Mar 25,2020

Virus protection: lessons from Japan

Amid coronavirus outbreak I am feeling pretty bored sitting alone in my room (as probably some of you feel as well) so I thought why not reflect on my life in Japan a little bit? Don’t worry, it will not be a totally dull personal diary type of content but a really high-class comparative analysis of Japanese everyday life habits and its effects on virus protection (with some elements of the personal diary type of content).

So, before I start with examples let me fill you in on coronavirus situation in Japan if you don’t know (it might change a little or a lot by the time this article gets published but outdated information is better than no information. Or maybe it’s worse. Anyways, moving on). So basically, Japan has always had a lot of Chinese tourists (plus it is close to China and has a huge population) and, therefore, at the beginning of coronavirus outbreak it was expected that Japan will be one of the countries worst hit by the virus. It turns out though that other countries struggle more than Japan does. Of course, situation is still not good (and some sources say that the reason for comparatively “okay-level” virus situation in Japan is that there is not enough testing going on in the country, but we will let it go for now).  I do feel, however, that there might be some hygiene habits and other things that everyone can learn from Japanese culture regardless. So please sit back, relax and enjoy my diary-style analysis.

 

CHAPTER 1    ALONE IN A CROWD

When I moved to Japan one and half years ago and made my first friends here I was invited to a karaoke bar. That was super fun – we booked a private room and sang the night away in that room. Putting my horrible singing skills aside, it was a wonderful time that I will treasure forever. In a weeks’ time I was invited again, and then again and again. Fast forward one and half years later – my singing skills have not increased one bit, but I still enjoy going to karaoke with my friends.

“Okay, this article is getting pretty boring, why is she telling me about this?” you might think. But here comes a twist – back in Poland my go-to fun night activity was not a night in karaoke bar (again, in a locked room with 3-4 friends) but rather dancing in a club where everyone can dance with everyone and the question of privacy and personal space is totally ignored. That is not to say that nightclubs don’t exist at all in Japan, but young Japanese people do tend to choose activities in relatively small groups and don’t usually interact with strangers.

Okay, putting nightlife aside, let’s get to other popular social interaction – coffeeshop chats.
When I walk into my favorite Green cafe Nero in Poland, I always hear some couples, friends or can even eavesdrop on some business being discussed. And then of course there are a couple of “loners” who come to cafe to study or work. In Japan coffeeshops are, on the contrary, full of “loners” and there are just very few of those weirdos who come to the coffeeshop to chat with a friend or take an English language class with a foreigner over a cup of coffee.

So, there might be tons of people sitting in restaurants and coffee shops in Tokyo, but most of them are not interacting – there are no hugs, or – god forbid – kisses going on. See what I am getting at? Lots of people – but basically no germs exchange. Especially when most people are also wearing masks.

And finally, business setting. Let me run a little test here.

 

What do you do when you are introduced to a new person in a business setting?

a) hug b) handshake c) cheek kiss d) bow

 

Using my psychic senses, I am guessing you chose a handshake (or possibly even a cheek kiss if you are from France?) But guess what answer Japanese person would have chosen? A bow, of course.

Again, no touching, no breathing on each other’s faces, no germs exchange. Masks on. Full virus preparedness on.

CHAPTER 2     ALONE IN A ROOM – “HIKIKOMORI”

I heard people complain about staying inside after second day of coronavirus lockdown, but Japanese people will tell you – “well, that’s just too easy”. Years before coronavirus ever appeared Japanese people have already been locking down. While you and I both know that they secretly prepared for coronavirus lockdown, their official reason was video games.

“Hikikomori” is what they call stay-at-home youth (mainly young guys) who don’t ever go outside, don’t have a job, play video games all the time and consume food prepared by their mothers.
I was lucky enough to never meet a hikikomori (after all, it’s not really possible to meet them since they never go out) but I did notice some dangerous hikikomori symptoms in some of my friends. For example, I remember that one time my friend decided to stay at home to play some video game instead of going out to a music concert. Strange, very strange. Sounds like a full virus lockdown to me.

While I think being a full-on hikikomori brings more harm than good to psychological state of young people, I guess a habit of leading a hikikomori lifestyle could be very useful in virus emergency times.

 

CHAPTER 3 HYGIENE (Arguably the most important chapter)

So after I moved to Japan the first thing I fell in love with was onsens (Japanese hot springs) and the culture of taking baths every day. I understood that I prefer taking peach-smelling non-bubbly bath as opposed to orange-smelling bubbly one. I got used to those hot wet towels they always bring in Japanese restaurants. I even started to wash hands more thoroughly. But enough about me.

Japanese nation is considered one of the cleanest nations on Earth and this is something we definitely should learn from the country of the rising sun.  Remember when during soccer World cup 2018 Japanese was the only team who cleaned their locker room after defeat and even left a “thank you” note?

Well, that kind of behavior is expected here from the very young age. Children are trained to clean not only their hands and bodies, but also clean school after classes (you can check out the video in the bibliography section to learn more about it). What is more, in most schools children are taught how to gargle (as a measure to prevent cold) and are often checked for hygiene: teachers make sure kids bring handkerchiefs and tissues to school. Short nails are also a must.

It’s difficult to say where Japanese cleanliness culture has come from, but after reading a few articles I can conclude for myself that it is a mixture of Buddhist culture, Shinto tradition and Japan’s humid and hot weather that makes hygiene crucial for survival. But whatever the reason may be, the important thing here to take away is – wash your hands like Japanese kids do.

EPILOGUE

So what could be the conclusion of my analysis? One of the obvious theories that could come from my story – Japan has been preparing for coronavirus protection all along (yes, even in Meiji era when everyone thought they were focusing on demise of Tokugawa shogunate and dealing with samurai) – in fact yakuza have been working on ways to protect Japanese people from coronavirus while creating the virus at the same time. And the goal of this whole campaign is – obviously – to make all people in the world replace handshake with Japanese traditional bow. This way Japanese culture wins and ninjas can take over the world.

The other possible conclusion is though – While some of Japanese people’s habits do lead to social distancing and loneliness, there are still positive sides of it as well – like virus protection. So, I doubt that after coronavirus is all over, Europe will suddenly become hug-less stay-at-home society that resembles Japan, but maybe there are still some things we can learn from Japanese people in those strange times?

Stay safe everyone!

Sending you virus-free virtual hugs, virtual sushi and lots of love,

Lada

Bibliography (aka articles to read about Japan for those interested)
1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv4oNvxCY5k&feature=youtu.be
2) http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20191006-what-japan-can-teach-us-about-cleanliness
3) https://edition.cnn.com/2018/07/03/football/japan-belgium-russia-thank-you-locker-room-trnd/index.html
4) https://www.hotelzen.jp/blog/japanese-bath-houses/
5) https://soranews24.com/2016/09/19/8-reasons-japan-is-so-clean-the-wa-of-cleanliness/
6) https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/03/20/national/coronavirus-explosion-expected-japan/#.XnYwoRnQjIU

Image source: Pixabay, vinsky2002 + my editing skills to make pikachu safe from the virus