One winter evening, investigative reporter Hirokatsu Azuma used a steaming hot oshibori (hand towel) to wipe his face. Looking in the mirror the next day, his eyelid was swollen and he found himself with a case of pinkeye.
Writing in Nikkan Gendai (Dec. 5), Azuma remarks that while that oshibori may have appeared clean, it was crawling with germs that are hard to remove, even with a thorough scrubbing.
Apparently numerous unlicensed services distribute those oshibori encased in vinyl wrappers, and in more than a few them dreaded e-coli or staphylococcus bacteria may be present, resulting in food poisoning or other infections.
The operator of a yakitori restaurant tells Azuma that he rents oshibori from the neighborhood yakuza.
“You can tell it’s from an underground service by how lumpy they are and slipshod ways they’re rolled,” the man says. “At the rate of 10 or 20 yen a towel a legitimate service would charge us maybe 12,000 yen or so a month, but we pay 30,000 yen to the gang for the same thing. Since it’s a violation of the anti-gang law for us to pay them protection, we get around it this way.”
In summer, the restaurant often hears complaints from customers who find fragments of dead cockroaches, moths or flies in their towels.
“When that happens, we apologize on the spot and give them a fresh one, but sometimes the new ones have got bugs in them too. But if the customer starts raving and threatening to shut me down, the hoods we’ve been paying for the towel service also come in very handy to persuade the guy to keep his mouth shut.
“But still,” the yakitori boss sighs, “letting bugs and even pubic hairs get rolled into the towels — I mean come on, what the hell’s going on?”
It seems a steady supply of towels is also a must for sex businesses like soaplands or “fashion health” emporiums, for wiping up the mess after a romp on the massage table. The towels are collected and wind up in the wash together with the ones from food and beverage services.
Dear reader — are you sure you want to read any more of this? Well don’t say you weren’t warned…
“We’ve been humiliated when an izakaya complained its customer found a hair from down there in his oshibori,” an operator tells the reporter. “And there was no way we could excuse ourselves when a snack operator’s customer rubbed his hands with a used condom clinging to the inside of his towel.”
Not only do renegade oshibori distributors refrain from using antibacterial chlorine bleach — they don’t even bother to rinse them out after a wash. Azuma’s conclusion: Caveat wiper.
Source: “Yakuza ga shikiru kashi oshibori ni mushi ya inmo,” Nikkan Gendai (Dec. 5, page 11)