Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Japan says: “Now wash your hands”

May 15, 2009

The new flu strain that emerged in Mexico last month has brought Japanese TV shows, newspapers and government ads out in a rash of demonstrations of the art of proper hand-washing to avoid the spread of germs.

“First, you clean the palms, then rub the dirt off the back of the hands. Make sure you wash between fingers and finger tips. And yes, don’t forget your thumbs and wrists!!”

How to protect yourself from a new flu strain (Check out the demonstration from 7:40)


Even for the Japanese, who wear flu and hay fever masks by the million, sometimes when they’re not even sick, washing hands thoroughly for at least 15 seconds requires extra effort, as not many of us are well-versed in proper thumb-washing techniques.

The government also has a “cough etiquette” campaign calling on people to cover their mouths with a tissue when in the act, adding the rather obvious need to face away from other people. The guideline says post-cough dirty tissues must be thrown away immediately, although it doesn’t say where - a slight drawback in a country that is occasionaly trashcan-challenged.

Japan reported its first confirmed cases of the new flu  recently and now has four patients, detected at Narita international Airport and sent directly to a hospital nearby to limit the spread of H1N1.

The government continues to have health officials board planes from Mexico, the United States and Canada to check passengers, including using portable thermal sensors to find people with fever. 

A Reuters colleague went through on-board medical checks lasting more than one hour last week. 

“In the U.S., everything was more relaxed,” she told me the other day. “Some people were getting irritated by the wait on the plane but no one was angry. As we had to wait for all passengers to be inspected, a flight attendant announced results of the NBA playoffs to take our minds off our  frustration.”

Handed a mask to wear when leaving the plane, she got a call a few days later from a local public health centre that took down her contact numbers, travel history and health conditions after the flight.

Despite these efforts, it seems like it’s just a matter of time before the disease spreads around the country, whether or not we wash our hands and cough correctly.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Issei Kato

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