Bathroom Bafflement

I’m not the first and I certainly won’t be the last Westerner to remark on Japanese restrooms. Like my experience of most of Japan (well, most of the Japan I have seen, which is certainly limited), there are elements both endearing and confounding.

First, most public restrooms offer the user a choice of the traditional arrangement (no photo available, but basically a porcelain version of a wide trough in the floor) or the Western throne. Thankfully, most stalls are marked with a symbol representing the type of option within, easily identifiable as either traditional or modern. Needless to say, I avoid the former, invoking, if necessary, the camel-like musculature I honed to perfection in Georgia.

Once inside a Western model, however, there are still surprises. One unit I saw had a lever attached to the seat, as seen below:

Close at hand

Close at hand

While thoughtfully providing extensive instructions to the literate, for the rest of us, it’s only clear that it’s made by Panasonic. I just go with the little button on top of the entire unit, which functions as one might expect for the result one desires.

And if the seat model weren’t confusing enough, I just saw this one the other day. It didn’t make things any clearer, even if the instructions were thoughtfully provided in Braille. (Panasonic does, however, maintain its market dominance.)

No smoking

No smoking

What I’ve gleaned from a few conversations on the topic is that these units offer refreshment in various presentations of air and water that can be customized by quantity and temperature. There is also an interesting feature where the sound of flowing water is played in the background, almost loud enough to mask the sound…of one’s own flowing water. I’m not 100% clear on that concept either.

And the last item in the “confounding” column is the lack of towels in the restrooms. Some venues are provided with the Dyson-type hand dryers, but in the absence of those, you pretty well better have your own tissues or it’s drip-dry for you. Okay-dokee.

Now we turn to the bits that are actually practical and thoughtful. The first I don’t have a picture of, but it’s that many women’s stalls are equipped with special compartments hanging in the corner where you can put a baby – sort of like a snuggly-on-the-wall optin, allowing Mom to micturate without a wiggly one on her lap.

The second thoughtful item is the installation of a small sink, so Mom can demo good hygiene practices with Small:

Mommy and me

Mommy and me

And the third is the answer to the vexing question of what to do with a little boy when one is using the women’s loo. First of all one sees the ubiquitous instructions:

I really wish I knew what this said

You’re under arrest

…but at least one can be completely clear as to the intended purpose of this appliance:

Just like Dad's

Just like Dad’s

On the whole, with a little preparation and focus, one can navigate the shoals of Japanese restrooms without too much difficulty (and great appreciation for their cleanliness and frequency of presentation), but some day, some day, I hope to be able to decode the Rosetta Stones of the toilet spas. Stay tuned.

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1 Response to Bathroom Bafflement

  1. Janet Stebbins says:


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