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Japanese customs: A guide in a coronavirus world?

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By Dave Hueston

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The custom of washing hands? Are you kidding me? Sprinkling your fingertips and then fixing your hair does count as washing hands.

36 ( +42 / -6 )

*does not count as washing hands

24 ( +27 / -3 )

Plus, when one is wearing a face mask it takes more effort to pick one’s nose and eat one’s boogers.

7 ( +13 / -6 )

Social distancing, however, has been lax in comparison to the strict guidelines being followed in other countries, with not much evidence of people observing the 2-meters-apart distancing goal set by Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike who has asked residents to refrain from being in enclosed spaces, crowded places or in close contact with each other.

Here we go again with generalities. Why don't these articles ever specify which countries citizens are doing a much better of practicing social distancing and stay at home better than what Japanese citizens have done? Certainly not the United States, where anti-shelter in place protests are sprouting up across the country as many citizens have refused to abide by these orders. Certainly not in Australia or other European countries as well. Meaningless without comparisons, unless the intent is to give the impression that Japan and only Japan alone as a nation has failed to adopt social distancing and stay at home (which is news to me as we have seen pictures of near empty railroad cabs and public streets in Tokyo).

-12 ( +4 / -16 )

There is no concept of social distancing in Japan and most of the Japanese (I see) not wearing masks are the young...

15 ( +18 / -3 )

Everytime I go to the bathroom, hardly anyone washes there hands. I went to the supermarket yesterday. No social distancing at all! Japan has own set of dirty habits. Don't try and fool anyone.

17 ( +26 / -9 )

This article gets it right! The superior personal hygiene habits of the Japanese is what has led to the low corona virus numbers -- so far.

Keep up the good hygiene habits Japan!

-27 ( +6 / -33 )

customs and social habits in Japan such as wearing face masks during seasonal flu outbreaks, bowing rather than handshaking, and removing shoes at home might play some role in hindering transmission of the virus, although to what extent is still unknown.

To what extent is still unknown? Well, considering the cases were 6,000 two weeks ago and are now over 20,000 with over 550 new cases last weekend alone, I’d say to no extent at all.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

Japanese toilets come handy, along with Squat Position which most of the Asian people like me prefer.

Even on Western toilet, squatting on the seat is the way to go to relieve smoothly but mostly for hygiene purpose and definitely very useful in this current situation.

Handshaking is never ever good, even at interviews or at any smart events. And if the Westerners hesitate to do either Bowing or Namaste, then there should be new greetings. Maybe blinking both eyes twice?

-20 ( +2 / -22 )

The untold Japanese custom to urinate in the male public toilets and then don’t wash the hands?

I literally saw this in a daily basis when I was commuting to work and had to stop restrooms.

Or the one of guys coughing in front of your face in packed trains?

And still they want to keep their narrative to be the most clean and unique in the whole planet.

14 ( +21 / -7 )

I still see old ladies at the supermarket picking up unwrapped vegetables to inspect them and then putting them back. Probably not a very considerate thing to do these days.

17 ( +19 / -2 )

Santarpia also found viral contamination in air samples, surfaces such as toilets and other surfaces that are frequently touched in a preliminary report published in late March, 

Sounds exactly like the aids panic in the late 80's/ early 90's

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

So theres a few freaked out western guys who see this as insults only...

Why don’t we be a little less impulsive and try to be able to hear something, even if you don’t agree?

If you are able to analyze how this virus hits different cultures without getting all sensitive , it may be better for your well-being.

-9 ( +4 / -13 )

What's that  "Japan's apparently robust practices of social hygiene". Apparently is a good word.

As a continuation to what has already be commented.

I see spit all over the streets here and have to walk as if through a minefield. I see people spitting directly into garbage bins instead of a tissue first and then into the bin (someone else has to go through those bins to sort the rubbish you know?) I have seen people peeing of train platforms, vomit all over stairs and beside bench seats. I have seen the shocking sight of someones poo splattered inside a urinal for the cleaner to try and clean without 'reversing' (throwing up). I have seen countless not wash their hands even after number two and then rub their nose.

As for flu reduction in Japan due to wearing masks during normal flu season. In 2019 "January 21 to 27, an average of 57.09 influenza patients per facility was reported among the roughly 5,000 designated medical facilities nationwide..."

It is a great idea to remove your shoes, yet I must remember to train my dog to to likewise because who knows where is tongue has been. Man that one shocks me much, people kissing their dogs in public, yuk!!

Be safe people, it's not about cultural differences, it's about a virus that cares not for our social demographics. Yes wash thee hands, yeh wear little cloth masks, and stay the 'distance' away from your follow food buyer. Man those supermarkets be busy now, nothing else to do I guess apart from buying some more coke. Again, please be safe.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

Why do so many commentators think that the Japanese hygiene is better than elsewhere? I can tell you again: it is NOT.

Are they seriously thinking we will all be saved if we take our shoes off and wash our hands as instructed by Pikotaro's new video.

Unbelievable.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

I grew up in England and as a child always removed my shoes in the hall before going indoors. Japan is not the only country in the world (as much as some people like to think so) where people change into slippers indoors.

And I was taught to wash my hands with soap and water, something I rarely see happen here.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

Not doing anything right as a society to protect its people, still blindly trying to feel special and unique out of ignorance. Common sense can never reach these shores, there is a herd immunity to it.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Went to a smallish local supermarket yesterday and was surprised that they had marked out arrowed lines on the floor with wide red tape.. These lines lead from the register and down the aisles for at least 15 mtrs. At intervals of about 2 mtrs were marked standing places. This system enforced social distancing while waiting. When you finally shuffle to the closest waiting spot, the register staff call you up much like waiting behind the yellow line at airport immigration. Worked well.

But a funny little incident. An elderly woman didn't notice the markings and lineup, and thought the register was empty and trolleyed right up. No one said anything. The woman in front of me who was next, finally gave a deep sigh and the old lady noticed the 10 or so waiting people. She said - oh sorry and moved off.

Where did she go? To the back of the line. No! She just moved to the next register - same amount of people waiting - and went directly in first.

Ahh. The joys of being oblivious to it all. lol.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

I've lived in UK, Canada and Japan. Japan is the dirtiest least hygienic of them all. And I wonder why slippers exist all over the world if only Japanese take off their shoes? I have happy memories of always walking about the house in Canada in my snow boots. Yeah, we all did that.

-3 ( +6 / -9 )

More Japan is unique nonsense. Handwashing, bathing etc a Japanese only thing? Don’t insult our intelligence.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Japanese customs as in suppressing dissent and faking numbers? Sure.

The only reason Japanese “reported” numbers are low is due to suppressed testing, which affects both diagnosed and death numbers. Death numbers are further lowered due to Japanese ruling most deaths as due to comorbidities instead of covid

6 ( +9 / -3 )

A very balanced article compared to the people leaving comments. I wish they would read the article instead of jumping to the comments section. They might actually learn something.

-7 ( +4 / -11 )

Here go again with the Japanese propaganda in order to convince themselves of their uniqueness.

Some experts say customs and social habits in Japan such as wearing face masks during seasonal flu outbreaks, bowing rather than handshaking,

Wearing mask or bowing has never prevented Japan to have flu outbreaks every year. In fact wearing mask is often useless since people don't know how to use them properly, they touch them, re-use them, put them off and back, all of that without washing their hands.

and removing shoes at home might play some role in hindering transmission of the virus,

Removing shoes? But for God sake, Japan is not the only country in the world where shoes are removed at home. Please stop with this non sense Japanese centric view of the world.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tradition_of_removing_shoes_in_home#Arab_world

although to what extent is still unknown.

No! They just make no sense.

The frequent washing of hands,

Washing hands? Japanese? Is this a joke? They don't wash their hands here, it's just not true to say otherwise. I still see the majority of Japanese men not washing properly or not at all their hands after toilet. They just don't do it often. Japanese women are not better either I hear. And we are talking about the country where many toilets in major stations in big cities do not have soap.....

use of oshibori (hot towels) for cleansing the hands and face at restaurants,

In what regard oshiboris have anything to do with preventing infection decease to spread? They are just wet towels (most of the time not hot by the way), so they are useless in that regard.

and the custom of bowing, instead of handshaking, cheek-kissing or other forms of physical contact,

Again this has never prevented flu outbreaks in Japan (or any other infection decease like the gastroenteritis). Trying to say that some of the aspects of Japan that makes its society unfriendly, cold, robotic and just unsocial as good things is just plain ridiculous. On the other hand, one could argue that a society which attributes would appear to be a positive thing just in a pandemic really does not make it appear to be a very nice society.

were brought up as a type of baked-in "social distancing" pervasive in society long before COVID-19 started making headlines.

Although people may squeeze onto rush-hour trains, there is very little talking among many of the masked commuters, who are told in repeated public announcements to refrain from chatting on their cellphones, which is considered rude.

No it isn't and the article keeps coming up with ridiculous reasons. Forgetting for example that people are rude and they often just sneeze or cough on the other people face. People can be silent in the train and sill contaminate each other by other means. Really, who wrote this article?

And anyway, they are many countries where people hug, kiss, speak in the trains and don't wear mask which are currently seeing less infections and death than Japan: Australia, Finland, Czechia, Malaysia, Ukraine, Belarus, South Africa, Argentina, Morocco, Moldavia, Hungary, Croatia, Niger, etc. Some of those countries have even less sanitary infrastructures than Japan or have cities with a high density of population. So should we write the same silly article for each of them?

4 ( +9 / -5 )

@daito_hak Today 11:23 am JST

Wearing mask or bowing has never prevented Japan to have flu outbreaks every year. In fact wearing mask is often useless since people don't know how to use them properly, they touch them, re-use them, put them off and back, all of that without washing their hands.

Nobody is arguing that is some kind of immunity shield, and your mask argument is exactly the one the West reversed itself on.

We are talking a game of statistics played over a populations of millions or in the case of China even a billion. Small differences in average living habits, even ones that will be treated as "statistically insignificant" by a scientific study that at best would only have hundreds or a few thousand test subjects can make a difference in the result.

Is Japan the best performer? It is not. But it is a relatively good performer, a First World country (which means more connectivity than say Niger) and not applying a lot of suppression (compared to say Australia).

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/apr/03/australias-major-measures-to-tackle-coronavirus-are-now-in-place-scott-morrison-says

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

@Do the hustleToday 08:26 am JST

To what extent is still unknown? Well, considering the cases were 6,000 two weeks ago and are now over 20,000 with over 550 new cases last weekend alone, I’d say to no extent at all.

Actually, it is making a difference. That makes it something like over a week to double on average, when an European country might double every two or three days. It just isn't making enough of a difference.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

Of course if you notice even just one who doesn't follow said practice or custom it invalidates the whole thing.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Should I conclude then that these gaijins come from a country of imbeciles?

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

This article is wrong on so many accounts...

5 ( +6 / -1 )

And still they want to keep their narrative to be the most clean and unique in the whole planet.

I don't know about the whole planet but I have been all over the world and Japan is definitely the cleanest country among countries with over 100 million people, by far.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Nobody is arguing that is some kind of immunity shield, and your mask argument is exactly the one the West reversed itself on.

No, answer to my point or just refrain yourself from addressing my post. The masks are not effective at preventing outbreak of flu or anything else in Japan every year. Are there large flu or gastroenteritis outbreaks in Japan every year, yes or no?

We are talking a game of statistics played over a populations of millions or in the case of China even a billion. Small differences in average living habits, even ones that will be treated as "statistically insignificant" by a scientific study that at best would only have hundreds or a few thousand test subjects can make a difference in the result.

I am tired to have to read your posts which often fail to put together words that make any sense. The above is again the case.

Is Japan the best performer? It is not. But it is a relatively good performer

Good performer, oh really? Japan is making 882 test per million people. That's an embarrassing low number in comparison to many other countries. Once Japan decides to stop trying to hid the real situation of the infection, come back to us.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_testing

not applying a lot of suppression (compared to say Australia).

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/apr/03/australias-major-measures-to-tackle-coronavirus-are-now-in-place-scott-morrison-says

Which suppression are you talking about? You misunderstood the article you linked.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

I really hate these nihonjinron blurbs...….as already pointed out by many there is likely NO cultural habits that will really affect transmissions in Japan!!

Shoes off...….come on now, ALL they does is help reduce the need for some vacuuming!!! Its not some super health secret weapon LOL

And yeah, seen so many men NOT washing in toilets that if I only had a Y100 for each I had seen I would be as rich a Bill Gates LOL!!!

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Wow, you would almost think that people aren’t appreciating that Japan had early early exposure, and yet still not a very high death rate. Im just grateful and trying to see the positives.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Tora:

Are they seriously thinking we will all be saved if we take our shoes off and wash our hands as instructed by Pikotaro's new video.

Unbelievable.

Err,,, yes. Plus more bowing and less handshaking, wearing masks when having a sniffle and more.

I pointed this out very early on.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

A very balanced article compared to the people leaving comments. I wish they would read the article instead of jumping to the comments section. They might actually learn something.

Japantime I tend to agree with you there. The article is about the possibilities of 'why' Japan is not in a situation similar to America, Spain or Italy. The article gives people's ideas of what they think is the reason. OK, some people might think that the Japanese aren't as clean as what they mention in the article. Their opinion is based on what they've experienced themselves whilst being in Japan, and I can sort of see where they're coming from, but this article is trying to find out the reason why Covid 19 hasn't hit Japan as hard as America etc. Some people have said it could be just plain luck, but I also really believe that culture is playing a big part of it.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@daito_hakToday 11:54 am JST

No, answer to my point or just refrain yourself from addressing my post. The masks are not effective at preventing outbreak of flu or anything else in Japan every year. Are there large flu or gastroenteritis outbreaks in Japan every year, yes or no?

They are not completely effective - no one is saying they are a hazmat suit. Do you understand there are gradations of grey between 100% effective and completely ineffective?

Further, even if we assume the masks are completely ineffective, since that does not invalidate the observation we will have to credit something else.

Good performer, oh really? Japan is making 882 test per million people. That's an embarrassing low number in comparison to many other countries. Once Japan decides to stop trying to hid the real situation of the infection, come back to us.

The article acknowledges this as a partial contributor. However, if you look at comparative ascent curve, you will also realize that's not the whole story. Further, it also means you have nothing really but guesses to contradict the current observation.

GWToday 11:56 am JST

I really hate these nihonjinron blurbs...….as already pointed out by many there is likely NO cultural habits that will really affect transmissions in Japan!!

Actually, there is a kind of nihonjinron that is peddled around in JapanToday - mostly consisting of negative Japanese traits. If it is a question of being tough on school uniforms, police interrogating suspects ... etc, it is nationwide. But if it is positive it is marginalized. Hmm...

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

As a person who hails from the erstwhile Third World, and a student of East Asian economics and institutions, I definitely subscribe to the role that Japanese customs plays in their better response to this contagious Corona virus.

As Veblen succinctly pointed out thus: ...[ ] Norms specify many of the socially acceptable goals of action...[ ] it is, however, often a a slow process, one that takes place with resistance, and usually only as the surrounding economic environment changes in ways that makes the old ways of life and ways of thinking obsolete or no longer appropriate.

Indeed, my view is that Japanese customs evolved along the way to a point that cleanliness and good hygiene became widely accepted in society.

It is this high degree of personal and societal hygiene that makes Japan and, probably, Taiwan exceptional in tackling SARS-CoV-2 among the East Asian countries.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Japan has 10,000 cases. What "guide" are you talking about?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

It's ok to dismiss said cultural or social practices as not the factors for the low numbers, but then you have to come up with something else to explain that.

Lack of testing? Well, lack of testing does not stop transmission so there has to a lot more observable severe cases and deaths.

Lack of testing again to determine cause of deaths?

Let's see first if there are actually a spike in overall deaths and go from there.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

But he added that there were dangers in the adoption of mask-wearing by populations unaccustomed to it. In the United States, people frequently touch or adjust them, posing significant contamination risks. To have a "positive effect," people need to "wear them properly," he said.

Japanese may wear masks but I would hardly call it 'accustomed to it' in the sense that they know how to put them on and wear them properly, not constantly touch them, reuse them many times or know how to properly dispose of them.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Life in the United States could also be radically different with social distancing measures enduring until 2022, including waiters using face masks and gloves and throwaway menus, until a vaccine is found, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health. But will it become more like Japan?

And people in the US are freaking out now, only one month into a different way of living life. How are they going to deal just with the rest of 2020 never mind 2021? How about the world? This isn't looking too good. Do what you can and stay safe!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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