Monday, February 14, 2011

Toilet talk again

Someone suggested I tell you about Japanese toilets. I posted about them once a few years ago but for any new visitors you can look at the link here.

Japanese toilets are wonderful. If there is ever a place where I see Japanese technology at its best, it is in the bathroom. But if I think about it, Japan has come a long way in a short time.

When I first came to Japan 30 some years ago I lived in a modern building with running water and flushing toilets. Nothing fancy. I remember one of the missionaries saying that her daughter waited to use the bathroom at home because it was a drop down, non-flush toilet and the girl was big on being environmentally sound. No wasted water. That seemed like it was taking it a bit far but if you have a calling in life then go for it!

Some of my friends' houses and apartments still had Japanese style, shared toilets (all the apartment dwellers on a floor shared a toilet), that were squat toilets. One would change into wooden clacking slippers when you went into the bathroom, roll up your pants' leg cuffs (and pull down the pants) and squat. That always takes some skill. Foreigners usually fall backwards. I think the leg bones of Westerners are longer or the joints don't bend at the right degree or something but it is really hard to get down into a squat position, hold up anything you don't want dragging on the ground, and not fall over...

Most of my friends had "flushing" toilets but that was sort of relative. Sort of like an airplane toilet, the flush didn't go far and there wasn't much water and every couple of months a vacuum truck had to come around to clean out the toilet. We all knew when the vacuum truck made an appearance in the neighborhood!

I have lived with all types of toilets in my many years of apartment living but I never had to deal with a drop toilet though my mother-in-law's apartment had one up until 10 years or so. Those need special skill to squat, keep cuffs off the floor and not lose things from your pockets into the hole... Gone forever!

At some point in my Japanese life I came into contact (literally) with heated toilet seats. These are absolutely fantastic and nowadays are standard bathroom equipment. Takumi misses those enough that he asked me to send him old fashioned toilet seat covers because he can't believe American toilet seats aren't heated! There is a low outlet behind the toilet just for plugging in the toilet and the seat heat is regulated to your fancy by a knob... No eye-opening wake-up sits in the morning... WARMTH! (But remember... the bathroom itself is not heated so besides your rear everything else is cold....)

Another standard in the bathroom is the spout of water that drizzles water from the toilet tank up and into a small sink... allowing you to dabble your fingers a bit. That's also the reason that all Japanese bathrooms, which only are wide enough for a toilet anyway, have a towel hanging there so that after dabbling you can dry your hands. (As an aside. Every single private bathroom that I have ever been in, the lady of the house has decorated it with a calendar. I don't know why calendars are so popular next to the toilet... How much schedule planning does one do there? But calendar art abounds in the bathrooms of private Japanese homes.)

So what's all so high tech? Nowadays, though sadly not in my own bathroom, toilets come with bidet gadgets and washing nozzles that vibrate and pulse and shower you with warm water directed where you want... And there are also blow driers if you prefer that to paper... There are buttons that will lift the lid for you but make sure you press the right button depending on whether you are male or female, and buttons to drown out nature's sounds.

In fact, there are so many controls on a Japanese toilet that I have stood staring at the many buttons and levers and not known how to flush the dang thing! Some have sensors that you can wave your hand over and that will cause the flushing mechanism to work, some do the flushing automatically for you when you leave.

(I'm afraid I have to admit that there has been one time when I stayed so long in a department store bathroom waving my hands over knobs and buttons and pushing things that sent water squirting on the floor, that I wiped up the water with toilet paper and left the stall without ever figuring out how to flush the thing. I dearly hope that it was an automatic flusher but I still recall my one failure to flush with embarrassment.)

By the way... Japanese toilets run from between $2000 and $4000 dollars if you want high tech. I sincerely recommend at least a seat heater if your budget is tight...

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