Fear is an enemy, sensibility is an ally.
Having traveled extensively there are a myriad of customs and cultural habits that stick in one’s mind; from dining hands only, to the style of cemeteries, etiquette and beyond, every culture has its own peculiarities.
With the hygiene fears racing around the world there are a few practical ones that spring to mind.
Having lived in Japan for eight years, I have a particular affection and respect for many of the practices of that high density country. No country is without fault, but every country gets a few things right.
The Japanese sink toilet. These have been in Japan forever. Compact washrooms and hygiene necessities make it an obvious choice. Why are they not available as a standard in every country?
Fitted as an add on to a regular toilet or as a corner stand alone, they are compact and save water while prompting the simplicity of a handwash, something many European cultures are loathe to do. (as low as 20% after using the toilet).
Handkerchiefs where has that style statement gone? Japanese always carry a handkerchief or small pack of sanitary hand wipes so that your hands are clean. From elementary school to seniors itis common to have a hand towel. Of course, the Otefuki steaming hand towel is now common in restaurants worldwide and such a refreshing pleasure.
This brings me to the another practice and it is a marketing ‘no brainer.’ Outside subway/train stations, or clubs, even on busy street corners you often see a few students or company reps plying a little good will and customer service or sa-bisu.
They are not flogging quick-to-discard flyers they are flogging tissues, hand cream, disposable razors. All manner of simple daily items. All branded. By using branded wrapping, these mini giveaways of facial tissues ensures hygiene and builds customer reinforcement, delivered with a bow and a humble smile. The wrappers include offers, discounts even simple health tips. It expands brand awareness, increases corporate social accountability and conscientiousness. So easy, rarely done in the West.
Recycling/conservation of water at home. Everyone loves to bathe differently, I get that. Cold shower, hot shower, wind shower (eewww) whatever… but the Japanese, like a bath, Ofuro. A HOT bath. Similar to the wet room concept so common in Scandinavia, they go further and have incorporated the hot spring aspect. Allow me to explain the aspects of a simple, old-school apartment bathroom avoiding the glories of a rotenburo (outdoor bath) or the horrors of a yunitto-basu (test tube, molded silicone nightmare toilet.) A typical bathroom has a floor drain and is water tight. The faucet for washing is placed at knee height and has an additional shower wand for a rinse. Sitting on a low stool, with a small basin before you, the body is lathered and rinsed before entering the screaming hot bath. The short square, extremely deep bath is turned on well before bath time. The size is ideal for two to sit. By using a circulating boiler type system, it is heated to a set temperature to ‘roast.’ Being cauccasian I am happy with 41C, more and the rosy lobster hue appears. My wife, being Japanese, goes to another level, often scorching at 44C +(to infinity and beyond — my opinion).
After sweltering in the tub for ten minutes one climbs out, sits on the low stool washes and rinses again and repeats, before a final rinse. A cover is placed over the tub and the heat is retained in the insulated tub for another day. Waters are often laced with salts and minerals to give added rejuvenation. A home spa! Yah! Most times the small clothes washer is located near the bathroom and a few buckets are tipped in to wash the clothes. Sensible, it is clean water and recycled.
I always traveled by bicycle in Japan but occasionally took a bus. I recalled that in Jyugaoka, where I once worked, there is a bus for locals. It has the appearance of any other bus, except it is free and buzzes around the neighborhood. Not only free, it is exceptionally clean running. Using the oils from local restaurants as fuel it is able to provide a free transport service to seniors so they can go about their daily activities. Disposing of oils is always an issue for restaurants and this is a win win for all parties.
Of course with the hysteria of the coronavirus situation many western societies struggled with the concept of wearing a protective mask. On packed Tokyo commuter trains it is common decency, common sensibility, not something that needs to be legislated. It is similar to the wearing of shoes indoors. The average shoe harbors hundreds of thousands of bacteria per square inch. How much coronavirus did you just walk into your home? Wash your hands because you may have touched one door knob, great, but you walked for twenty minutes and what nefarious baddies did you just welcome into your home? Slippers for inside, well yeah, if you are walking around the house in your bare feet do you want to take that to bed with you? (Eeew.) Bathrooms, yup, separate pair of slippers for in there and the slippers stay there. It makes sense.
Hygiene is not rocket science and I don’t think the Japanese have everything down, but we can all live and learn from other cultures.
It is infinitely easier to practice a little sensibility than the reactive fear circulating due to the hyped drama fostered by the media.