Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bites of Japan 2006: Super Toilets

And I mean that as in "I am Super Man! Up, up and away!" and not, "Oh, super cheese, Gromit!" OK? OK.

I'm terrible. I still haven't done my journal for our trip to Japan in February this year, and as time passes my memory becomes ever more hazy.

It's not just long-term memory, I think my short-term memory is due for some kind of tune-up as well. On Monday my housemate gave me a pair of trousers to take in for dry-cleaning, and I swear I've lost the damn things about three times now. On Tuesday morning I put them next to my handbag and promptly forgot them. On Wednesday I thought I'd put them in my car but I hadn't. Today I have this slight suspicion that they may still be in a box with the rabbit food that I took up to MFC's place last night (I took the rabbit too, because MFC is much better at pet-sitting rabbits than me, I find them too slippery.) The rabbit belongs to my brother, Glen, who is currently overseas. I blogged about the bunny here, and, as you can see, the name Yi Mao has stuck, but I just call him Mao, or Mao-Mao.

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to find out that I am an obsessive planner. In fact I recently took a survey that said that my impulsiveness level was "low".

One of the things I did to prepare for the big trip was to anticipate any nasty surprises. Upon reading many travel blogs and articles by erstwhile travellers, I found that one of them was...toilets. Apparently Japanese toilets are extremely high-tech. I was terrified that I'd become Sylvester Stallone trying to use the three seashells in Demolition Man, and end up stranded in the bathroom for several hours while I tried to figure out which one the flush button was.

Luckily the Internet is full of like-minded OCD-ers, and I found an excellent article in Wikipedia labelled "Toilets in Japan". I even printed out a photograph of the control panel and added translations in English. It was sticky-taped into my diary and never consulted again.

Upon our arrival, I found that public toilets in train stations and airports tended to be the standard flush toilets, but also provided the unpleasant option of squat toilets. Urgh, I thought I had left those behind in South East Asia, but no, here they were in all their open glory. Yes, I know that what's in the bowl came out of me in the first place, but I don't need to have it RIGHT IN MY FACE.

I had to use the horrible squat toilets of damnation on at least four occasions in a three week trip, when I was so desperate I thought my kidneys would explode from the strain. I know four times doesn't sound too bad, but I can assure you that it was four times too many, especially when you're wearing three layers of clothing, including thermals. (As an aside, if my sister, who has worse OCD than me, had been there, she would have flat out refused to use any public toilets ever and probably acquire a kidney stone as big as the Hope Diamond by the time she got back to Australia. When we were kids, she could go the whole day without using the school toilets, somehow managing to hold it in until we got home 7 hours later. Ripley's...Believe it or Not!)

Anyway, so what if squatting is more natural and healthier? What-ever. If I have to, I'll buy some organic bananas or do some Pilates to offset my naughty Western toilet habit, OK?

A lot of the public toilets don't have toilet paper, but you'll find an excellent supply of pocket tissues handed out for free on the street by companies marketing their businesses. Unless you're blind and have no arms, there is no reason to ever buy your own pocket tissues in Japan. I don't know how Kleenex survives out there.

The main places where we encountered Super Toilets were hotels, chalets, and some shopping centres and restaurants.

The first Super Toilet I saw was in the hotel in Sapporo, it was lovely, because the seat kept itself warm (you could adjust the temperature from "Just take the chill off, Jeeves," to "Oooh, toasty!"). I wasn't game enough to try the guided bidet jets until we got to our chalet in Niseko (a popular ski resort) two days later. One of the girls and I stood next to one, and gingerly pressed the button with the picture of a sprinkler underneath a bottom. How we squealed when a strong jet of water spurted forth and hit the door! (Man, those things can travel.) But they're actually quite nice and hygienic. You can vary the temperature of the water, the strength of the stream, and the rotation of the water jets. You can even dry off with a warm blast of air but I found this unnerving and never used it (apart from the first scary time).

The toilets at the Niseko chalet were also quite clever at conserving water and eliminating the need for a separate sink. The top of the toilet cistern was a bowl with a tap attached to it, and after you flushed, clean water would automatically stream from the tap, and then drain into the cistern, ready for the next flush. Ingenious!

The grandest Super Toilet I found was actually in a massive Pachinko parlour in Sapporo. MFC and I ducked in to see why Pachinko was so addictive and what all the fuss and noise were about. I still can't figure out the appeal. You sit there with a tray of metal balls, empty them into the slot machine, and watch them fall through to the bottom, hopefully hitting things and getting you more little balls, which you then swap for prizes. Hum.

The Pachinko Parlour Super Toilets each had a massive cubicle, with their own vanity mirror and sink. It was also the only place where I found speakers in the toilet control panel. Apparently, several years ago, millions of litres of water were being wasted every day, because prudish Japanese women would sit on the toilet seat and operate the flush mechanism at the same time, in order to mask embarrassing noises. With this handy button, you can activate sweet bird song, rushing waterfall sounds, or gentle burbling stream noises, and sit there secure in the knowledge that no one else will hear you and your private shame, because you must be one of the few people in the world who doesn't have tiny fragrant cinnamon buns and peach elixir gently floating out of your bottom when you use the loo.

And don't forget to wear the toilet slippers! They have these in hotels and private homes. Make sure you use them, so that you don't offend the natives ;)

One of the worst parts of coming back home was sitting on cold toilet seats, especially first thing in the morning. Brutal. Sigh.

I need to write a post about the tiny bathrooms too, but don't worry, it's in the making! ^_^


Anonymous said...

Japanese toilets, how I miss thee...

Oh, and for some reason, attractiveness (for me anyway) was on an inverse scale, where they thought I looked sexy, where here, I don't :`(

I miss the icecream waffles the most. Yum Yum Yum. Relaxing in the Onsen (hot water spring bath thingy) while snow was falling on me was one of the most unique experiences I've had. My hair literally froze into icicles, which I had fun snapping, while I was cosy warm in the hot water. If only I chose the mixed Onsen. le sigh.

- RaZeR

an9ie said...

Yes, yes! Posts on food and onsens are coming too!

Aww, RaZeypants, I'm sure lots of people here find you sexy too :)

I think the mixed onsen would have been full of tourists, mostly men. You probably would have been horrified. Heeheehee!