Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mystery of Japanese Toilets

Weddings are fun enough, but it's time to move back to something more interesting. Like potty humour! Hence my entry about toilets here... (prepare yourself)^_^

True to "eastern flair" form, there are many things about the toilets here that are covered in a layer of mystery.
I first realized this when I came here the first time with my friend Eriko and had the unfortunate experience of needing to utilize the facilities in a train station. The porcelain recepticle facing me was, in fact, a glorified hole in the ground. Picture a urinal placed horizontally at ground level and you'll get the idea. (At least they flush!)

At first I didn't understand. The standard household toilet is western style. If they have experienced a standard western toilet, who would ever want to go back?! The thing is, some people prefer this style. You see, to you or me it may seem disgusting to squat over a hole, especially since this nominally increases the chances of missing the toilet altogether, leaving the next person to have to step in it. (No WONDER no shoes are allowed in the house!) I have seen horrors, my friends, horrors.

This also assumes you are *able* to squat in the first place. I have come to believe that there is a toilet conspiracy against foreigners with inflexible achelies' tendons. All of Japan can do the Toilet Crouch, but not me!! When I was studying abroad here, I took a sports class. When the other kids got tired, they would squat with the *whole* of their feet touching the ground, looking comfortable. I'm a pretty flexible girl, I used to take gymnastics and ballet and was able to do the splits at one point, but for the LIFE of me I cannot do that trick. Which led my classmates to try to get me to squat, so they can watch me tottering on the balls of my toes for a few seconds, then inevitably fall onto my back like an expired beetle.

"Are you SURE you can't do this? Look, we can all do it. You're just doing it wrong. Try it again, like THIS!" they would shout.
me: "..but but..."
me* "okay, I'll try...." *wobble wobble FLOP*
classmates: "woah... she really can't do it! hen-na gaijin!"

At first it was inconceivable to me that anyone would prefer a hole in the ground over a safe, clean, sturdy, weight-supporting standard toilet. But after living here for over a year, I have come to realize there are two possible reasons for preferring the japanese style...

1) there is no butt contact with the seat, eliminating the whole seat-sanitizers/covers issue. So if you're good at squatting, you're in good shape.
2) every western style toilet here is made by a different manufacturer. No two are alike.

This means there are different models with different intimidating functions (you can get a hot bottom wash if you're brave enough), but the most annoying consequence of this fact is that *every toilet* has a different location and shape for the flushing handle...sometimes it's a silver handle behind the lid, sometimes it's a green button on the function panel. It is often just automatic, but when that part doesn't work, it's even harder to find the manual override: once it was cleverly hidden under a sign that said "hand sanitizer". Sneaky sneaky toilets.

But weirder yet are the combinations of new and old that seem to be everywhere.... once I was looking in vain for the flusher on a hole-in-the ground potty, when I realized.. it was an automatic flush model.


Blogger Catherine Weaver said...


Did you fall in from startlement?

11:22 PM  

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