested in the teachings and techniques of Konmari, as she’s popularly known in Japan. After all, don’t all Americans live in huge houses, like the ones you see in Hollywood movies?

Of course, that’s not the case, and while watching Yayoi also learned that while American homes are, on average, much larger than their Japanese counterparts, bigger homes tend to lull you into buying bigger stuff, leading to just as much clutter as you’d have in a smaller house or apartment. At the same time, she also came across what she thinks are three secrets to the booming overseas popularity of Kondo and her new series.

First, right from the get-go Yayoi thinks that Kondo’s Netflix series does an excellent job of selecting who she’s going to help. Episode one focuses on a family where both husband and wife work, but still want a tidy home for themselves and their two children. Yayoi thinks this scenario, and the desire to create an organized, stress-free living space even without much time to dedicate to the task, is universally understandable, transcending national borders.

But at the same time, Yayoi thinks that Kondo’s foreign-country origin makes a lot of her ideas feel extra-novel to an American audience. For example, many of the people she helps are impressed at the space savings that can come from precise folding of clothes, or placing boxes or dividers inside drawers to sub-compartmentalize them and maximize their utility and efficiency. “In the U.S., I think it’s the norm to have larger closets than we do in Japan,” muses Yayoi, “and those sorts of techniques haven’t taken root in modern culture as strongly as they have in Japan [where they’re often done as a matter of course].”

As a matter of fact, Yayoi also thinks there’s a little bit of showmanship in Kondo’s onscreen demeanor and mannerisms, which help to give her a Zen master-like aura. “In the show, when Kondo says thank you to someone, I sometimes see her pressing her hands together in front of her face as she bows…but in Japan, we really don’t do this very often at all.” Other unusual yet impression-leaving behavior Kondo displays include kneeling Japanese-style on the floor of the home, closing her eyes like she’s about to meditate, and bowing deeply in order to “greet the home” before she gets to work, as well as talking to clothing as she folds it. Neither of those are anything close to the norm in Japan, but they help establish Kondo as someone who’s operating on an advanced level psychologically/spiritually, and add a dramatic flair, plus some cute fun, to the ordinarily dry and dull task of cleaning and cutting clutter.

So while Kondo’s series isn’t 100-percent representative of the mainstream Japanese attitude about tidying up, it’s got enough Japanese concepts to feel fresh to American viewers, and Kondo herself is able to present them in an engaging way with a contagious enthusiasm, which is no small feat, even when working with big houses.

Top image: Netflix
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