The Japanese have taken a simple functional every day piece of technology and developed the absolute crap out it. Pun intended. The Japanese toilet not only deals with bodily functions it offers functions galore. So many in fact for the poor old unsuspecting gaijin (foreigner) Japanese toilets can prove to be a daunting experience, more than one person has commented they have had the sh#@ scared out of them on a Japanese loo.
Confusing, surprising and and at times simply WTF?
For a non Japanese reader the amount of buttons available to push labeled with Japanese kanji can be quite a puzzle. I once accompanied a NZ school group to Japan on a school trip. After about 5 days in a homestay, a student approached me and in very hushed tones told me he hadn’t been able to use the toilet at his homestay’s house since arriving. I put on my most kindly concerned face and asked him if he was suffering from constipation. “Oh no” he said, “I don’t know which button to push”
Now the uninitiated may think this is not such a big deal and you should just hit them in order and you will get the right one eventually BUT…….. (think Jaws theme music) Pushing the wrong button can result is in a shot of warm water to the nether regions, frantic efforts to stop in can result in the streams pressure increasing to that of a water blaster or you might end up with a blast of hot air up the jacksie. Toilets seats and lids can start flapping up and down. Lights start flashing. Certain buttons can result in the sound of birds tweeting or a babbling mountain brook neither of which is physically invasive but is unexpected and you wonder if you have stumbled into to some weird Japanese game show where the walls are going to fall down and you find yourself in some weird studio forest.
My mother was terrorized by a Japanese toilet on one of her first visits here. She stood up, turned to flush and hit a bidet button which resulted in water spurting up. She came running out asking me to make it stop!
One of the more puzzling optional extras I came across in a family loo was a remote control to make all the functions work. Why?????? The toilet was your typical smallest room in the house type box. Everything necessary was within reach. Maybe if you were having a really really highly offensive olfactory alert kind of day, you do your business and bolt, slam the door shut , remember to pull up your pants and then flush from outside with the remote control?????? you can see the downside here, right? when do you get time to wipe? The other theory is that it was designed by some mischievous miscreant who always thought it would be funny to set all the functions off from outside the door while some poor unsuspecting person was sitting on the loo wondering what the heck was happening! Maybe that home was a set for one of those bizarre Japanese TV game shows!
Public toilets have an emergency call button, not for confused foreigners wondering which button to push but for medical emergencies I guess. In so loos this is very much like a flush button and numerous people have mistakenly called for help of the wrong kind. Upside, while they are there you can always ask how to flush the loo!
Public loos are often more automated than those at home, some start tweeting, not a social network blow by blow account of your bowel movements, but rather bird cheeping noises or the aforementioned babbling brook noise as soon as you walk into the cubicle. As far as I can tell this is so people don’t have to hear you tinkle. Seems a bit strange as as soon as I hear these noises I think someone is peeing. This has ruined many a back to nature stroll when I am out hiking. The outdoor world has turned into one great public toilet for me!
The one time I would have been very grateful for a little background noise was when I had a very nasty flatulent inducing tummy upset. I made my way home from the doctor hopping from public toilet to public toilet. Just my luck to stumble on the one public loo with no sounds effects and the acoustics of a huge echo chamber!
The automatic flush function is another goody, no doubt designed for hygiene but can give you a hell of fright when you wriggle a little and whoooooosh, it flushes while you are still in the middle of your business. Maybe it’s the ever time conscious Japanese people’s way of giving the bum rush and telling you to get your arse off the pot and back to work.
The talking toilet can be a bit unnerving and self righteous as it encourages you to take a seat and leave the place clean for fellow patrons. More often than not it is warning you about the auto flush function but if you are not a Japanese speaker it just means you get a double fright, once as you come in and the loo talks to you and then when then whoooooosh happens just as you are trying to get your knickers up.
Heated toilet seats are lovely in winter but the first time you sit on one not knowing it will be warm can be a bit of a yukky jump up moment as you wonder who the hell spent so much time on there prior to you and got it so toasty!
Pitfalls to aware of
Just when you get used to to the technological colossus of the Japanese porcelain throne, you may stumble across some old fashioned stumbling blocks. The first is a toilet that seemingly has all the bells and the whistles but you can’t find the flush to save yourself. You spend ages waving at anything that might be a sensor only to realize that is actually an old fashioned loo which an upgraded seat and it has normal old fashioned flush handle.
The second is the Japanese “squat pot” you will find the occasional very old
local station or accommodation without a high tech loo and may finding yourself wondering how to approach this
simple but unfamiliar toilet. Never fear there is usually a funny little stick man figure drawing to show you how to use it! Basic rule of thumb, male or female ,you pee facing the cistern.
The third is the toilet slippers. Some toilets have a pair of slippers especially for wear in the loo. Many a foreigner has shown cultural awareness and slipped them on, even though they suspect the theory behind doing this for cleanliness may be slightly flawed, only to forget to take them off. They then spend the day wandering around the off wearing very bright plastic slippers that are emblazoned with the word “Toilet” on them.
Old fashioned pitfalls aside, these toilets are so high tech that you feel like you need to be a rocket scientist to use them. I have a theory about this. I have recently met several young men who have graduated from aeronautical engineering programs and a couple majored in rocket science. As far as I am aware Japan does not have a major space exploration program meaning employment opportunities that fully challenge and utilize these young people’s skills are far and few between. I think I know where they may have been employed!
While we struggle with the complexity of the Japanese loo and the explanations written in Japanese it may seem slightly ironic that the problem some older or possibly drunk people face is not which button to push but rather which way to sit!
Yoroshiku Onegai shimasu