Ever in search of catchy titles, I thought this one might grab attention. The first time I came to Japan was in May of 1989. Through 1992 I took eleven trips of two to six weeks duration. A little over two and a half years ago I relocated to Japan and have been living here ever since. I also travelled a bit in China and Taiwan. The upshot of this is that I have experienced the ‘Asian Toilet’ countless times. My residence for almost two years had a wafuutoire (和風トイレ), as they are called here.
Typically the ‘modern’ wafuutoire is a rectangular porcelain basin, with rounded corners, recessed in the floor; usually having a raised lip around the perimeter and a cowling at one end. Flushing runs water across the relatively flat bottom, to a wide drain at the cowled end. Occasionally the floor is stepped up, with the toilet being recessed in the higher area. Often, this type of installation is done with part of the basin protruding beyond the step. I included two pictures here to help visualize. The first picture is amusing because the traditional toilet is installed in a traditional garden, giving a non-traditional setting.
Although I have used this fairly simple device approximately a thousand times, proper use remained a mystery to me until only just recently. I had asked people a few questions, but the answers seemed muddled in my mind and certain clues seemed to contradict each other. Coincidentally, my realization was quickly followed by the experience of spotting some ‘proper toilet usage’ posters in a first grade elementary school classroom. They showed how to stand close to a urinal also. I should have snapped photos of the posters, as they were pretty informative and only a little sexist.
Proper use involves dropping your pants far enough to clear your critical body parts, but not to your ankles, which would bring them back in the way and bring them into contact with the generally filthy floor and toilet lip. Next you squat down and do your thing, wiping and flushing when you are done. Balance is important and I have heard reports (usually from Western males) about needing to brace themselves somehow. Fortunately the public toilets are usually in tremendously confined spaces, so people needed support can probably put a shoulder against a wall without trouble. A key point, which I unfortunately discovered is that things in your pants pockets (such as, ATM cards or Alien Registration Cards) can sometimes interact poorly with a heavy belt and the crotch or your knee. I put a 90 degree lengthwise crease in both cards one time, which did not please local government employees who lectured me about the importance of my registration.
The point I did not understand well was which way one should face. Since the basin often doesn’t get well flushed, my thinking was that the heavy waste should be dropped in the cowled end near the drain, rather than the slightly higher and much drier end. The problem with this is that the toilet paper dispenser is almost always at the cowled end; and hence, almost impossible to reach from this posture. Many times I have predicted my paper needs and pulled the appropriate number of sheets before hunkering down for the event.
My recent discovery of the reasoning resulted from a geometric issue. When I stood up, the floor was a bit wet by the end of the basin. Having been in many leaky, old toilet rooms, it took a minute to realize that my angle of emission had not been sufficient to maintain effective targetting. Learning is always best with reinforcement: cleaning up my mess certainly served that purpose. So, particularly for men, the cowled pool is the direction to face; providing a nice safety guard for insufficient declination. The solid waste is pretty much going to fall straight down and thus has a predictable landing zone. Amazing that it could take so long to learn.
And there is much joy in Muddville.