Friday, 29 June 2012

Privates on Parade

My new base school has relatively modern buildings. Because of this, the men’s toilets don’t have manual flushes, but are all on motion sensors. Nothing so great there, you might think; this is Japan. In many Japanese homes and hotels it’s not uncommon to find toilets with controls so complex they would make even Data or Sulu give up hope and just use their shirt-tails instead.

Indeed, the First Law of Writing About Japan states that a travel writer must, within the first three paragraphs of an article about The Land of the Rising Sun, mention the high-tech toilets (she must also use the phrase ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, though she may choose to do so ironically).

We’ve got two in our house. The downstairs one has all the bells and whistles, though I resolutely refuse to touch anything other than the buttons marked ‘big’ or ‘small’, which I’ve always taken to refer to the size of the flush. Though it’s just struck me that they might actually refer to the size of the deposit; it’s certainly not beyond imagination in a country as scatologically obsessed as this one.

I’m sure the day will come soon enough when I’m able to issue verbal commands to a chirpy cartoon turd, which will actually contain a semi-sentient AI control panel containing the bleeding-edge in voice recognition software. It’ll be like KITT, but instead of being a blisteringly cool night-black shard of cybernetic vigilante retribution, it’ll be a toilet.

“Thank you for choosing the Hitachi Home Electronics Mr Joyful Cutie Shit 3000. How may I enhance your evacuation experience today?”

“Just shut up and let me dump in peace, will you?” I’ll say.

“Mr Joyful Cutie Shit has not registered any movement for the last 20 minutes. Mr Joyful Cutie Shit would like to verify your present condition. Please select an option from the following menu:
A) You have passed out,
B) You have suffered a humiliatingly fatal strain-induced myocardial infarction, or
C) You require new reading material.”

“Very well,” I’ll say.

“Mr Shit,” I’ll say. “Enable arse-cleansing apparatus.”

“Apparatus enabled.” Mr Shit will report.

I’ll then lean forward slightly on the edge of the pan, point at Mr Shit and say a single, glorious word –

The upstairs toilet is a basic model, by which I mean it’s only got a heated seat. I’ve been trying hard, but I’ve yet to conceive of a bigger waste of money and resources than trying to replicate that clenchingly unpleasant feeling you get when the seat is still warm from someone else’s bum. Though I’d also suggest one of those motion-sensitive squirty air fresheners loaded with distressingly fresh fart-smell if you really want to complete the whole ‘recently vacated stall’ experience.

Spring Fresh

Get outside the space-age porcelain utopias of the personal and private sectors however, and it’s another story altogether. I’ve been to rural schools where the toilets were literally holes in the ground, just with the edges neatened up.

I’m not going to get into the whole ‘Squat Vs Sit’ debate here, except to say that, apparently, squatting is the more natural position and all but eliminates options A and B from Mr Shit’s enquiry above.

But you know what else is ‘natural’? Syphilis. Syphillis, Herpes and Athlete’s Foot. All are natural, but a mark of civilization is that we’ve gone a long way to eradicating scourges such as these. I know we’re generally bad at estimating probability, but I’m willing to trade off the low probability (but admittedly high impact) risk of bowel rupture against the much higher probability risk of soiling the back of my trousers. Another mark of civilization is not having to walk around for the rest of the day stinking of your own of piss.

Which brings me back to the toilets at school. The only western style stall is right at the far end of the room. You have to walk past all the other stalls to get there and, crucially, you have to walk past all the urinals as well.

It’s an almost Odyssian dilemma. Stray too close to the many-headed stalls of Scylla and a door might open and smack you in the face, but wander too far off course the other way and you’ll get an almost literal whirlpool of Charybdis, as the motion sensors trigger one pisser after the other. A domino-rally of flushes timed to your footsteps.

Sometimes I like to do it deliberately and pretend I’m getting my own, personal, extremely low-rent version of a military tattoo. It’s the closet I’m ever likely to get to a 21-gun salute, sadly.


  1. I'm waiting for the toilet that comes with the ipod dock so I can listen to my white noise and read my kindle in peace.

    1. I've got a pair on noise-cancelling headphones, and they are the best thing ever for flights. Even with no music playing, they damp down all the other irritations on the plane. Can't recommend them highly enough.

  2. I bought one in Hawaii for my new place from a Japanese Costco type shop in Hawaii which of course ordered it from Japan and it was the star of my new place to my friends....not the ocean view...not the squash court or the mini golf range or the massive was the fucking toilet.

    I was trying to show off my PC controlled Hi Fi system when it was a new thing and they wouldn't get out of the fucking bathroom. It does talk btw. In japanese in either women or me's voice but it's luckily set to the woman's by default since Japanese jibberish from a Japanese dude is more annoying that Japanese jibberish by a chick.

    1. See! Told you it was just a matter of time. You should get it reprogrammed to the voice of the roughest yakuza/judo teacher you can find. Just yelling 'Shit! Shit now!'. It'd certainly discourage people spending too long reading the newspaper...

  3. Our last place had a remote control for our spring cool and blisteringly fresh toilet seat. Dinner parties were never the same. Ever.

    1. You've just reminded me that we can, in fact, detach the control panel for the super-deluxe downstairs toilet.

      Fun time ahead, my friend, fun times...