Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Shenmue Realism: Washing Machines

One of the aspects of the Shenmue games that I love, and one of the things that made the game stand out when it was first released, is the attention to details of real life that are portrayed.

A Reflection of Real Life

For me the accuracy of this depiction is particularly apparent when playing the first game in the series, with its setting of Japan.

From time to time I'd like to highlight some of the subtle details that may not have any effect on the story but combine to give a genuine feeling of the life and culture of Japan back in the 1980s - and which in many cases are still a close picture of the society today.

Washing Machines in Shenmue I

As you direct Ryo around his local neighborhood of Sakuragaoka, you may notice that a couple of the residences have washing machines sitting outside them.

Washing machine outside apartment block
At an apartment building in Sakuragaoka.
Washing machine outside a house
Oops, someone left the lid up.

Looking closely, the washing machines are of an older style of machine which contain two compartments and timer dials. The left-side compartment is for washing the clothes. Once the clothes are washed, they have to be moved by hand over to the right-hand side compartment which spins them to reduce the water content before taking them out to dry - something that would surely not be fun to do during the colder months.

Two-compartment washing machine
An old-style two-compartment washing machine, like those depicted in Shenmue.

Indoor vs Outdoor

Although it is a sight that is becoming less common in Japan these days, you can still find (generally older) apartment buildings or houses where the washing machine is kept outside. Generally speaking this is when the room layout is too small to fit the machine and so no allowance made for one to be set inside the house.

This would have been even more prevalent back in the 1980s where Shenmue I is set.

Here's a present-day example I came across with Google Street View. Washing machines can be seen outside the rooms, both at ground level and along the balcony.

Washing machines at an apartment building in Kawasaki.

Impressive Detail, Even Today

For the first two games in the series, Yu Suzuki and his team devoted time to researching the locations of the games in depth to capture the atmosphere properly and it really shows when playing them, even today.

With Yu and many original team members being part of the project for Shenmue III, I'm optimistic that this attention to detail, which is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Shenmue, will be carried through to the upcoming game too.
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