Gargling: National Custom of Japan

Come with me, into my home, after a day of bicycle-action to the train station, to the office or to classes, and in reverse on the train again and on the bike again.

Come with me, please come in. It’s been a long day and you’ve been all around the city with me. It’s a lovely hubbub — taxi doors pop open at the press of a button on behest of the driver, bicycles are stored underground in elaborate labyrinths with oversimplified entrypoints looking casual and meek, train cars flood with people elbow-to-elbow and back-to-chest while no one makes a peep… and all this is ephemeral contact in an exploding and contracting, blossoming and folding series and sequence of community crossings-overs and cascades. So please, do come in, in from the hubbub.

And please, do the gargle.

Yes, the gargle. Get the medicinal iodine-based gargling solution and mix a few drops with some water. Knock it back, but not too far back, after all, you don’t really want to swallow it, it’s more about the rinse of the throat and sinus region. Feel the tender viscous bubbles grow and collapse into themselves like a kaleidoscope of soap and film, safe to the gills and glands, neutralizing all external toxins lodged epiglottaly from our romp through the city. Removal of toxi-city.

Gargling (うがい [oo-gai]) is a common practice in Japan after having spent time out in crowded areas or returning from school or work and is used to disinfect the mouth and throat. Usually containing iodine or povidone-iodine, instructions say to pulse cheek-to-cheek for 15 seconds once, then take a fresh swig and tilt the head back and gargle in the back of the throat for 15 seconds, twice (three swigs total).

Pulse from cheek to cheek for the first rinse, 15 seconds
Take a fresh swig, tilt the head back and gargle with the sound “ah” for 15 seconds, repeat once.

There are many varieties of Gargling Medicine うがい [oo-“guy”] available. Some are clear, many are a deep brownish purple color.

Forays were made into clinically confirming the efficacy of gargling. You can read some related research papers below. Recently, the governor of Osaka said gargling medicine could be used versus Corona virus. As soon as they said it, the shelves of most pharmacies were bare and people had a hard time finding precious gargling medicine.

Osaka Governor holds up a bottle of gargling medicine. Image links to story.

Some research papers from 2005 and 2008 are available below. There are likely more recent ones in light of the pandemic. (2005) Prevention of upper respiratory tract infections by gargling: a randomized trial (2008) Cost-effectiveness of gargling for the prevention of upper respiratory tract infections

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