Initiatives for Public Hygiene in Japan

   Japan is known to be a country with a strong awareness for hygiene. Customs to wash hands and gargle on a daily basis are particularly widespread, and are carried out actively by a wide range of people in the country—from children to grown-ups. Why do Japanese people tend to be strongly aware about hygiene? In this article, you will learn about the reasons for this, based on uniquely Japanese culture and school education.

Japanese People Love Washing!?

   They wash their hands and gargle when they come home from outdoors. They get into the bath and wash themselves before they go to sleep. They even wash their bottoms using shower toilets... All of these activities are common lifestyle customs for people in Japan. You could say that Japanese people put great importance on the act of washing in order to keep their hands and bodies clean. It is not common around the world for a country to have such thoroughly deep-rooted washing customs. This shows how strongly Japanese people are conscious about hygiene.
   It is worth mentioning how people in Japan have a particular love of bathing. Survey results show that one in three people in Japan take a bath every day in the summer, and that one in two people do so in the winter as well. It is thought that this custom for bathing in Japan started when Buddhism was introduced to the country. Buddhism came into Japan in the 6th century, and Buddhist teachings stated that bathing “removes Shichibyo (seven illnesses) and brings Shichifuku (seven merits).” Based on these teachings, baths were installed in Buddhist temples, and many people began to use these baths—Buddhist priests and commoners alike.
   The year 1591 saw the appearance of the Sento, a type of public bathhouse. At that time, a Sento was a type of steam bath like a sauna. People put the bottom half of their bodies into the water, and they let the steam warm the top half of their bodies. In 1877, Japan saw the appearance of a Sento in the style of a regular bath, with large bathtubs that held lots of water. Even today, there are Sento all across Japan, and these bathhouses continue to be loved by the people who visit them.

There are many public bathhouses called “Sento” across Japan. These bathhouses bring tranquility to the minds and bodies of Japanese people. Many Sento have paintings on their walls showing Fujisan (Mount Fuji), an iconic mountain in Japan. These paintings make the bathhouses feel more spacious, allowing people to relax.

This picture shows a Sento in the Edo Period (1603–1867) Sento were so widespread in Japan that it was said “there is a bathhouse in every district.” These bathhouses were loved by common people as a place to rest and relax.

   Stephanie Crohin is from France, and is a Sento Ambassador Appointed by the Japanese Sento Culture Association. She says that Japanese Sento bring positive effects to health and beauty as well.

   “It is said that when someone goes into the bathtub at a Sento, their whole body is stimulated, and there is an increase in heat shock proteins in their bloodstream. Heat shock proteins are proteins that repair damaged cells. These proteins are expected to bring positive effects such as recovery from exhaustion, stress relief, and more beautiful skin.”

   She also says that Sento play an additional role as community and cultural facilities.

   “Sento are located at the center of every district, and so they serve as locations for social exchange where a wide range of people come together. If you greet other people when you go inside the bathing room, they will all talk to you in a friendly manner. Fujisan (Mount Fuji) is a famous example of the wall paintings in Sento, but these paintings come in a wide range of other patterns and designs. Many paintings feature things that were trending when the bathhouses were built. Another way of enjoying Sento is to compare the paintings on the walls of each bathhouse, seeing them like works of art.”

Stephanie Crohin, a Sento Ambassador. She experienced Sento for the first time in 2008 when she went to Japan to study Japanese literature, and since then she started visiting Sento across the whole of Japan. Currently, she works to spread Japanese Sento bunka (Sento culture) among people in Japan and across the world through writing, speeches, and other activities. She posts information about Sento every day on her website and Instagram pages.

Sento wall paintings come in a wide range of designs—from styles that seem like they were taken out of a Western classical painting to styles that resemble modern art. These beautiful wall paintings look like exhibits from an art gallery, and they bring tranquility to your mind as you look at them.

   Japanese people also have a remarkable fixation about toilets. Shower toilets featuring a function to wash the user’s bottom with warm water are widespread across Japanese homes and even public restrooms in the city. Many tourists visiting Japan from oversees seem to express shock at this environment where people can use clean, high-functional shower toilets anywhere and at any time.

   The article in the link below features detailed information about shower toilets. Why not check it out to learn more?
   Link:Gentle and comfortable warm water toilet seat bidets

Japanese People Learn About Hand-Washing and Gargling in School

   You could say that school education is part of the reason why Japanese people have deep-rooted customs about washing. This is not seen in many countries around the world, but Japanese elementary schools have classes where students learn the importance of washing hands and gargling. Hand-washing and gargling are important habits for preventing food poisoning and colds. For this reason, Japanese elementary schools teach about the connection between germs and hand-washing or gargling, as well as the correct way to wash hands and gargle. On top of this, children practice hand-washing and gargling every day at school and home. Through this process, children in Japan naturally develop customs to wash their hands and gargle.
   Schools in Japan also have regular hygiene inspections called Eisei kensa. In Eisei kensa, teachers check that students have brought a handkerchief, tissues, and a mask, and whether they have cut their nails properly. Through these inspections, teachers instruct students about the importance of paying attention to hygiene and health. Children in Japan gain a strong awareness for hygiene through this education.
   In Japan, there are many different kinds of product on sale that are related to hand-washing and gargling. Supermarkets and drug stores have a wide range of items with disinfectant effects, such as bars of soap, many different types of hand soaps, alcohol disinfectant tissues, and gargling liquid. These stores also sell hand soaps that dispense foam when you press down on the pump, as well as products that help children enjoy learning how to wash their hands. Japanese people develop hygiene habits through carefully designed education programs and products.

Gargling involves putting water in your mouth, washing out your throat, and removing germs and dirt. Schools in Japan teach students that gargling and hand-washing are important habits for preventing colds.

This hand soap dispenser gives out soap in the form of a foam when you press the pump. This makes it easy to wash your hands thoroughly. (Images provided by Kao Corporation)

Hygiene Habits that Are Deeply Rooted in Japanese People’s Daily Lives

   Japan has many other kinds of hygiene habits. For example, restaurants in Japan generally provide customers with something called an Oshibori. An Oshibori is a damp towel used to wipe your hands before eating. Recently, more and more restaurants have started to provide wet wipes instead of Oshibori. These wet wipes are prepared by soaking non-woven fabric in ethanol. Oshibori are often provided at Japanese restaurants outside of Japan, too. This shows how these towels have become a part of Japanese culture. The practice of offering complimentary Oshibori to customers became widespread way back in the Edo Period (1603–1867). It is thought that inns and food establishments started giving these towels as a matter of hospitality, to bring tranquility to travelers that came through their doors. Offering Oshibori became rooted in Japan through several factors: the hot and humid environment that makes people sweat, Japanese people’s tendency for cleanliness, and Japan’s hospitality culture.

In Japan, many eating establishments give you an Oshibori free of charge when you enter.

If you wipe your hands clean with an Oshibori before you eat, you can prevent germs from entering your mouth.

   Japan also has a deep-rooted habit of wearing masks. This practice is not just for people to avoid catching illnesses; people in Japan have a strong awareness about wearing masks to avoid causing trouble to other people too.

   The article in the link below gives more details about the history and habits regarding masks in Japan.
   Link: Masks in Japan Are Everyday Items

   Ever since the novel coronavirus spread, people have paid more attention than ever before to the importance of hand-washing, gargling, and other aspects of public hygiene. Popular musicians and celebrities in Japan have released many different songs for singing when washing your hands. These hand-washing songs have gained popularity, mainly among children. Everyone copies the motions in the songs as they work actively to wash their hands. Daily hygiene habits are more important than anything else for preventing colds and other infectious diseases. Aim to actively carry out habits such as hand-washing to keep healthy.

   Video about hand-washing: