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This if the first installment in what I’m sure will several posts on the bathroom habits I discover around the world. I can think of no better place to start than the place which has achieved the pinnacle in toilet technology: Japan.
For those of you rolling your eyes right now, deal with it. I’m the guy who brought you McDonald’s reports from every country, so this certainly shouldn’t surprise you. Also, my McDonald’s posts are usually my most popular ones. You can never go wrong underestimating the Internet. PT Barnum would have a field day if he were alive.
The average western toilet is a pretty elegant, yet simple mechanism. Water is in the tank, is emptied into a bowl, the water level causes water to flow down an S-shaped drain in the back which causes a siphon which takes the water and the contents down with it. Refill the tank, rinse, repeat. Everything is done via water pressure and gravity.
Most western toilets are literally no more than that. They may vary a bit in size and shape, but there are few things to add.
The Japanese, however, looked upon what we did with the toilet and said to themselves, “we can do better than this”….and indeed they have. (Given they traditionally used the squat toilet, they had a great deal of room for improvement)
I’ve seen several toilets like this one, but the particulars I’ll be discussing involve the toilets in my hotel rooms in Kirishima and Kyoto.
For starters, they use electricity. In addition to having it hooked up to the water and drain, you need to plug it in. (Next time you are in the bath tub, think of a large basin of water being mixed with electricity.) The electricity is needed for the pump, the lights on the control panel, and the seat warmer.
The seat warmer. I have a car with a seat warmer. When its the middle of winter, there is no better feeling than having your butt warmed from below. When you are using the john, the feeling of luxury is even greater. If it is cold out (and it is getting chilly here in Japan) you really don’t want to get up. Ever. I could easily fall asleep on the john because it is usually the warmest place in the room. If you aren’t from a cold part of the world and you haven’t experienced the terror of going to the bathroom outside in freezing temperatures, it is sort of like jumping into cold water. The seat warmer is as comfortable as that is unpleasant.
Bidet. Basically, the idea of a bidet is to use a stream of water instead of toilet paper to clean yourself. Traditionally, a bidet was a separate basin next to the toilet. To use it, you’d have to sort of scoot over with your pants around your legs to use it.
If you have never used a bidet before, it is a bid odd at first. In fact, you might think that it isn’t quite as good as using paper. However, once you’ve used it and think about it, it is actually a much better solution than toilet paper.
The real innovation from Japanese was integration of the bidet and the toilet bowl. The bidet just is a nozzle which comes out into the bowl when ready, and directs a spray to the right spot. How it knows where to aim is beyond me. I’m not sure I want to know.
Buttons and knobs. Controlling a western toilet is pretty easy. There is one switch and only one thing to do with the switch. The Japanese toilet is not so simple. In addition to the seat warmer, you have to control the bidet. First, the water can be directed to either spray your entire bottom, or a more directed stream to the area in question. You can also control the water pressure. This is important because if you don’t know what is going to hit you, it can come as a big surprise. Trust me. You can also control the water temperature on some of the toilets, which is also a very nice feature. Very nice.
The other thing I’ve noticed in the places I’ve stayed at are the bathroom sandals. Most bathrooms had a pair of sandals in the bathroom for the express intend of being used while going to the bathroom. I have no idea why you need special toilet footwear, but I’m guessing it might be a carry over from the squat toilet days. From what I’ve seen of the squat toilet, I’d want two pairs of shoes for going number 2 as well.