Sunday, September 18, 2005


THE TOOLS OF QUASIMODO


Late this afternoon as I was winding up the latter firewood portion of the day, tarping the freshly split oak against tonight’s threatening thunderstorms and wheelbarrowing the scavenged firewood from the pile in front (where we toss it as found) out to the back of the house to add to this winter’s pile, because it was the end of the day and I had been lugging and splitting for a good portion of it my back was ready to call it quits a bit sooner than I was, so it registered all the more strongly that, as I wheelbarrowed the loads, in keeping the wheelbarrow level - i.e., at operating height - I had to lean over so as to make my height about 5'5", instead of my actual 6'1".

It occurred to me as I bore this discomfort that wheelbarrow makers in Japan were still using a user-comfort template that assumed the operators of wheelbarrows to be slightly over five feet tall, which may have been true 40 years ago, but surely not now… although it seems that most farmers around here are in fact about that height… still, I see many folks as tall as I am or taller, among the Japanese… though they are generally not farmers, but students or professionals of one sort or another… are farmers generally shorter still than the descendants of the old elite, who ate well and did no manual labor and largely became the urban professionals of today?

Now that I’d thought of it, my various hoes did have handles of a length that forces me to bend over inordinately so as to use them at best leverage, as does my weed whacker. And at the time all this occurred to me I was enjoying the digital freedom afforded by the large US-bought work gloves I was wearing that had come in three sizes, unlike the uniform one-finger-size-fits-all work gloves sold in the farm stores here. Are the rural Japanese really that uniform?

I’ll have to keep my eyes open on this subject, walk around with a tape measure in my pocket, ask farmers in the fields how tall they are - hold up one finger please - no one in the village will think I’m a strange foreigner, though my gardening tools are slowly transforming me into Quasimodo…

2 comments:

stu said...

the 95th percentile! a term I learned in design school when studying ergonomics - it basically means you are bigger than 95% of the males and 100% of the females in japan. probably no big surprise there.

I have similar problems everyday (like one day I talked about in my blog in june) and even my wife who is a very average 5ft7in, has to adjust to the incredibly low height of our kitchen units.

I think there is still a tendency to design 'small'. perhaps it goes a way to explain why so many obachans hobble around with backs at an excruciating 90 degrees to the pavement on which they walk.

Robert Brady said...

And soon I will be among them... yeah, I forgot how low the sinks are (even in the house we designed)! Doorframes are high, though, which offers some relief...