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In her May 17 letter, “First things first to fight the flu,” Susan Menadue-Chun hits directly at one of Japan’s polite fictions. Contrary to its reputation, Japan is very doubtfully the most hygienic country in the world. Washing hands is for show more than for hygiene. It’s only symbolic cleanliness. The same is true of removing shoes at the threshold. Wearing surgical masks to retard the spread of infectious germs looks good, but its efficacy is moot. Frequent bathing is good, but sharing water and bathing together in public baths are unhealthy.

So, Japan is actually very dirty. Outside of their homes too many people have little or no regard for proper decorum, and quietly antisocial behavior is epidemic. Too much of the land is covered with litter if it is not already covered with cement. My local ward office is dark and grubby. My local hospital is dark, grubby, cluttered and user-unfriendly.

Like most public parks, my local park is an aesthetic horror. My children’s schools are filthy pits, neglected and abused. Come to think of it, almost every Japanese school I have ever visited was a filthy pit. But Japanese are very polite and they smile. Equipment works and most things are accomplished quickly — if all the proper documents are in order.

Society operates smoothly with the help of a legion of polite fictions, but we make ourselves look foolish when we confess to actually believing them at face value.

grant piper

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