Saturday, March 14, 2020

Turning Japanese

I have seen the suggestion that the Japanese haven't got their numbers right. I think this is just racism, and don't see a reason to suspect them of making it up any more than anywhere else is making it up.

The Japanese obligation for for super-cleanliness used to annoy me when I lived there, as it is basically abused to make women's lives even more difficult. It is even worse than you might expect, as washing machines don't really wash, cleaning chemicals don't really clean, and vacuum cleaners totally suck (ie Don't Suck! I hate to say it, but Dyson saved us from the dust capybaras.). So, armed with such weapons and total cultural requirement for being super-clean, women ... well let's just say that the women spend an awful lot of scrubbing. I suppose it keeps them fit (and too tired to complain).

I had realised that the cleanliness has been historically very good for Japanese health, especially in the days before modern medicine, slowing the spread of disease in a warm humid densely populated place, and probably being a big reason why people live so long. However, until about a fortnight ago I believed that the quirks of Japanese behaviour were meaningless, and just demonstrated how arbitrary social rules such a politeness really are.

But now I list them I see they are almost all part of the social distancing regime we are now all being advised to adopt.

There is, basically, no skin to skin contact. For example, when people give you change in a shop, it goes on the table and you pick it up. People bow from 1-2 metres away rather than shake hands. Even when squashed together on a train, there's a merciful layer of clothing dividing people.

People rarely touch their faces but do cover their mouths a lot; often when talking, which can be quite annoying when you are trying to understand what people are saying! And of course when they feel at all unwell, a facemask is worn.

No oozing from orifices! The Japanese sniff in public and blow their noses in private. Japanese people even carry a small personal towel with them to dry their hands in case they have to use a less than perfectly clean public convenience.

Food is minimally touched, and is eaten with chopsticks, including "finger food" from communal plates. You haven't lived until you have seen pizza eaten with chopsticks...

I guess I noticed these things more than some, as women are much keener on doing it all properly, and the men are relatively dirty. It always amazed me that Japanese women could wear pure white from top to bottom (did they throw their clothes away after each wearing?). But with the women scrubbing up the men's mess - well, there's your herd protection! When I came back to the UK I was a bit revolted; it felt like I was living among a nation of sticky toddlers.

Furthermore, the Japanese have defeated the ego. The group is way more important than the individual, and everyone is very used to making considerable sacrifices in terms of time, and personal discomfort, for the sake of the group, and, often, their elders.


Ned said...

Japan closed its schools very early, right? This I assume also falls on the women, who now have to do more child care.

I am guessing that in Japan, fewer households with children have two parents who are employed outside the home (i.e., more children have a mother who stays at home). This would make closing schools less problematic than elsewhere.

Japan has basically the highest median age in the world, right? So that makes it even more impressive that they have been able to control the number of cases & deaths so well. I have seen many reports about the situation in Italy that cited its large elderly population as a contributing factor, but Japan's is even more elderly.

Here in the USA the federal government has been useless at best in the Covid-19 crisis (thanks, Trump) but the general citizenry seems to be waking up and adopting fairly aggressive social-distancing measures on their own.

Phil said...

Virus growth rate depends on behavior. Makes sense to me that different societies will be different. Personal space, the distance between two people talking is different in different cultures. A culture with a smaller personal space will spread the virus faster than one with a larger personal space. Handshakes vs other ways of greeting.

My house is a lot cleaner than it was a few months ago. I've started a daily wipe down of things like light switches that I used to clean maybe twice a year or when they looked dirty. Not sure it helps, but is relaxing.

"Lead, follow or get out of the way!" Trump has partially gotten out of the way. I suppose we should be ... pleased ... or at least less upset. I suggest a drink.

What ever you drink, don't join a game for taking a drink every time Trump says "Greatest" or "Tremendous". It's a waste of good booze.

William M. Connolley said...

Didn't last...