Eventually I’ll have to write a post entitled “On Places in Which I Have Lived: Japan,” possibly dividing it up into separate posts for Toyama and Tokyo, but I realize that I should at least give you a little something about Japan now, while I’m still in Japan. I’m in Japan, by the way. I’ve been here for 4 months and I’ll be here for 2 more—my law firm sent me here to TCO some B. I’ll say it’s a lot different being a lawyer in Tokyo than it was being an English teacher in the middle of nowhere. But more on that later (in subsequent posts).
Writing about Japan is always fun and very easy to do; one need only to write about what he sees in his day-to-day experience and anybody who has never lived in Japan will find it hilarious. For example, it snowed in Tokyo last night, so this morning the sidewalks were covered in ice. On my way to the subway, I passed an “obaachyan” (grandmother) kneeling on the ground, smashing the ice in front of her restaurant with a ball-peen hammer. When I passed by, she looked up at me, smiled and said, “ohayo gozaimasu!” (good morning!), then went back to smashing at the ice with the ball-peen hammer. That’s hilarious! And do you know why that’s hilarious? Because I used the word “ball-peen.”
I got a lot of mileage out of writing about my experiences in Japan when I lived here as a teacher. My adoring fans never grew tired of hearing stories about awkward Japanese co-workers, drunk Japanese businessmen singing Carpenters songs and passing out in the middle of the street, jiu-jitsu and love hotels. The beautiful thing about Japan is everything you’ve heard is true. “Is everybody in Japan obsessed with Hello Kitty?” Yes! “Do people eat a lot of sushi in Japan?” Yes! “Do girls dress up like anime characters in Tokyo?” Double Yes! “Can you really buy used schoolgirl panties in vending machines?” Oui oui, monsieur! But just hearing of these things does not do the empire of the sun justice. No, this is one post where I have to give you some visual aid…
And thus, I will introduce you to a concept I did not write enough about when I lived here last: Japanese toilets. Everybody, meet my toilet:
Now, meet my toilet’s console:
Does your toilet not have a console? Oh my friend, if it does not, then you are missing out. What can my toilet do? A better question would be “what can my toilet not do,” and the only answer I can think of is “sing the entire score of The HMS Pinafore a la Sideshow Bob,” but honestly, I bet it could do that too with minimal training.
First of all, what these pictures do not show is that the seat is heated to a toasty 42 degrees (C), which is perfect for keeping your butt warm during those cold winter evenings. Remember when your dad got that new car in the late 90s that had the leather front seats with the butt warmers, and so at night you’d take off your pants and turn the warmers on (but not too the highest setting—that totally burned!)? Imagine getting to do that every day. That is just one small portion of the joy that my toilet brings to me.
My toilet also makes me happy because it keeps me safe. We’ve all heard about how there are 14 times as many bacteria on the taps of the sink than there are in the toilet, and how washing your hands after you use the toilet is actually detrimental to your health, right? I mean, that’s my excuse for not washing my hands. But the Japanese, in their ultra-sanitary ways, have found a way around that catch-22, by making a toilet with a built-in faucet that automatically turns on when you flush, with no need to touch any filthy taps! Also, if there are any bacteria left in the toilet after you flush, a little Pokemon comes out and zap them. Unfortunately I couldn’t take a picture of my Pokemon, because my bathroom is dark and exposing a Pokemon to flash is the Japanese equivalent of feeding a gremlin after midnight. And believe me, an evil Pokemon is the last thing I need!
Hand-washing, of course, is only the beginning. If you looked closely at the picture of the console above, you may have noticed that there’s a button labeled “wash bottom”. This, of course, is a euphemism. When I think of “washing one’s bottom,” I envision some kind of luffa being used to really scrub down one’s cheeks. My toilet doesn’t do that. It does, however, have a robotic arm that comes out of the back of the bowl and shoots water up your anus. Yeah, I used that word. “Anus” and “ball-peen” in the same post. I’m on a roll. Here’s a pic:
Notice how I had to use my foot to cover the sensor, which is there to prevent kids from shooting water all over the bathroom. When I was growing up in Marin there was a kid whose parents had a bidet, and we used to go to his house and turn the bidet on full blast, so the water would hit the ceiling. Little kids just love shooting water all over bathrooms—that’s the way it is.
But I digress. Don’t be fooled by the relatively simple design of the robo-anus-cleaner. This is a complex machine with many moving parts and options for adding variety into your cleansing experience. Now maybe your robo-anus-cleaner just has one measly setting, and thus can only cater to people of a certain height, weight and internal thermometer, but with my robo-anus-cleaner:
- You can manually control the position of the “nozzle,” or you can set it to “move” so it gently slides back and forth;
- You can control the water pressure (in the photo, it’s on the minimum setting);
- You can control the temperature of the water, from ice cold to piping hot and everywhere in between. I like to keep it on “medium rare.”
There’s no set time for how long the cleansing experience lasts—sometimes you just want a quick burst for a pick-me-up, sometimes you need a more involved session (with lots of button-pressing and knob turning—yes, there are knobs too, in a secret compartment in the toilet). Needless to say, you have not live until you’ve had your anus cleaned by a Japanese robotic toilet.
I’d like to take a moment now to talk about sexism in Japan. I’m not talking about sexism against women, you know, those archaic notions that are still prominent in Japan, that women are meant to be seen and not heard, and to be married by the time they’re 25, and that the only functions of women are to look pretty and bear children. This is one kind of bad sexism that exists in this country, but equally bad (well, maybe not quite so much, or not really at all) is the sexism against men that one sees all over Japan. Yes, you heard me. There are certain things in this country that are designated as being for women, and men are simply not allowed to enjoy them. For example, puri-kura, those obnoxious photo-booths that little Japanese girls love but I really can’t stand. In a lot of puri-kura shops, boys aren’t even allowed to enter without accompanying females–how sexist is that? Or consider the “lady’s set.” Available at many restaurants for lunchtime, the “lady’s set” is considered to attuned to a gentler, more feminine palate. Sure, a man can technically order the “lady’s set”—if he wants to be ridiculed by his waiter, blown off by his date, or, if he’s at lunch with this boss, fired. The worst part is that the lady’s set always has the best food! Take, for example, the Okinawan restaurant in my office building. Okinawan food varies from really bad to really amazing. On the really bad end is goya, which is a spongy, bitter, green, bumpy, cucumber-like vegetable that I am convinced was Roald Dahl’s inspiration for the “snozzcumbers” in The BFG. Yuck. But then look at (or really, taste) rafute, Okinawan pork belly. Soft, tender, oh-so-fatty, melts in your mouth, makes you sexually aroused just to know it exists in the world…sorry, it’s hard to keep this blog PG-13 when I’m thinking about this:
Yeah, admit it. You totally want some right now. But dig this—in the Okinawan restaurant in my office building, the only way you can have rafute for lunch is with the gosh-darned lady’s set! It’s for women only! In the eyes of Japan (or at least in this particular restaurant), only a weak, pathetic man who is willing to sacrifice his personal and professional reputation may taste this golden, marshmallow-like juicy cut of pig flesh that would make the most orthodox of rabbis rethink his faith! This is truly sexism at its worst.
Apparently the designer of my toilet was equally sexist, because she made the “bidet” button pink and in the English translation wrote, “for women.” And between you and me, fair readers, to this day I have not used it, out of fear that it would make me less of a man. But ya know what? I don’t care what Japan thinks! I’m going to go test it out right now!
Well, that was interesting. How did it feel? You know when you set your phone to vibrate and then call yourself? Kind of like that.
So by now you might be thinking, okay, I’ve “washed” my “bottom” and “bideted,” I’m all wet down there! What do I do? Don’t worry, dear friend, my toilet’s got you covered. By pressing the third button, you activate the dryer (which of course has an adjustable temperature). Does it work? When I came to Japan 7 years ago, I was blown away by the hand dryers in public restrooms (no pun intended…ugh, you ever notice how when somebody says “no pun intended,” it usually brings your attention to a god-awful pun that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise?). With hand dryers in America, it’s always “Step 3: wipe hands on pants,” but in Japan, you put your hands into the dryer and they come out dry! Well imagine that technology—on your butt.
And people ask me why I never want to leave my hotel room!
There’s one last element of my bathroom I should point out. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen enough sci-fi movies to know that any technology that is this advanced will eventually become self-aware and turn on its human master. And I’m not gonna lie, this is something that I fear every time I sit down on my super-toilet. I shudder to think of the havoc this john-from-beyond could wreak if it one day decided to rebel against its bipedal oppressors. But if that ever happens while I am on the throne, I have a safeguard that will mitigate any damage that could ensue. Recognizing that an unholy robotic Armageddon could be unleashed at any moment, the designer of my bathroom had the foresight to install this within arm’s reach:
Pressing this button causes the emergency phone console in my living room to flash and beep, and a woman’s voice calls “トイレに来てください,”which means, “please come to the toilet!”
At that point, whoever is in the living room can come and save the person in the bathroom from whatever horrors the toilet is unleashing. In my case, my savior will probably be the enlightened one himself, who is the only other resident of my hotel room:
And that, my friends, is my Japanese toilet. It’s funny—I had originally planned on somehow using the toilet as a kind of metaphor for Japan in general, intertwining all sorts of Japanese social commentary, but in the end I just wrote an entire post about how the Japanese toilet is just totally freaking awesome. Kind of like Japan.