Bathrooms in Japan are pretty interesting. First of all, the toilet is in it’s own room. You open a door to a room about the size of a linen closet and you’ll find a toilet… and that’s it. I found this troubling on my first trip to Japan to meet Aya’s parents. Not only was I meeting them for the first time, but I’d be living with them for ten days. The bathroom situation can always be tricky when you’re meeting people for the first time. After you meet your girlfriend’s parents, you don’t want to be that guy who kills the bathroom. This was a major concern as I knew I’d be eating all kinds of food I’d never had before, some of which were raw. I had no idea how my stomach would handle that situation. I was really counting on the “shower mist” maneuver. You know, when you “go” right before you take a shower. No matter what happened in there, the shower mist would cover it all up. But with the toilet being in it’s own room the size of a closet located far away from the shower, operation “shower mist” wouldn’t work. We all got to know each other really well.
The other weird thing about their bathrooms is the “potty slippers.” It’s a typical custom to take your shoes off inside the house and even at many public places. You’d ways take them off at home, but also at many restaurants and bars, and even fitting rooms. Usually these places have guest slippers, which apparently were “one size fits all”, but always were way too small for my feet. But in addition to these guest slippers, there are specially designated “potty slippers.” You would walk to the bathroom in your guest slippers, open the door to the linen closet, er, bathroom, see the potty slippers, take your guest slippers off and leave them outside the door, put the potty slippers on inside the bathroom, do your business, and then put your other slippers back on again. What!? Isn’t that sick? These slippers have been on how many people’s feet while they’ve been doing what!? But I’m told this is a common custom and it’s no big deal. How about that.
In addition to the location of the toilet and the “potty slippers” you’re required to wear, there is another issue with the toilet itself. The old traditional Japanese toilets were a toilet inside the floor that you squatted over. When I first saw one, I didn’t quite get how you could successfully use it without making a mess. But that was old Japan. Now, Japan seems to be the leader in toilet technology with all of their high-tech toilets. Toilets with heated seats, built-in bidets, seats and lids that raise and lower automatically, built-in deodorizers, and music. (I was told the music is designed to mask the sounds of ones “efforts.”) Aya’s mom excitedly told her that Will Smith got so excited over these when he was in Japan that he bought one as soon as he returned to the States. These toilets are often referred to as Washlets. At first glance, they are very intimidating. During one of my trips to Japan, I went into a bathroom at a fancy restaurant where they had one. I opened the door, stood in front of the toilet and the seat lifted automatically. I just stood there, I didn’t know what to do. Then it lowered and flushed twice. I hadn’t even done anything yet! I was waiting for it to start talking to me like the Night Rider car.
“Number one? Or number two?… Would you like anything to read?”
In addition to these automated toilets, Japan just seems to have a thing for bathrooms, toilets, and poop. For example, many Japanese ghost stories take place in public bathrooms. Which makes sense in a way. If you’re going to get the crap scared out of you, it’s a good place to be. Anyways, ghosts are so attached to bathrooms that Koji Suzuki, author of the book that was made into the movie The Ring, wrote a horror novel called Drop that takes place in a public restroom. (I’m assuming it’s called Drop because you’ll drop “something” while you’re reading it.) Not only that, it’s printed on a roll of toilet paper! And it’s sold at bookstores! I had to ask Aya’s parents to send me a few rolls. Somehow her dad bought a hundred. So every time we have new guests over, I send them home with a Japanese horror novel toilet paper roll. Even though I can’t read the “book,” it makes for great conversation.
So with all of this Japanese toilet obsession, I was not surprised when I opened up a package from Aya’s mom and saw a book with a picture of an elephant sitting on a toilet. Finally, a book I can enjoy too! This book also has a button. Yes, you guessed it, a “flush” button. Ellie was so excited she walked around the house repeatedly pushing the button. Flush, flush, flush, flush. Then she’d look up and smile, and then flush again. Even though I could follow this book with the pictures, I didn’t realize how much more entertaining it was until it was translated for me. I’d like to share a few excerpts for you.
After a little research, it turns out the popular American children’s book Everyone Poops was originally written by a Japanese guy. How about that. At least I know Ellie is destined to have a good sense of humor. Flush…