Friday, March 20, 2009
The Japanese toilet and other ruminations on an unmentionable topic
Earlier this week, I read a long excerpt from Dogen's Shobogenzo in "Eat, Sleep, Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple." It was about how to use the toilet. This chapter is nine pages long, and can be read in its entirety here (chapter seven).
The level of detail on how to conduct yourself before, after, and during one's cleansing of the body and eliminating waste products is mind boggling. I thought to myself that I'd have a hell of a time if I were to follow these instructions. I would probably pee in my pants before I got to the toilet, or I'd be so flustered that I might do so simply out of anxiety. Don't get me wrong. I don't make it a habit of messing myself. I haven't since I was younger than five, maybe even much younger. But I can go to the bathroom pretty much any time that I want, and I don't have many rituals I must perform.
This evening, a friend and I discovered what is called the "Super Toilet." Here's a video of a man showing us a low-end model of the Japanese toilet (and yes, he uses it, but he's very polite):
In many Japanese public rest rooms for women, there is a recording of the sound of flushing toilets. Evidentally, women are very uncomfortable about anyone hearing them do their business, so they would repeatedly flush the toilet to drown out any offending sounds. I wonder why they don't just pipe in loud music instead.
The top of the line Japanese toilets do an amazing array of things: They lift the lid if you are facing away. They lift the lid and the seat if you're facing forward. They have heated seats, air-conditioned seats, and some have air-conditioning for the whole room. They are also bidets, and most have built-in blow dryers. Some even play music!
The company that is the world leader in the manufacture and design of these toilets is Toto. This Japanese website is in Japanese, of course, but you'll get an idea of just how intense the technology is, as opposed to the typical American toilet, which seems downright barbaric in comparison.
I noticed, at first, that I thought "those Japanese sure are crazy." Every society has its own craziness. The Japanese are a bit obsessed with poop. One can buy books about how to divine your future by looking in the toilet bowl (sort of like tea leaves). But, you can also buy books about how to assess your health by looking at the same thing. That makes sense to me. In America, our neurosis is the polar opposite. We want to pretend that this bodily function doesn't even exist. Notice how I didn't use the word "defecate" once in this post. Yes, I just did, but only after noticing how I was tiptoe-ing around it.
My grandparents were somewhat obsessed with poop. When I stayed with them, my grandmother would ask me every day at 9:00am, "Did you do you duty yet?" She may have been saying "doody", but I'm pretty sure she wasn't. Either way, it felt the same. In her mind, one should do one's duty every day at the same time. If not, it was prunes, wheat germ, or enemas. I lied and hoped she wouldn't check.
Now, I have an ordinary toilet with a seat that is loose. It is nearly impossible to clean properly. I'm hankering for a modern toilet, but those Japanese models cost nearly two thousand dollars for an entry-level model. Interestingly, in Japan, they cost 200-500 dollars. More people in Japan have these than they do personal computers. Surprised? I was!
Photo note: For more great signs, go to this Flickr group, "Signs of the Times."