Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Restroom Reflections

Maybe it's just our family but our toilet habits are always a topic of discussion on "regular" we are or how the travel has disrupted our routine. We have two other families that we often travel with and one of them is just like us but the other, a family of runners, thinks we are gross! I blame it on my mom's practice of potty training us with a book. It turned the routine into a respite instead of merely a bodily function. This of course has had it's downside. For years, going into a bookstore had an immediate laxative effect on me. I give you this background so you know why the toilets of our recent trip became such an obsession for us.

When we moved to Japan in 1966, they had begun their conversion to western style toilets where you sit on the bowl, rather than the typical Asian style, "squatty-potty" where you squat over a bowl set in the ground. It was so new that our first apartment had the following "instructional" diagram in our bathrooms:
Well, things have really changed in Japan! They have elevated toilets to an art form! Not only are all (and I mean ALL) the public toilets immaculately clean, but the toilets themselves have become a throne of glory. Let me enumerate the standard features:

  • Heated seat
  • rear bidet spray
  • front bidet spray
  • accompanying sound of running water (to prime the pump or provide modesty, I guess)

Often included (especially in train stations and airports which seem to have the nicest toilets!) are accompanying music as well as a small TV screen! Take a look at the new instructions:

I have to admit, these devices did encourage lingering! My sister and I really shed a tear as we visited our last Japanese bathroom in the Osaka airport as we left for Beijing.

Now the Chinese toilets in public places and restaurants are still for the most part the squatty-potty, though some had handicapped stalls with western toilets (not sure if that is a commentary on what they think of westerners, but we were grateful for them):

These build great thigh strength, but take some getting used to. I found that wedging yourself with your hands on the sides of the stalls helped. Of course, I did try to get myself into condition for these. Before we left, several times I would dry my hair in a squat position. But still it is obviously not a place where you potty train with a book....efficiency is required.

The cleanliness of the Chinese toilets was not too bad...I'd say on par with US ones. And they did have some interesting rules that were clearly marked in some places:

 We are still trying to figure out how or why or what you'd want to fish from the toilet but good to know the restrictions!

Due to our obsession, we found the differences in bathroom culture fascinating. Hope I haven't grossed you out too much!

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