Sunday, November 25, 2007

A word on Japanese toilets...

I've blogged before on the tradition-versus-modernity dichotomy that exists in Japan. Nowhere, in my humble opinion, is this contrast more apparent than in the washrooms of this great nation. Upon entering the loo, we're faced with an important question: To squat or not to squat?

The traditional Japanese toilet is a ceramic hole in the ground. You literally squat down to do your business. This style of toilet, found at Sakai JHS and in the various public restrooms I've encountered during my travels in Japan, always leaves me with a slight burn in my quads and a "I'm-camping-in-the-woods-where's-a-leaf-to-wipe-with" feeling.

Contrast these "squatters" with the Western-style sit-down toilets: these state-of-the-art johns come equipped with a heated seat and bidet function. There's a "modesty" option that makes the sound of running water so your neighbor can't hear you doing your business. In fact, there's literally a control panel on these toilets, with rows of buttons all written in kanji. Check out the pictures above. (No, these pics aren't mine - I borrowed 'em from the internet. But the fact that others have actually taken - and posted - photos of Japanese toilets online is almost as fascinating as the toilets themselves.)

The sit-down thrones are great - and are always a special find in a public restroom - but the fact that I can't read kanji sometimes gets me into trouble when it comes time to flush.

Our arrival in Osaka this weekend was no exception. After our three-hour train ride, our group of girls scoured Osaka station in search of a restroom. We were pleased to find a women's room with a relatively short line, and (yes!) sit-down toilets. After doing my business, I pressed what I thought was the flush button - it's usually a big red button at the bottom of the control panel

Nothing happened.

I pressed a few more buttons.

No result.

I searched on the floor of the stall for a manual flush button.


I spotted a button on the wall behind the toilet and pressed it triumphantly.

Finally, the flush...

To my horror, the button did not flush the toilet. Instead, a loud alarm sounded.

Oh sh*t.

Apparently, I'd pressed some sort of distress button. Fortunately, the alarm was such that it couldn't be traced back to my particular stall. So, I exited, waded through the line of women who were still waiting in the restroom (none of whom seemed alarmed by the buzzer going off), nonchalantly washed my hands, and got the hell outta there. There was no way that I had enough Japanese to explain myself out of that situation.

My fellow travelers were waiting for me outside of the restroom. They asked if I'd heard the "fire alarm." I nodded, then burst out laughing as I told them what had happened. We all had to stifle our laughter as, a few minutes later, we spotted a security guard running down the hall toward the women's room.

I stuck to squatters for the rest of the trip.

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