The Gaijin Gleaner Online Issue 43 - July 1996


Leuers At Large

The Japanese Toilet



I like some aspects of Japanese toilet culture.

Japanese toilets are free, clean and plentiful. As well as being a relief in times of need, these restroom-facts tell us some thing about Japanese culture. While the Japanese lavatory has changed dramatically, there is still something fundamentally more practical about it. Take, for example, the mixed sex toilets that one still finds in small bars and restaurants. The use of one toilet for both sexes seems so mature, space saving and liberal, but often rather disconcerting. Again, the absence of a seat may be very hygienic but I find it difficult to keep my balance when made to squat. And while, for instance, the French too used to squat, the Japanese do not insert their stool into a small round hole but leave it to lie in a trench between their knees for some kind of inspection. "Very sensible", the colour is very indicative of the state of ones health, apparently. Which brings us to ask: why are "amenities" so rude in the West? Is it not perhaps to do with their connection with sex? Perhaps for the French, the briefly dangling stool was a phallus: deft but dark and fleeting. By contrast, the Japanese have a more tolerant, maternal toilet culture. The stool, resplendent in its narrow china cot - thoughtfully padded with toilet paper - represents a pseudo-baby? In a traditional Japanese toilet, the flush must follow breathless awe in the face of mother nature's proud creation and even the direction of the squat is reversed: Westerners, face the door, as if ready to fight back other would be occupants; the more community spirited, trusting Japanese face the interior toilet wall, their buttocks bare, absorbed in meditation.

In the past ten years however, the Japanese toilet has been "advancing". Corrupted and alienated by the impact of the West, they have developed scatophobia. They too do it sitting down but with even greater hygiene and self abstention. The toilet seat, itself sometimes decadently pre-heated, can be covered with a specially provided, toroidal paper napkin. And, to the horror of unsuspecting observers, the toilets in more wealthy homes may be fitted with an electronically controlled, contractible antennae. "Foul torture! Fearsome syringe!" I thought as I wiped warm water from my eye, but, yes, it was merely a form of space saving bidet. At the touch of a button, the antenna extends and, automatically adjusted to the size of the user, fires a jet upwards into the orifice. Fiendishly clean. "Washlettes" (sic) may not have caused actual bodily harm but they might just represent a neurotic obsession with technology. (Mark my words; in years to come someone will produce a "Wipeman".)

If there is one thing that I regret, it is the complete absence of graffiti. It would be in the interests of free speech if bar owners provided a pen, attached to a string, inside the cubicles. But one might find that the customers did not know what to do with it.

Tim Leuers




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