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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

Why are There so Many Personal Hygiene Products in Japan?

[From September Issue 2010]

In Japan many things include the words “koukin (anti-bacterial)” and “jyokin (degerms)” on their labels. Most often, they can be found printed on escalator handrails and cleaning products. Japan also has toilets with built-in bidets for better personal hygiene. And, there are even some hotels and department stores that offer disinfectants in each toilet stall for people to wipe the toilet seats with. So why is Japan so obsessed with hygiene?

The Takayama Green Hotel located in Gifu Prefecture is one place where guests can enjoy Japanese hot springs. Part of their service is the sterilization of their guests’ slippers. This service is available from 4 pm to 9 pm in front of the daiyokujou (the big communal bathing area). Guests who wear their complimentary slippers to the bathing area can enjoy the hot spring while the hotel staff sterilizes their footwear.

“We prepare about 5 to 6 dusters (cleaning cloths) to wipe the slippers with. Before using them, we dunk them into a sterilizing solution,” explains KIMURA Hisashi, the person responsible for slipper cleaning. “We place 5 sets of slippers on the work table and then clean them. We spray rubbing alcohol all over them, and then wipe it off. We sometimes wash the slippers in water if they are very dirty. Then we place the slippers in rows ready to be worn. Afterwards, we clean the dusters in washing machines, and then hang them up to dry. The dusters and working tables are used solely for this purpose,” he adds.

“We have 700 guests staying at our hotel on a busy day, and about 300 on a slow day. During the bathing rush, usually from 5 pm to 6:30 pm, we can get over 200 pairs of slippers,” says Kimura, adding that “many of our guests are pleased with our service, mentioning that this is the first hotel that they ever stayed at that wiped clean their slippers. On our guest survey, we see many comments such as ‘I was very pleased with the slipper-cleaning service,’ or ‘I wore them without any worry.’”

“Japanese people are accustomed to wearing different footwear indoors and outdoors to prevent dirt from entering the household. Since slippers are often worn on bare feet, it is only natural to want a pair that is clean,” says Kimura.

P&G Japan, which deals in various sundry products such as detergents and shampoos, sells the “Febreze” product line. Febreze is a spray-on fabric refresher that eliminates odors and degerms soft surfaces that are hard to wash, including sofas, curtains and clothes. Since its launch in 1999, approximately 300 million bottles of Febreze have been sold. Currently, the brand offers 38 different products including solid air fresheners and car fresheners with different scents for different occasions.

The “Febreze W Jyokin” (double degerming mechanism) product has the same disinfecting power as sunlight. “It was created to ultimately solve the odor problem through sterilization. Not just limited to the deodorizing effect, we developed various products that would also be useful for the Japanese lifestyle, such as hanging laundry indoors,” says Marketing Manager, TAKENAKA Nobu.

The younger generation has even coined the terms “fabu-suru” and “fabu-ru,” both meaning, “to use Febreze.” Additionally, a survey conducted by P&G found that almost 100% of Japanese housewives “know Febreze,” and that close to 90% “have already used Febreze product(s).” Now, many other companies offer various, similar kinds of degerming products. And because the word “degerming” is so often used on product labels, the Japan Soap and Detergent Association has created a standard for what kind of products can be legitimately labeled as having a “degerming” effect.

“It is said that Japanese people are very sensitive to smell. One reason may be because Japan’s hygienic environment is in very good order, so people can sense the subtle smells of everyday life,” says Takenaka.

TOTO Ltd., is the Japanese company that sells the “Washlet,” a warm-water, spray cleaning toilet seat (personal rinsing system similar to a bidet). There are many types of Washlets available today that include basic functions such as a warm toilet seat and a warm water cleaning system. These kinds of toilet seats were originally designed for the physically challenged, but TOTO Ltd., developed the Washlet for the general public and launched them in 1980. Other companies also started manufacturing similar toilet seats, and today approximately 70% of Japanese families now have them installed in their homes.

Of all of these kinds of toilet seats, the Washlet does more than just spray warm water – it also allows the user to adjust the water jet’s pulsation rate, shape, strength and its angle of spray. These result in a better cleaning than a simple spray of warm water can deliver.

In addition to the Washlet function, TOTO’s Neorest Hybrid Series toilets have even better features. They are made of a material on to which marks do not adhere, and that is specially coated for extreme surface smoothness. Moreover, the water flow is designed to rotate and clean the bowl while it is flushed.

Another popular feature is that it’s easy to clean. The personal water nozzle is self-cleaning both before and after it used. And, the toilet lid is easily removable. These easy-to-clean and hard-to-stain product features are the result of continuous modifications based on users suggestions.

“The reason why these toilet seats are so popular in Japan is because Japanese people are early adopters,” says YAMASAKI Akiko, TOTO’s PR representative. “Also, it is because we, the manufacturers, have a tendency to follow through with good products,” she adds. Those early adopters who have the passion for cleanliness, along with the efforts of the companies who try to fulfill their requests, is why there is such a clean, hygienic environment throughout Japan.

Takayama Green Hotel
P&G Japan
TOTO Ltd.

Text: SAZAKI Ryo


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