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Published:September 24th, 2009 17:56 EST
Cleanliness is next to Japan (Part 1)

Cleanliness is next to Japan (Part 1)

By Geoff Dean

 My first experience with Japanese living was an apartment in Himeji, a castle town near Osaka in Western Japan. My home was no castle, however. There was a bedroom, just big enough to allow two futons, crammed in wall to wall. There was a one-room combination living room, dining room, and kitchen in a space equal to that of the bedroom. If you opened the refrigerator door too wide, you hit the dining room table. There was a balcony too narrow to stand on. When I searched for the rest of the apartment behind sliding paper doors, I was greeted by a tiny closet.

 The apartment was across the street from a horse race track, meaning afternoons were filled with cheering and booing. It was on the second floor of an apartment building, the first floor of which was a karaoke bar, sufficiently sound-proofed so that the original music did not escape, only the voices of the inebriated would-be pop idols. It was an apartment that did wonders for the Japanese economy by keeping me out of the house as much as possible and as a result, spending money elsewhere.

 It wasn`t a complete disaster, however. The bathroom, not spacious to be sure, was clean and the bathtub was in good condition, equipped with a modern heating system, adjustable shower, and other amenities. This fit a pattern I would later notice again and again. No matter how bad the kitchen or bedroom or other rooms might be, the bathroom held a special place of respect.

 Japanese people love to bathe. "Cleanliness is next to godliness" goes the Hallmark card although I`m not sure if this was cleared with the Big Guy himself. Is there nothing closer to godliness than cleanliness? Justice? Honesty? Love? Patience? Oops, that`s another topic. A thousand pardons.

 Regardless of what cleanliness is next to, I know that Japanese people are next to or near to cleanliness. Have you ever traveled three or four hours by train to take a bath? If you are Japanese, I dare say, you have. Have you ever discussed which hot spring has the best water? How the water smelled? How hot it was? Whether or not it was "straight" from the spring or "re-heated"? What healing properties it claimed? In Japan, these are common topics of conversation.

 It is reported that Japanese people have the longest life span in the world and factors such as excellent health care and universal coverage, a healthy diet, frequent exercise, safe cities, and the like are often quoted. How about bathing habits? Is there any connection between them and longevity? A less lazy person might not leave you hanging. On the other hand, I....