In Japan, there's an organic, non-commercial cure for almost anything. It's a tradition that blossomed in the post-WW2 era when people had to save money and space for economic reasons. Today, this habit of utilitarian thriftiness paired with a quirky national sensibility has spawned a phenomenon called urawaza—a collection of offbeat life hacks and unmapped shortcuts. It's also the subject of my new book, Urawaza: Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks from Japan. Keep reading for excerpts on how to silence a crying baby, get rid of splinters, swim backward, make grass greener, and easily clean up egg yolk... all using common household objects.
1. How to make a baby stop crying
Dilemma: Sure, the baby's cute. But why won't he stop crying?
Solution: The secret to stop a crying baby lies in making the sound you produce during the mouthfeel stage of wine tasting.
Why this works: When babies are still in the womb, the noises they can hear are limited to those in the 6000-8000mHz range. The sound you make when you slosh the liquid behind your lips during wine tasting takes place at about 7000mHz, reminding the baby of a time when the world around was peaceful and the whirs and stirs inside Mommy's tummy soothed him back to a sleepy state.
2. How to get rid of surface splinters
Dilemma: You have dozens of little splinters in your hands and arms from helping your little brother with his secret wooden fort. Isn't there a way to get rid of them without having to pluck each and every one out with tweezers?
Solution: Dip your finger in a tub of liquid glue and smear it all over the problem area. Once it dries, peel it off, just the way you used to when you were a bored little kid in arts-and-crafts class. The splinters will come right out along with the peeling glue!
Why this works: Surface splinters are hard to get out not because they're deeply embedded but because they're tiny and hard to grasp even with the daintiest of fingers. The sticky glue serves a function similar to a lint roller when the glue is applied evenly across the splintery surface of your skin. Plus, it's super fun to peel glue off your hands.
3. How to clean up spilled egg yolk
Dilemma: The egg was supposed to crack in the pan—not on the floor. Now there's gook all over the linoleum.
Solution: Sprinkle some table salt on the spilled egg and wait ten minutes for it to soak in, then sweep the egg yolk right off the floor with a broom.
Why this works: The salt dissolves the lipoproteins in the egg yolk, which changes its texture from gooey to nongooey, making it easier to clean. (Bonus: Brian Lam of Gizmodo shows us how.)
4. How to make the grass green again
Dilemma: You got a new puppy, and now your once beautifully green lawn has bare brown patches all over it from dog pee.
Solution: Pour some beer on the problem areas, making sure the foam's covering all the naked spots. The grass will be greener in no time.
Why this works: Beer has fermented sugars in it, which can act as natural fertilizer. The dying grass will feed on these sugars, detrimental fungi will die, and your lawn will start looking normal again.
5. How to swim backward
Dilemma: Your breaststroke is weak, your dives all end up as belly flops, and you can't even do half a somersault without getting water up your nose. You need some kind of skill that will set you apart from the rest of the pool party this summer—but what?
Solution: Learn how to swim backward! When you flex your feet instead of pointing them while holding onto a kick board, your body will chug through the water in reverse gear.
Why this works: The direction you advance in the water depends on which way you're kicking. When you kick away from your body—which is essentially what you appear to be doing when you flex your feet—you reverse the body's inclination to go forward. It takes a little bit of practice, but once you perfect it, the whole party will be wide-eyed with wonder at your newfound skill.