The virus COVID-19 is causing a sensation all over the world and people have begun to take measures against it. This article introduces what Japanese people have already been doing regularly for hygiene, both before and after the COVID-19 epidemic. I hope to show aspects of Japan’s culture and personality in the area of personal and public hygiene and how it can be connected to a drop in COVID-19 cases in Japan. At the same time, I will discuss some fun, interesting and unique parts of Japanese attitudes towards hygiene.
At the end of February, the Japanese government required schools to close as one measure to control the virus. Usually, the educational year begins in April, not September, so spring vacation started earlier than usual. For some students, their graduation ceremony was cancelled. For others, the beginning of their new term was affected. This decision, made by schools and government, attracted a lot of attention. Many people chose not to attend events that would gather many people. At the same time, for most workers, there were not many changes except the fact that they needed to care for their children during work hours.
Recently, some new songs about the virus have been released in the world. 感覚ピエロ (Kankaku-Piero), who is one of Japan’s most popular artists among the younger generation, launched a song called 感染源 (Kansengen). They sing about the virus in a way that is similar to one of Eminem’s songs, just not in English. Give it a listen if you like! It shows how Japan has reacted to COVID-19 in a creative way by using music to inform people.
Now it’s important to talk about regular Japanese hygiene habits. “Hand-washing” has been a popular topic by people lately, including in the NHS. In Japan, this is not a new topic at all meaning that in Japan strict hygiene habits have always been around, even before the COVID-19 outbreak. “When you go home, wash your hands and gargle your throat''. We have been taught this since our very youngest memories. In most elementary schools, the phrase is posted on the wall near the water fountain. There are some reasons why Japanese people like to keep clean in general. Mainly, it is an effect of living in a humid subtropical climate. It is scientifically proven that bacteria proliferate quite easily in this environment, but the feeling of being sweaty also helps us to remember. Due to the humid climate, the railings of public facilities tend to feel dirtier than those in dry areas. Because of this, it's easy to feel and to remember that you need to wash your hands. Knowing this, you can make sense of typical Japanese behaviour: taking a bath every day, using anti-bacterial products, and so on. Considering increased hygiene awareness internationally due to COVID-19, this can give you an insight on usual Japanese hygiene habits which are generally stricter than some people might expect.
Then there is the subject of masks which are very common now in most countries around the world due to COVID-19. We wear them often, especially from winter to spring. We are not only protecting ourselves but also doing our best not to infect others with this habit. It is important to know that, in our educational system, we have entrance exams from mid-January to the beginning of March. So, there is only one chance to take these exams and this season becomes very important for students. During this time, they and their family wear masks to stay healthy so that students will be able to take their exams in the best condition. The masks also help with hay fever, which many Japanese people have in spring when flowers start to bloom. The masks serve as a shield so that people don’t inhale the pollen. Now, when you go to Japan and see people wearing masks, you can feel and understand their efforts to stay healthy. Therefore, for Japanese people masks are not only used during COVID-19 but before the outbreak as well for a variety of reasons.
The final topic of consideration in the rise of awareness of self-cleanliness due to COVID-19 is “public cleanliness”, and specifically, littering in Japan. My non-Japanese friends often ask me how there is so little littering in Japan when there are so few bins. Well, the reason why there are so few bins is that there was a terrorist incident. In 1995, members of a cult placed deadly gas into underground trains. After this terrorist attack, many rubbish bins were removed from public areas for security reasons. Since then, there have been extremely few bins—so what should you do when you want to throw something away? You can go to a convenience store or just bring it back to your hotel. These places usually have trash bins and if they don’t, people will understand that you are a tourist and will help you out if you ask nicely. Japanese people also have a high moral consciousness, believing that everything has a god in it. This prevents people from throwing trash in the streets, because generally people don’t want to defile the streets. Therefore, before the COVID-19 pandemic even public cleanliness is very high in Japan, and not just personal cleanliness.
Overall, it’s interesting to consider how COVID-19 pandemic shows differences in the personality and approach of certain nations around the world. Japan is very obsessed with hygiene and the cases dropped quickly in Japan. It is interesting to consider if the fall in cases in Japan could be related to the country’s culture of being both publicly and personally very focused on hygiene. This focus made it possible for Japan had to adapt to having stricter measures of hygiene quickly and with relatively less effort. As a result, the cases in Japan dropped.
I hope this gives you an interesting insight of both Japanese cultural habits, Japan’s reaction to COVID-19 and culture can influence the number of COVID-19 cases.
Don’t forget, “When you go home, wash your hands and gargle your throat!”