Few things have impressed me more on my travels than the Japanese toilet. My first encounter with this instrument of wonder was shortly after arriving in my hotel room in Tokyo. In true jetsetter fashion I loaded up on fluids to offset the effects of jetlag, but unfortunately the commute from the airport had taken longer than expected and I arrived with an anxious bladder. I made it up to my room and basically dove into the restroom throwing myself down on the seat, relieved that I had lasted that long. Instead of the anticipated release, I received the shock of my life. It felt like I had plummeted ass first into hell and landed on a pile of blazing coals. Thankfully I wasn’t in Hades, I had just happened upon a toilet with a heated seat cranked up to the highest setting.
As I made my way around Japan for the next two weeks I witnessed the limitlessness of Japanese toilet ingenuity. Almost all western toilets throughout Japan came with a built-in bidet and hip shower. The sprayer as well as other features were “controlled” by a wireless remote affixed to the wall within arm’s reach. The remotes were understandably in Japanese and I spent a good portion of my trip trying to sort out which button meant what. Depending on the model of toilet, the water temperature could be tweeked, the pressure and position could be adjusted, and you could even set the toilet to massage which would make the water dance around your nether regions. A creative woman would have found all sorts of uses for the oscillating hip shower but instead I just did my business and then turned on the built in hot air dryer. Who needed toilet paper when you could have your bits blown dry?
Toilets also came equipped with an electronic flush button. This button is meant to muffle the occasional embarrassing noise one might emit while using the restroom. In the past Japanese women would flush multiple times in order to mask “shameful” sounds. To conserve on water the electronic flush button came into fashion, so if you are ever looking for a bathroom just follow the chorus of repeating flushes. In case someone happens upon a toilet without an electronic flush feature, there are portable noise generators that do the same thing. Flushing isn’t the only sound you hear in the WC, fancier toilets also double as a sound system, emitting soft contemporary rock and classical music to relax the ::cough:: muscles. The song “I Can’t Go For That” by Hall and Oates is now forever changed for me.
The evolution of the robot toilet stems from the Japanese obsession with cleanliness and fear of bacteria. In addition to not touching anything that could be germy, Japanese people bathe frequently which involves scrubbing the body at length. I ventured into a public bath in hopes of relaxing and having a genuine Japanese cultural experience. Before bathing, or more accurately, soaking in a hot tub of water with multiple people, you have to shower. In this particular scenario there were eight stations with a bucket, stool and shower tap. In Japan they do not shower standing up and after three minutes in the washroom I learned why. The shower was an all out purification process, scrubbing the body with a textured cloth that scratches off dirt, skin and germs. First you catch hot water in the provided bucket and dump it over your head, then you go to town, cleaning your body with soap. After you are soaped up, you dump water over yourself again and repeat multiple times. I’m not a voyeur but I was conscious of how much time the women around me spent cleaning themselves. I was pretty sure I had gotten everything but the women who arrived earlier than me were still going strong. I knew it would look bad if I if was the last person to arrive and the first person in the communal bath so I just found new parts of my body to clean. My skin was not happy with me the next day.
By the time I was ready to leave Japan I had a new found appreciation for germaphobia and animated toilets. The bathroom experience that once was a source of trepidation for me grew into one that I actually enjoyed. I miss those damn toilets! I wonder if they will ever catch on in Germany.