Filipino and Japanese Cleanliness

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Filipino and Japanese Cleanliness: A Shared Idiosyncrasy

Filipinos and Japanese, despite their cultural and economic differences, share a common emphasis on cleanliness and personal hygiene.

Both take pride in maintaining clean environments, including the streets, public spaces, and hygiene—well, for most Filipinos and Japanese.

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Despite WW II atrocities, Japan has become a preferred destination for Filipino tourists. Since then, they forged new connections over the past 80 years. (Photo: Filipino teachers wearing Japanese costumes in 1953)

Cultural significance

The emphasis on cleanliness in Japan stems from their deeply ingrained cultural values of respect, order, and harmony. The Japanese concept of “mottainai” (regret over waste) encourages individuals to be mindful of their surroundings and to minimize waste.

In fact, garbage disposal bins are difficult to find in Japan. They do it to minimize litter. As a result, the Japanese put their trash in their bag or pockets and dispose of it at home.

Tourists are expected to do the same. Unfortunately, garbage and litter are something Filipinos still have to learn from Japanese culture, but it’s getting there.

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Filipinos and Japanese remove their footwear before entering a house. In Japan, airports provide slippers at security check-ins for passengers who need to remove their shoes, and restaurants have compartments for bags to prevent placing them on the floor.

Cleanliness is next to godliness

Filipino and Japanese cultures are renowned for their hospitality, which involves a clean home extending beyond the living room to include bedrooms and bathrooms and maintaining neat closets.

Outside shoes are not allowed inside the house, and there are sometimes separate slippers for the bathroom or bedroom. Interestingly, bidets are common public toilets and are found in every home.

Japan takes it to a higher level

Japan takes cleanliness and hygiene to another level by implementing strict rules regarding footwear.

For example, in gyms and yoga classes, using street shoes is prohibited. There are separate lanes for walking with shoes and walking barefoot.

Similarly, shoes must be left outside the fitting room. These practices demonstrate Japan’s commitment to maintaining a clean and respectful environment.

Japanese culture goes the extra mile. In Japan, footwear is left outside the fitting room; there is a lane for walking barefoot, nearly all toilets have a bidet, and some public restrooms offer cell phone cleaners.

Personal hygiene

It is widespread for Asians to bathe in the morning and at bedtime, as well as using soap and water (bidet) to clean their private parts.

In contrast, some other cultures may not prioritize daily showers, go without washing their hair for extended periods, and rely on toilet paper rather than water for personal hygiene—to the horror of many Asians.

Similarly, it is considered rude to go to work or school in the Philippines looking shabby, but in the USA, anyone can come as they are, wearing sleepers or pajamas—again, to the horror of Asians.

In Japan, leaving the house with wet hair is considered impolite. This cultural norm highlights the importance of neat and well-groomed appearances in Japanese society.

However, it’s interesting to note that Japanese fashion is highly diverse.

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Perhaps only in the Philippines can you find significant variants of alcohol sold in an office supply (Bottom photo). President Marcos Jr., on a helicopter with a liter of alcohol and soft tissue and a famous celebrity, endorses a gallon of alcohol gel (Top photos).

Germaphobes

During the pandemic, disinfecting alcohol was the most bought product in the Philippines. But even beforehand, it’s common for many Filipinos to carry a small bottle of alcohol gel for keeping their hands clean and wiping phones or tables.

Alcohol has become a significant part of Filipino culture, with grocery stores dedicating large shelves to alcohol brands, reflecting the rising germaphobia and emphasis on cleanliness.

Tabo: “The national symbol for cleanliness”

Filipinos use the “tabo” (water dipper), the Japanese have “yugi,” the Koreans have “samsae,” and Thailand has “lotah.”

Ingrained in culture

For centuries, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Filipino cultures designed their home to accommodate bathing and latrine areas with usable water supply. It was a critical part of their daily life, signifying personal hygiene ingrained in the cultures.

The 2024 GMA Family Feud February Episode asked the question, “What do you do at least two times a day?” Taking a shower (maligo) is the second most popular thing Filipinos do twice daily.

Is it too much?

While some may argue that this emphasis on cleanliness reflects a spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) where amathophobia (fear of dust) or mysophobia (fear of germs) may be present, these cultural practices promote a healthy, respectful environment and discipline.

The unique “tabo” is a national symbol of Filipino hygiene.

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