The Japanese view on cleanliness as a virtue is drilled in at an early age. One of the most popular television shows for kids under five is Apanman . Apanman’s primary villain is Baikinman, or “Germ Man” Some sociologists have pointed out that from the time they are infants Japanese children are exposed to batchii ---a baby word for “dirty”---and a view of life that divides the world into batchii and non- batchii elements..

There are ear-cleaning salons in Japan. In August 2009 the female owner of one such salon was murdered by a customer who initially harbored romantic feelings towards her and became angry when his request for a date were refused.

Thermae Romae (2012) is movie directed by Hideki Takeuchi based on a popular manga. Hiroshi Abe plays Lucius, an earnest bathhouse designer in ancient Rome. For no apparent reason, he begins repeatedly traveling through time, landing in bathhouses in modern-day Japan. He brings back various useful elements of Japan's bathing culture to win the confidence of the emperor. Thermae Romae is based on manga by Mari Yamazaki about a Roman architect who specialized is designing pubic baths who is transported to a bathhouse in modern Japan where he finds all sorts of cool things. Thermae Romae is Latin for “Roman baths.”

Good Websites and Sources: Danny Choo on Ear Cleaning in Japan dannychoo.com ; Questions on Hygiene in Japan japanexplained.wordpress.com ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Health Care and Public Hygiene Section stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan ; Modernity of Hygiene in the Meiji Era, 1868-1905 ihp.sinica.edu.tw ; Toilets in Japan: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Japan Times Article search.japantimes.co.jp ; Tokyo Toilet Map with Pictures asahi-net.or.jp ; Toilets: Japan links.net/vita/trip/japan/toilets ; Toto Washlets totousa.com ; Photos of Toilets at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ;

Links in this Website: BEAUTY, HAIR STYLES AND COSMETICS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MALE BEAUTY, TATTOOS AND COSMETICS FOR MEN IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BATHING IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HYGIENE AND CLEAN FREAKS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Cleanliness in Japan

Cleanliness is perhaps more important to the Japanese than with any other culture. The Japanese use the same word (kirei) for "clean" and "beautiful” and purification is an important element of all Shinto rituals. When Japanese pray for something important they wash their bodies and dress in a white kimono. Sumo wrestlers throw salt to purify the ring and Japanese taxi drivers wear white gloves to indicate the immaculate state of their taxi. When schoolboys want to hurl out the worst insult they can think of, they call someone a "bacteria."

In Buddhism cleanliness is associated with morality. In Shintoism it is associated with purity. By contrast in Greco-Roman and Western tradition cleaning was a manual task left to the lower classes.

Unusual Japanese products with a cleanliness theme include hair spray that purports to removes sweat and cigarette odor, pills that claim to remove the bad smell from bodily wastes and special hygienic foods for pets.

In New York City, there is group of Japanese that spend their Sunday mornings cleaning up trash in the neighborhoods around their homes. One group of 15 Japanese covers an area of several blocks in the West Village and is out picking up trash even when it rains. One member of the group who is a zen monk told Kyodo News, “It feels really good. I like to clean anyway.” When asked but some of the nastier stuff he picks up he said, “There’s a of lot of glass, needles, condoms...It not really a matter of dirtiness than it is the danger. I used to clean barehanded. Now I wear gloves so a I can pick up more things.”

Despite the efforts that Japanese make towards keeping their bodies clean, they same energy does not go into their homes. Many Japanese homes are cluttered and messy, and have stuff sprawled all over the floors.

Antibacterial Products in Japan

antibacterial curry bath powder
A multibillion dollar industry has grown up to address concerns by Japanese about germs. Among the more than 600 antibacterial and germ fighting products on the market are antiseptic-dispensing pens, bacteria-resistant bicycle handgrips, disease-fighting bathroom ceramics, anti-bacterial calculators, and germ-combating socks and slippers. The are also antibacterial wigs, ATM cards, disposable karaoke microphones, staplers and floppy disks. Toyota makes cars with antibacterial steering wheels and gear shifts, and Panasonic produces an antibacterial clothes dryer. [Source: Sonny Efron, Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1996]

The antibacterial products are so popular that entire aisles in some stores are devoted to them and even then the stores can't keep up with the demand for some products. Most of antibacterial products are simply ordinary products that have been treated with anti-bacterial chemicals. A ball point, for example, that sells 35 cents without antibacterial chemicals can sell for $1.75 with them. One pharmacist told the Los Angeles Times, "In general, 100 yen worth of product can be made antibacterial for one yen" by adding substances such as such as cedar, horseradish, green tea or chemical known as zeolites.

The cleanliness craze began in 1987 with the introduction of Commuting Comfort, a brand of men's dress sock woven with odor-reducing antibacterial thread that claimed to get rid of athletes foot. One of the oddest and most expensive antibacterial products is "Mr. Tongue," a $336 pure-sliver tongue scarper used for removing bacteria from the mouth.

Some products use microbes as key ingredients rather than kill them. In the 1990s, a microbe-made product called Attakku (Attack) captured half of Japan's two- billion-dollar laundry detergent market. The key bacterium, which was discovered in a rice field, survives alkalinity that is lethal to most microbes. And what makes it so effective is the fact it penetrates dirt-holding niches in cotton fabrics. [Source: Thomas Canby, National Geographic, August 1993]

High-Tech Cleaning in Japan

scent-emmitting machine
At the men's Clean Koenji shop customers buy a mailbox like compartment for $7.81. Each time they want their underwear washed they place it along with a 78 cent ticket in the compartment. The next day at noon it it is ready. In Japan you can also buy a special washer and dryer and germ-killing detergent just for washing sports and running shoes.

The Japanese government gave five companies money to build a $45,000 automated bath robot which would enable drunk or exhausted salaryman to bath themselves without lifting a finger.

In the late 1990s, Japanese banks introduced ATM machines that dispensed clean money. These machine take in wrinkled and dirty yen banknotes, feed them through rollers, heating them to 392̊F and dispensing the notes clean, crisp and 90 percent bacteria free. "Virgin money," Evelyn Richards wrote in the Washington Post, "plays an especially key rule at weddings, where cash is the favored gift. No respectable Japanese would give anything but untainted bills."

The clean money machines were invented by Hitachi by accident. In the process of inventing a process to iron out crumbled bills with 392̊F heat, they discovered that the high temperature also kills bacteria. Explaining why disinfected cash is popular with young women, a bank spokesmen said, many "say they don't want to touch things handled by middle-aged men."

Japanese Clean Freaks and Ojisans

Many of the buyers of antibacterial products are office ladies and schoolgirls who say they can't stand the thought of using anything handled by sleazy middle-aged men, or ojisan. One young woman told Los Angeles Times that middle-aged salarymen "stink of tobacco and liquor and I don't know what else. Some of them are balding, and their heads are shiny and it makes them look greasy...At night, they drink and their faces get red and they breath on you. It's awful."

Some Japanese girls are compulsive handwashers, wiping their hands with anti-bacterial tissues every time they touch an escalator handrail or an elevator button. Others refuse to let their clothes be washed with their fathers. One female college student told the Los Angeles Times she never touched the straps in subways because "dirty people" put "their fingers in their mouths or wipe their noses with their hand and then they touch something. I wish they would make those subway straps antibacterial."

For clean freaks department stores have installed touchless toilets, which people can operate with touching the controls. There are even toilet lids that automatically open or close when a person is sensed nearby, and hotel rooms that have air cleaners that emit negative ions and are given the first degree by cleaning crews.

In a survey by the Japan Soap and Detergent Association, 80 percent of respondents said they use sterilizing products to clean their houses, with 70 percent saying they favor products which proclaim to have sterilizing powers.

Bookoff is a second-hand book store that goes out of its way to make is books palatable to clean freaks. The covers are cleaned with a special spray and the pages are sanded to make them look perfectly white. Bookoff was started in 1991 and now has over 900 outlets and is regarded as a serious challenge to normal bookstores.

Body Odor in Japan

Body odor has traditionally been so rare among Japanese that at one time men could be barred from entering the military if their smell was too strong.

Deodorants are sometimes difficult to find in Asia although they have become more common in recent years, in part through marketing efforts by deodorant makers. Body odor is produced apocrine glands in the armpits and genital area. Men have more and larger apocrine glands than women, and Caucasians and Africans have more and larger glands than Asians.

Ojisan Body Odor

stuck next to ojisans on a subway
Some Japanese females complain about the smell of ojisans. When asked to described the smell young women compare it to fertilizer, dead leaves, "squashed aphids" and "a cheap, sleazy hotel." In one survey of young females between the ages of 16 and 25, some 92 percent of the respondents said "something must be done" about "men's perspiration and body odor." [Source: Mark, Magnier, Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1999]

One 23-year-old receptionist told the Los Angeles Times, "My boss, my father, there are so many smelly men around me. I think middle-age men are a lot stinkier than other generations." Describing the problem on crowded trains, a 26-year-old sales clerk said, "It takes one ojisan with a strong stench to smell up the whole car. If I'm standing to close to someone like that, I feel like throwing up."

Researchers at Shiseido released a study that men over 40 produce significantly more of the body-odor-producing chemical called nonenal than other people. The smell of nonenal has been described as "unpleasant and greasy...with a grassy nuance."

Shiseido scientists spent several months extracting fatty acid from undergarments worn by middle-aged men for three days straight until they isolated a fatty acid that combines with air to produce nonenal. Shiseido tested over 200 substances, including lemon, jasmine and peppermint, until they found ones that masked the smell of nonenal.

Shiseido markets a whole line of products’shampoo, powders and air fresheners---that are designed to block the smell of middle-aged men. Gunze, Co., a clothing company, sells "degree” underwear impregnated with chemicals designed to fight odor-causing microbes. Television commercials for the underwear features a woman a crowed subway who is so overcome with smell of ojisans that she starts to scream and pulls off her walkman and puts the ear phones up her nosstrils

Toilets in Japan

Most homes have Western-style toilets whereas many public rest rooms have mainly Asian-style ones. An Asian toilet is regarded by Asians as more hygienic than a Western one because no part of the body touches it. Asians also find it easier to squat over them than Westerners do.

When Western toilets were first introduced in Japan instruction were provided that showed boys standing in front of the toilet and a girl sitting down. Many Japanese were not sure how to use them and squatted while standing on the seat,

Japan has fewer toilets connected to sewers than any other developed country. More than half of all Japanese homes have toilets with a built-in bidet (water-squirting butt cleaner) and blow dryer. As a water saving measure, some toilets have a small sink that uses the water being stored for the next flush (remember also toilets are often in a separate room from the sink and bathroom so you need something like that to wash your hands).

Many public rest rooms are coed, with urinals in the front for men and separate toilets behind closed doors for men and women. Women's restrooms sometimes have urinals for children. Sometimes public rest rooms don't have toilet paper (for this reason always carry tissue with you). Large rest rooms have long rows of Asian-style toilets with one Western-style toilet at the end.

History of Toilets in Japan

typical Asian-style
public toilet
The remains of 50 toilets were found in Fujiwarakyo (present-day Kashihara, Nara Prefecture), the capital of Japan from 694 to 710. There were of two types: simple holes in the ground and primitive “flush” toilets set over specially dug gutters. Both types were constructed in such a way that their users faced north

In the old days human waste was collected and used for fertilizer. Excrement was considered so valued that landowners owned the rights to it not the renters who produced it. Renters however did own the rights to their urine. Excrement was saved, stored in tanks and was classified into five grades in accordance with suitability for fertilizer. The waste of rich people was regarded as the best because their diet was better. The lowest grade came from prisons. Farmers continued to collect human waste from the cities until the 1930s. Some merchants made deals with farmers to exchange their waste for eggplants and white radishes.

Plumbing and toilets were not widely used until after the Great Tokyo earthquake in 1923 when they importance sanitation to reduce disease was realized. After World War II, Western toilets became more widespread. Toto and other companies borrowed technology from France, the United States and Switzerland and, as the Japanese have done with other technologies, improved it and adapted it their own purpose.

One idea that Toto developed that didn't pan out was the female urinal, a cone-like devise that rose from the floor. Several hundred were made in the 1950s and 60s. One of the last remain ones can be seen in Japan's National Stadium, built for the 1964 Summer Olympics. Japanese inventors had been experimenting with women’s urinals for some time. Nineteenth-century earthenware models were shaped like open umbrellas.

In 1977, shipments of Western-style toilets overtook Asian-style ones for the first time. The manufacturing of squat style toilets ended in 2003,

Toto imported a bidet-toilet , called Wash Air Seat from American Bidet Co, in 1964. Two years later it produced its own version. In 1980 Toto introduced the Washlet. An advertising campaign for the new toilet in 1982 featured an actress in a flower-print skirt who thrust her rear toward the screen while a song went: “Bottoms want to get washed too.” The ads and the toilets---inspired by American and European toilets with bidets intended for hemorrhoid sufferers and medical use---were a big successes. Imported toilets from Switzerland had been available before that but they cost ¥480,000 the cost of a car. As of 2005, Toto has sold 20 million Washlets and sells about 3 million a year.

Japanese Fascination with Toilets

The Japanese are fascinated by toilets. In Japan you can find scholarly symposiums devoted to toilets, solid 24-carat gold toilets, an antique toilet museum, and Toilet Days. Web sites that rate public toilets and inform users that in the old days Japanese used seaweed for toilet paper while Americans used corn cobs. Kiddie television shows show baby hippos eating shit from their mothers followed by hearts.

In April 2000, a study group was formed to study the environmental impact and future of toilets. Because flush toilet use between eight and 12 liter of water per flush, the group is studying new kind of toilets that dehydrate or burn most of the waste, and break down the water with microorganisms.

There is a Japanese proverb that states a pregnant woman who keeps her toilet clean will give birth to a beautiful baby.

In July 2007, a mystery man left 47 envelopes, each containing ¥100,000 at toilets, in local government offices in Saitama, with note with beautiful calligraphy writing that said, “dear visitor who came today...please use the enclosed bequest of ¥10,000 as a fund for your training.”

High Tech Toilets in Japan

The Kyushu-based Toto company, one the world largest producers of toilets, makes high-tech commodes with micro-processors that control an assortment of jets, sprays and devises. The high-tech toilets, known as Washlets have a retractable, self-cleaning wand that shoots a jet of warm water at your bottom. You control the temperatures, pressure and direction of the water with a keypad. Most also have also have driers that dry your bottom with a blast of warm air. The most advanced models cost around $4,000.

Washlets are made by robots and come equipped with bidets and blow dryers that are supposed to eliminate the need for toilet paper. Japanese bidets are notorious for squirting unsuspecting foreigners in the face, drenching their clothes and causing them to spray water all over bathroom because they can't figure out how to turn them off. Bidets have become so popular that Toto has introduced a portable one that fits into a handbag and sells for around $100.


Addressing the problem that women sometimes waste large quantities of water by repeatedly flushing the toilet to "cover up unladylike noises," Toto has equipped new state-of-the-art toilets with an electronic device, called a Sound Princess, which produces flushing sounds that hides the unladylike noises without wasting water. A portable noise-generator, which women can carry in their purse, is also available for use in public rest rooms. Japanese also spend $100 million annually on over-the-counter pills designed to prevent odors while using a toilet.

Many Westerners are baffled by the complicated array of buttons on a Japanese toilet. Describing an experience that he said was the one of the most embarrassing in his life, an American diplomat told the Washington Post he tried to flush the toilet at the dinner party of a Japanese host, but hit the flushing-noise-maker, the blow-dryer and then the bidet button and "watched helplessly as a little plastic arm, sort of squirt gun shaped like a toothbrush, appeared from the back of the bowl and began squirting a stream of warm water across the room and onto the mirror." He had to spend about ten minutes mopping up the water before rejoining the party. [Source: Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, Washington Post]

According to one survey in 2005, 59 percent of homes in Japan have high-tech toilets, compared to 23 percent in 1995. Environmentalist don’t like the trend, complaining the toilets use an exorbitant amount of water and electricity. In houses that have them they use 4 percent of household electricity and 28 percent of the water.

One happy American owner of a Washlet told U.S. News and World Report, I shouldn’t say this, but sitting on that toilet is actually one of my favorite things of the day now.”

In February 2009, manufacturers of electric toilet seats equipped with warm water bidets said their products posed a potential fire risk hazard caused by defects and, in some cases, improper usage. In 2008 there were reports of several toilet fires including ones in which toilets caught fire after urine or toilet cleaning fluid came in contacted with an exposed electrical wire.

Cutting Edge Toilet Technology in Japan

Models currently on the market have temperature control buttons for the bidet water, deodorizers, heated seats, fans that "break down odorous molecules," digital clocks to tell users how long they have been on the toilet, a control panel that offers a choice of flush strengths, and devices that automatically put the seat down when you are done. When Madonna visited Japan for the first time in 12 years in December 2005 she said she longed for Japan’s warm toilet seats.

The idea of the high-tech toilets, one researcher told the Washington Post is to make the bathroom a place where people can relax. In a Toto laboratory, volunteers check out new bathtubs with electrodes attached to their head that "measure brainwaves" and "the effects of bathing on the human body."


Matsushita and Toto are working on smart toilets that measure "input" and "output" and send the information to health care services. These toilets talk to their users, take their weight and blood pressure, measure body fat using electric currents, measure chemicals in the urine to determine glucose levels and, someday, cancer, and send results online to medical facilities. These toilets are being offered for $4,000 in new houses built by Daiwa house. Some new toilets have ejector-seat like contraptions that helps elderly people and handicapped people get off the seats.

Toto’s newest Neonest systems have wall control panels, stereos, buttons that adjust water pressure and air purification. There are also modals that offer massages with gentle pulses of water and anticipate the approach of users with sensing devises and open the lid automatically so you don’t have to touch anything and sends out “etiquette” music of river and bird sounds and employs deodorizers that use activated oxygen to remove odors a the molecular level and release rose and cherry blossom fragrances. Among those who have purchased them are the actor Will Smith.

There are toilets with cleansing water sprays drying-action air blasts. Eco models have sensors that measure how much water is necessary for each flush and a time memory that measures when the toilet is most heavily used and warms up the seat in advance for those time,

In December 2006, Matsushita introduced a new self-cleaning toilet, costing between $2,500 and $3,500, that is made from a new glass material and is said to never need cleaning. Toto was developed toilets with a tornado-like flush and cleaning cycle that wipes away all waste from the toilet and offers an extra wide seat for sumo wrestlers.

Image Sources: 1) Liza Dalby; 2) and 3) xcorsyst 4) Andrew Gray Photosensibility, 5) Jun of Goods from Japan. Toto (modern toilets). Jun at Goods from Japan (old toilets)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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