Come out, damned spot!

IMG_4419One aspect of bathrooms in Japan that surprised me at first was the water everywhere around the sink. I mean, everywhere. Not having a habit of waiting for people to wash their hands in public lavatories, I found it a bit of a mystery: the faucets were always soaking wet, and there was usually water all over the counter and on the floor as well.

It took me a while to figure out that visitors to the bathroom were deliberately dousing the faucet with water after they used it. The point was that, after you do your business, you are touching a faucet with dirty hands. So rinsing the faucet with water is sort of a polite thing to do before the next person uses it.

Ah. I’m not 100% certain, but I don’t think simple water will rinse away any bacteria. But that’s not important, of course. It’s all mental. I mean, in your mind. I mean, it’s just something that makes people feel comfortable about using a public facility.

It’s often said that Japanese people in general are obsessed with cleanliness. I’ve seen plenty of filthy bathrooms in this country (particularly in certain train stations, amusement parks, and pubs), but it does seem true to a certain degree. Rather than simple “cleanliness” from a clinical or medical perspective, the idea is more of “purity,” from Shinto ideology. Water purifies. At least it sets people’s minds at ease.

I suppose this is the same reason why Japanese people wear surgical masks whenever they catch a cold. When my daughter got sick with influenza this week, I took her to the doctor’s and got the Japanese version of Tamiflu right away. She felt better almost  immediately, and the doctor (and pharmacologist) said, “Let’s wear a mask.” Meaning that I should wear one, and my daughter should wear one. Naturally, they were all wearing masks. Now, medical personnel wearing masks makes sense to me: they’re surrounded by sick people day in day out, so quite obviously wearing a mask is common sense. But I fail to see the purpose of wearing a mask, myself, when I’m not sick. It doesn’t prevent illness, and every time you take it off, you have to  throw it away and get a new one (people don’t, which makes even less sense). And even when sick the mask doesn’t really prevent you from spreading your illness: it might help against coughing on other people, but if you sneeze…first of all, yuck, and second, you still have to wipe your nose and then wash your hands.

Yes, wash your hands. The number one preventative technique of all time. So…why is the mask necessary? Image. Peace of mind. Showing other people that you’re sick (in Japan, there is no personal space given on the train or bus; smashing elbows and faces against total strangers is commonplace and extremely irritating to those of us from “a little space!” cultural backgrounds). Just like dumping water on the faucet.

Actually the best way to recover from a cold or flu is to sleep a lot. Which is what my daughter is doing right now. Which is the only reason I’ve been able to shoot off a quick blog entry. Before turning in, myself…

About MThomas

Long ago, I gave up my high school dreams of becoming the next Carl Sagan and instead wound up working (in order) at McDonald's, a '60s-themed restaurant, a video rental store, a used bookstore, a computer seller, Kinko's, a Jewish newspaper company, and an HR firm. I eventually became a teacher of intercultural communication in Kyoto, where I vainly attempt to apply quantum mechanics to language teaching, practice martial arts and Zen Buddhism, and always keep one eye on the sky. And yes, I know my profile photo's backward. I just think it looks better this way.
This entry was posted in Japan, Japanese, Japanese culture, parenting, sickness, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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