Saturday, April 26, 2008


The Japanese Toilet
Toiletry of Japan. Left: Western style fixture with washlet seat. Right: Japanese Squat-Pot. There’s a small basin on the far left for hand-washing. Note the special slippers for use exclusively in the toilet.

Jimbo, of Parkway Rest Stop fame, predicted that I would, at some point, write on the topic of Japanese toilets.

Of course, anyone who would include the term “Rest Stop” as part of the name of his Web-Log ought to have an interest in the subject...and I would not dream of disappointing a friend and Honored Guest. So here followeth Elisson’s observations on the Japanese potty, variously known as o-toire (“honorable toilet”), o-te-arai (“honorable lavatory”), or, in less polite company, o-benjo (“honorable hole into which one shits.”)

First of all, as with so many things Japanese, tradition and technology coexist side-by-side, creating situations that may be surprising to the Western eye. Public facilities (e.g., parkway rest stops) will often have Japanese-style toilets, consisting of a porcelain basin set into the floor with a drain at one end and a hood (and flush handle) at the other. One squats, facing the end with the hood, and lets fly. Elder Daughter, who had no option but to learn how to use one of these things, soon figured out the correct posture for Efficient Squattage, and decided that the Japanese-style toilet actually had advantages over the Western kind. But I took her glowing recommendation with a grain of salt, since (1) she is younger and far more limber than I, and (2) she never put her Squat Technique to the ultimate test, as it were.

Mad Toire Skillz
Elder Daughter demonstrates the proper Squat Technique.

For gentlemen, the options include not only the Japanese-style squatter, but the honorable Urinal. No explanation is required.

Most places, in addition to the traditional Japanese facilities, will offer a Western-style toilet. The shinkansen (the Bullet Train), for example, offers all three options (Japanese, Western, and urinals for the gentlemen). Interestingly, the gentlemen’s booth has a window: you can see whether the room is occupied, but you cannot see the actual Act of Pissage. Not for the shy.

But it is with Western plumbing that Japan displays its true ingenuity and technological advancement. For, with few exceptions, Western-style toilets are not mere toilets.

They are Washlets.

Yes: Washlets. For each one is provided with a special device that, once one is finished with one’s Personal Business, one may activate, thus causing a stream of warm water to be squirted into the Strategic Location. The more advanced models even provide for aqua-massage and a stream of warm air with which one may dry oneself. And did I mention heated seats? Yowza!

This is all to the good. Japanese toilet paper is, in almost all cases, coarse, flimsy single-ply stuff, and the less of it one uses, the better. And it appears that the Japanese have decided that, rather than improve their toilet paper, it makes more sense to invest in hardware that renders it practically unnecessary.

Some models of the Washlet allow you to control the strength of the water stream. Merely by turning a knob, you can go from an anemic trickle to a full-blown blast with enough pressure to act as an effective (and convenient) Bagless Enema. Oh, boy.

In addition, many toilets (both Western and Japanese) have a useful water saving feature: the ability to choose between a small flush and a big flush - the latter presumably for what the Brits call “Big Jobs.” Why we Americans haven’t adopted this technology is beyond me - it makes way more sense than our stupid low-volume “water-saving” flush toilets that end up requiring 37 pulls on the handle to get rid of anything larger than a thumbtip.

All this Washlet business makes perfect sense in Japan, a land of fastidious people for whom personal hygiene is a matter of honor. She Who Must Be Obeyed has suggested that the flag of Japan - a red circle on a field of white - might very well be symbolic not of the Rising Sun, but of a Brown-Eye scrubbed raw in an attempt to achieve perfect cleanliness.

Indeed. Nippon: Land of the Rising Sun...and the Spotless Bung.

No comments: