Saturday, October 6, 2012

Zen and the Art of Toilets

The difference between China and Japan might be best illustrated in the stark differences between toilet facilities.

China's facilities are more often than not squatter toilets, simple holes in the ground where one squats and does her business. I can now manage these without feeling I may topple over or pee on myself, although I sometimes have to place a hand on a not-so-clean wall for balance. (For my squeamish readers, there is no cause for concern. This is as graphic as I get, and there will be no photos.) You also need to remember to bring tissues, since toilet paper is often absent. And don't throw the paper in the hole or -- in cases where you might be lucky enough to score a western toilet -- in the toilet. The paper goes in a bin next to the toilet.

There are smells. There are insects.

And then there's Japan. Here I rarely think about whether I should use the loo before I set out because the toilet facilities are abundant and spotless. Over the top, even. For instance, the other day we were visiting the manga museum in Kyoto, a museum celebrating Japan's famous comic books. I needed to use the ladies room. Inside was a high tech toilet with about 12 options for use: cleaning with a thin stream of water, cleaning with a spray, increasing or lowering the temperature of the seat itself. And then a picture of a musical note next to the word "flushing." Music to flush by? I was intrigued and figured that this option wouldn't leave me soaked.

So I pushed the button. Flushing noises ensued, but no actual flushing. Was this to hide the impolite sound of using the toilet? In a place like Japan where a cab driver apologizes for having one of the few cabs where the door doesn't automatically close, it's entirely possible.

So I stood there listening to the flushing noise and looking at my still-unflushed toilet. How to turn off the noise? How to actually flush? I was afraid to push more buttons and briefly considered sneaking out under the camouflage of flushing sounds.

Finally, I located the off button for the noise. And there, on the side of the toilet, was an old-fashioned handle. D'oh! Mission accomplished.

Later, Bob told me he had used the facilities in the same museum and the seat was almost painfully hot. He couldn't figure out how to lower the temperature. Arigato, Japan.

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