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Japan is undoubtedly the most hygienic country in the world. The national fetish for clean hands is symbolized in the honorary wet towel. Most foreigners like to poke fun at this fixation for clean hands, but we do secretly admire the custom and miss it when we return to our home countries.

Since the outbreak of the new H1N1 strain of influenza, I have used Narita Airport twice. On both occasions I was surprised to see that no attention was paid to wiping down the biometric fingerprinting machines in between passengers. Upon request, immigration officials kindly wiped down the machines and wholeheartedly agreed that the procedure without some form of disinfectant is highly unhygienic.

Regarding masks, there have been too many conflicting and confusing opinions to make wearing one worthwhile, but surely common sense tells us that the best way to protect ourselves from any form of disease is to wash our hands. Since biometric processing was introduced (late 2007), I have always asked to have the machines wiped down. As a frequent traveler my requests have been more of a silent protest. But now I feel the need to safeguard myself and others from the spread of disease.

What I would like to know is why the ever-efficient Japanese bureaucrats seem not to have thought of disinfecting the hands ahead of wearing those silly masks? Or has the problem gone unnoticed because it really doesn’t concern Japanese?

susan menadue-chun

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