To wash or not to wash

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I have avoided writing about this topic for a number of months, mainly because this post will probably be perceived as offensive, too personal and even gross. But here I go anyway.

This post is about washing hands after using the toilet, namely, I’ve noticed that there is something about washing your hands after using the toilet that many people seem to find too much hard work, unpleasant, too harsh on their sensitive skin or something.

For instance, my husband, who might not like the fact that I am sharing this information with you lot, told me that as a child, he knew that his mother would pay attention as to whether he washed his hands after using the toilet. More often than not, he couldn’t be bothered to wash his hands, and so, after having been to the toilet, he would simply just turn the tap on for 10 seconds, stand there next to it without washing his hands and then walk out, pretending that he had washed them. I am really hoping that he’s grown out of this ritual, or at least that he doesn’t regress to that 8-year old boy’s level before he prepares a romantic meal for his wife (see photo above). It kind of spoils the experience for me having to worry what little extra there might be in my food.

I feel there is no point in wasting your time standing next to the sink and not wash your hands – either wash your hands during those 10 seconds of your life, or just boldly come clean and declare that you probably have residual bodily fluids on your hands. At least then people can opt out from touching your computer keypad or borrowing your pen – no harm done.

But like your mother told you, you should probably wash your hands, not only for hygiene reasons, but due to many cultures associating negative personality traits with people who do not wash their hands – and even if you don’t care, your mum cares whether or not two weeks after starting a new job the name sign on your office door is changed to E. Coli.

For some reason, many Japanese women and maybe also men (since I generally do not use men’s toilets I can’t say for sure) are a bit like my husband at the age of 8. This baffles me because most Japanese women (a) care about other people’s perception of them, (b) are particular that things are done in the one and only right way, (c) are extremely tidy, and (d) as a group (I feel) look after themselves and their appearance much more than women representing many European nations (as a group).

Regardless of the ambient peer pressure when using public toilets – i.e. toilets where you can’t just stand next to the sink, turn the tap on and pretend that you washed your hands – many Japanese women still resist hand washing.

I’ve noticed that (in addition to the group of women who do wash their hands) surprisingly many Japanese ladies can be categorized into the following three groups:

(1) The confident type

These women do not wash their hands at all after using the toilets. They walk out of the cubicle and walk straight out, or in the case of the glamour puss ones, they walk to the powder room next to the toilets to put some more lipstick on or to add a few more eyelashes and then walk out (some glamour pusses, eh?).

(2) Botchers

These women sort of wash their hands. That is, if you consider a half a second splash under a running tap without soap, and shaking off the excess water on the floor or wiping it on your clothes ‘washing your hands’. This is the most common practice I’ve witnessed in Japan. I’ve seen beautiful women wearing a Kimono do this, I’ve seen well dressed chic business women do this and, rather horrifically, I’ve seen several medical staff do this in hospital toilets. I sincerely hope the last group does not go and insert someone’s nose-stomach tube after their visit to the toilet.

(3) One-armed bandits

These women pretty much do as the women in group (2), but instead of washing both hands, these women only wash one hand. I assume this is the hand that they used for some particularly unhygienic tasks. Maybe they stood there in their cubicle holding the other arm up in the air to avoid contamination with any germs, bodily fluids and general dirt that you might find in toilets – I don’t know, but these people’s view must be that washing just one hand requires somehow less time/effort than washing both hands. But have you ever tried to wash just one hand? I would argue that washing just one hand doesn’t save you any time, and if anything, washing just one hand can actually be more difficult than washing both hands, thus requiring more effort.

The punch line is that many people, even the unbelievably preened Japanese ladies, who pretty much always follow rules, try to get away with not washing their hands.

Can someone please tell me why?

11 thoughts on “To wash or not to wash

  1. I have no clue. Although I am by no means germphobic, I cannot imagine why any person with soap and water available would not use it to wash (both of) his or her hands after using the toilet. Doing that is such a basic part of healthy hygiene, not to mention courtesy to the other people with whom one comes into contact. If a person is too busy to take this step, then that person is simply too busy.

    • I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of days, and maybe one reason for Japanese people’s sloppy hand washing is the fact that surprisingly many toilets do not have a soap dispenser – nor do they necessarily have anything for one to dry their hands with (thus, many Japanese people carry with them a small hand towel). As a result of this, they might get used to doing just a very basic hand washing and not use the soap and hand dryers even when they are available.

  2. From you earlier observations, I had thought Japanese toilets do everything for you — do they also wipe you down there, thus making hand washing unnecessary? (Ewwwwww, gross).

  3. Ugg, can’t reply above — to your comment on my comment.

    Anyway though, yes, it’s vaguely about the hygiene hypothesis — that we’re too clean for our own good. However, these people fail to see that feces are never good. Relatedly, American also never take their shoes off inside their homes (or mine!), and that grosses me out immensely.

    Btw, I just randomly read your post from before you moved to Japan and you said this: “Call me OCD but I wouldn’t, for instance, want to live in a place where going to the toilet involved aiming for a hole on the ground, and where I would not be able to wash my hands after using a toilet.” Made me laugh. 😛

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