It was 1979, Christmas, when I arrived in this country of rising suns, chopsticks and kimonos. Initially the sudden absence of English caused me some serious anguish. I truly believed I was on another planet – perhaps I was – Pandora before James Cameron had made it an Avatar. Indeed I clearly remember it being extremely cold and my skin taking on a blueish tinge. Signs of neon that read like the scribblings in a kindergarten child’s notebook littered the sides of mountain high buildings and as I stood gazing up at these towers of grandeur, the image of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” was unmistakably palpable. The City of Osaka, I found, was a maze of concrete and steel, seemingly void of nature. Where were the grassy parks I had taken for granted in my youth? Where were the flowers that color those same grassy fields? I searched the narrow streets and thoroughfares until I found a colorless open area of dirt with dilapidated park equipment. A slide rusted and unused, swings – their chains begging for grease and a fenced-off sand-box. Fenced-off I learned later, to stop dogs pissing in the sand. There was also an old wooden bench that rocked on its rusted metal legs, when I sat down. Welcome to Japan, I told myself and mentally prepared for further realizations.
My next surprise was the Japanese toilet, or as I named it – the “squat and drop”. I remember the first time I saw a Japanese toilet, I wondered how one performed “number twos” without leaving a cable in his (or her) pants. And what if the user had diarrhea – my God!
For those of you that have never had the pleasure of using a Japanese toilet, perhaps a quick explanation of how to use one will prepare you for a future trip to this land. The first step is to drop your pants and squat over the “bowl” facing the “moon”. As that Big Mac from three days prior drops from your body – flush. This cuts down on the smell and also disguises any unwelcomed farts. There is a common fear, among foreigners, that you’re going to shit in your pants – as they are around you ankles. This is a misconception, your ass hole is not lined up with your Levis and unless your butt-hole is in a different place, you have nothing to fear. For those not convinced, grabbing your pants and pulling them forward, will definitely clear the way. If you’re still skeptical, take you pants off and hang them on the door – there’s usually a small hook, presumably for a hat.
In recent years the “squat and drop” is being fazed out and replaced with western style toilets. In the 1980s, it wasn’t uncommon to see notices expalining how to use a western toilet.
The western toilet is today widely used and Japanese engineers excel at making using the toilet a pleasureable experience. Gone are the days of hoping you’ve wiped everything, today the Japanese western toilet comes with a bidet, a butt washer and a heated seat – lovely.