|I stole this banner from the excellent Tofugu website rather than make my own|
One of the things that freaks me out the most about Japan is their cleanliness. Oh sure, it's nice to be clean and it's not like I want to live in Africa. But there's an unsettling cleanliness in Japan that I find, uh... unsettling (note to self: buy thesaurus). The only other place that I've experienced this was during my first visit to Denmark. I'd been in Copenhagen for a couple of days before I realised that the uneasy feelings that I was uh... feeling (really got to get that thesaurus) were down to how clean everything was.
Look at that picture below. It's a Japanese alleyway. A tiny little hidden back alley. And it's clean. It's cleaner than my house. The Japanese hate dirt.
Japanese toilets are the front line in the battle against feculence (yes, I have just gone out and got a thesaurus). Despite their small size, Japanese houses usually have two separate rooms for toilet activities: bathrooms are for washing and ablutions whereas toilets are for defecation and micturition (hah! - that thesaurus is coming into its own). Heck, there are even special shoes to wear when you enter the toilet in a Japanese home.
Lavatory activity is still a surprisingly taboo topic in Western society. My doctor recently asked "how often do you open your bowels?" which rather took me aback. We simply don't have a word or phrase for describing the act of having a shit without resorting to excessively clinical descriptions or vulgarity. We have dozens of euphemisms for the porcelain throne, but no proper word - even "toilet" is a euphemism meaning "a cloth bag for clothes." But in Japan, toilets aren't just a hole for the deposit of bodily waste, but a voyage into a space-age future.
Just in case that incomprehensible penguin advert didn't quite explain how Toto Washlet toilets actually work, here's a video made by someone who owns one explaining the functions:
The seat raises itself when it detects you approaching and lowers when you've finished, thus robbing Japanese female stand-up comedians of half their act. The seat is heated, there's a deodorising function and there are a series of sprays and heaters for washing and drying your arse. All of this is controlled through a panel that will baffle a rocket scientist.
Believe it or not, there are more high-tech versions out there. Some toilets even perform stool-analysis and send the results, via an internet connection, to your doctor so you can be alerted to any potential health problems before symptoms become apparent.
And it's not just the toilet itself. There are a variety of equally confusing devices in Japanese lavatories. My favourite is the otohime (literally: sound princess). This is an electronic device mounted to the wall that produces sounds to cover up any 'toilet noises'. Most make water-related noises, but some play tunes and others have a variety of sounds to choose from. Skip to the 2 minute mark in the video above to hear one in action. God, I want one of these.
Our final video just confuses me further. The chap in the vid visits a disabled bathroom in a Japanese airport and encounters some devices that I've never seen before. I asked the wife (Taiwan is right next to Japan and shares a lot of technology and culture with them) and even she didn't know. The first thing he looks at does indeed resemble a sink, but the flushing thing has me confused as indeed does the lack on plug or drain. And the odd urinal-looking thing that the guy reckons is a stand up shitter just baffles me. Anyone got any clues?
So there we go: an introduction to the weird world of Japanese futuristic lavatories. 80% of Japanese households have got a space toilet. Talking of peculiarly unsettling nations, Toto's second-largest market for their robot toilets is Switzerland - why am I not surprised?