Stoves and How we Power Them

This is a continuation of the exploration of Japanese Culture by examining the major appliances we use every day.

Stoves

If you’ve ever been in a Japanese kitchen, one of the most obvious differences you’ll find is the stove.  In just about every American house I’ve seen, the ranges are large with at least four burners.  Electric is probably dominate, but there are areas where gas is used instead.  Nowadays they are often more likely to be flat panel warmers rather than the old electric coils that used to predominate.

Japanese stoves are almost always gas.  They come in very specific sizes to match the small kitchen spaces available in the majority of apartment/building kitchens.  In the one’s I’ve seen, even the more expensive versions usually have only two burners.  Under the center of the burners there is usually a drawer style broiler.

Gas vs. Electric

In America cities are large, with even more wide open spaces between major cities.  The cost of laying and maintaining gas lines is more prohibitive despite the low costs of natural gas.  In the past, natural gas was also more expensive compared to other energy costs.  More than that, natural gas could be conceived of as more dangerous since early gas leaks and explosions were highly publicized.  Fixed lines were also limited to areas of low seismic activity.

For Japan, though natural gas is cheaper than electricity that relies on foreign imports of fuel, or expensive technologies such as nuclear reactors.  Although Japan is seismically active Japanese companies got around the need to build expensive and potentially dangerous infrastructure by equipping individual buildings with tanks that could be easily refilled where lines are not practical.  Since Japan is an island and many buildings are closer together, there is also less cost and danger when physical lines are possible.

So then, Japan’s urban planning helps dictate how people cook and eat. Since buildings are smaller and taller, kitchens are smaller too.  Stoves are gas since natural gas is cheaper than electricity and widely available in Japan.  Tied to the stove are several other appliances we will look at later.  Some Japanese appliances have developed because of the limited space on the burners, while others perhaps keep the demand for more space down. The distinction may seem trivial, but Japanese cooking and diet plays a major role in deciding what tools are found in the kitchen.  Since humans are tool users, by understanding how we get things done, we can also understand why.

More to come next week.