Madonna once caused a minor kerfuffle when she was in Japan a few years back.
Asked what she loved most about the country, she, to the nationalist dismay, didn’t praise the temples, the sushi, the literature, or the sake, but rather, she gushed passionately about the toilets.
“ I love the toilets”
the perennial provocatrice exclaimed in her typically imperious manner.
“The toilets? “
the collective consternation.
Who, in reality, though, can actually blame her?
Once you have got used to these beauteously convenient contraptions, these genius works of toilet technological art, nothing else will ever do again. In fact, I would even go far to say that once you have known the most technologically advanced of Japanese restroom conveniences, you can never, ever, ever, go back.
It wasn’t always this way.
The traditional ‘ o-tearai ‘ is a nightmare.
A hole in the floor on a raised platform, it forces you to squat like an undignified primate if you get the gist of it; and if you don’t, or cannot, like myself and plenty of other grimacing non-Japanese, you are forced to perform the most obscene and mortifying contortions to do your business without sinking into flailing dehumanizing degradation; hands clawing at the walls and the toilet roll dispenser trying as you grunt and panic and try not to topple into the horror, in moments of thank-god-there-are-no- cameras-in-here, privately humiliating, shame.
Plenty of such unsuitable ‘conveniences’ do still exist across Nihon, especially in almost all of the railway stations, and they are stressful and disgusting if you are caught unawares in the middle of your day and aren’t in the mood for Cirque Du Soleil acrobatics and creative, contemporary dance interpretations. And with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics only four years to go and the inevitable coming influx of the westernised hordes, some metropolitan think tanks are now apparently ‘scrambling’ to revamp their urban water closets with the more up to date, but really quite expensive, hi-technology alternatives. The majority of the population, however, has long outgrown its traditional squat til you drop benjo, and has come to only expect the best, and the cleanest, when it comes to its sparklingly white, self-refreshing ‘Washlets’ and ‘Purelets’.
To the first time visiting gaijin, the most hi-tech editions of these beloved latrines are truly a dream of comfort, hygiene and simplicity, catering to your every need when you are on the go between assignments and find that you suddenly have to ‘powder your nose’: a veritable think tank of preconsidered needs and solutions, among futuristic, white-walled interiors.
You enter the facility.
Sensing your presence immediately, the lid of the toilet is raised, automatically, slowly, the throne pre-flushing and re-cleaning itself to assuage any doubts you might possibly have had regarding its cleanliness.
You ready yourself, eager to get on with the operation, safe in the comforting cocoon of your surroundings.
Worried about ‘sounds’? in case, someone, somewhere, might know what you are up to?
Toto has it covered. Cover Up buttons can be pressed, bird noises or sea waves to counter the primal shame, as you settle in, soothed , for the proceedings. If you are in an upscale restaurant or shopping centre, soft jazz, harp music or Chopin preludes, piped in from invisible speakers ensconced in the walls, will also accompany your shameless ablutions, as you sit, cradled in civilisation, awash in a beautiful sea of pika pika, blurred and oneiric, twittering.
Now comes the fun part (no wonder people seem to spend so long in these places!)
Swathes of velvety toilet tissue expended (oh, how it never runs out as it often does in less conscientious nations; oh the copious rolls of back up paper, that nobody steals here, miraculously as they might back home, stocked up by scrupulous cleaning ladies, soothe your future anxieties), now that you are ready, at long last, for the machine-intensive, meticulously computerised, clean-up operation.
The ultra-tech toilets in the highest of the toire manufacturing categories sometimes make distinctions between ladies and gents, providing ‘forward’ ‘back’ and swirling options for the pudenda (‘oscillating‘ and’pulsating‘, though I have not, as yet, tried either of these alluring options). You can also control not only the temperature of the toilet seat (fabulous in winter; unfortunate if someone has left it sweltering on a hot summer’s day and you feel like you are being bottom slo-cooked like a casserole), but also, for your pleasure, the jet strength as well (there is even a function called a ‘massage’).
Inevitably, first time visitors sometimes emerge from these space age toilet booths flushed, dreamy, and googly-eyed with a sometimes slightly guilty look on their faces as though they had been indulging in a spot of overextended ‘afternoon delight’. They wonder to themselves, how can going to the toilet possibly ever be this much fun?
But whether you have let the Japanese toilet robot explore your nether regions in an unorthodox manner is entirely up to you – let’s face it, no one is ever going to know – but at any rate, with the ‘powerful deodorizer’ button having been activated along with the wavy ‘blow dry’ button to tidy things up nicely, anyone who has been in one of these delightfully well considered places feels vastly more contented and squeaky clean than they certainly would have done otherwise. If there is one thing that Japan is justly renowned for, it is in its glorious attention to painstaking detail. And when it comes to the water closet, or the powder room, or the bathroom, or whichever euphemistically shrouded name you might want to give it, this country has it totally, and absolutely, down pat.