Travelling across the country and the globe, and having encountered interminable waits, filth and dirt, I have realised that my most favorite countries are the ones which have pristine toilets.
Of course, every country has its own bathroom culture. Some use squatting toilets, others use Western closets, sometimes it’s just a hole in the ground… some use water to clean, others use toilet paper.
India’s Toilet-Building Spree
Despite measures like the Swachh Bharat Mission launched in 2014, many Indians continue to relieve themselves in open spaces like fields, beaches, although, open defecation has indeed reduced to some extent.
80 million toilets have been built in India so far, and the country is on the largest toilet building spree ever in its history, which has led to a 48 percent jump in bathroom and sanitary ware sales. The market for sanitary products and services in India is expected to double to USD 62 billion by 2021.
But the toilets in Japan are another story. Even before I arrived in Japan, I had heard endless narrations of butt-happy friends about the intelligent and futuristic Japanese toilets. I discovered that the Japanese even have a ‘God of Toilets’ called Kawaya-no-kami, born from the excrement of the Japanese goddess of the Earth and darkness.
Because excreta were recycled as fertilizers, Kawaya-no-kami was worshipped in order to have a good harvest.
And of course, the Japanese have come a long way from the past, when they used pit toilets where excreta was used as fertilizer for agriculture, and used everything from seaweed to a wooden scraper to clean their bottoms. They even have a hit pop song by singer Kana Uemura called ‘Toiret no Kami Sama’ (the god of Toilets) which talks about a goddess who resides in a toilet bowl.
A Japanese Invention... For Poster(iority)!
The Japanese people have put in a lot of thought (like in everything else they do) into designing the perfect toilet. The first time I visited a toilet in Japan, I was wowed by the pleasant sensation of pampering my derriere on a heated seat (I can imagine how comforting it would be in Japan’s harsh winters).
I looked at the panel located at the side of the closet. It had Japanese characters with stylised symbols and pictograms, for those who can’t read the language. Nozzles directed for a warm posterior wash, a button to adjust water pressure, a bidet for women, a button that plays soft music to mask embarrassing noises, and even a blow drying function that feels like a gentle breeze. All toilets have a stream of water sprayed around the closet so that nothing stains it.
I am told that the toilets are sprayed with a sanitizing water mist after use, or every eight hours to prevent staining.
And don’t look for a flush button; it’s usually automatic or contained in a side handle.
Japanese Toilet Culture: No Ifs, No Butts
To the Japanese who see everything as an act of beauty and aesthetics, the toilet is also a natural extension of that ethos. “More than 80 percent of Japanese households have now installed the shower toilet, or washlet made by the bathroom giant Toto,” informs my Japanese guide Toshi San with a proud smile.
International celebrities from Will Smith and Jennifer Lopez to Madonna have installed the washlets in their homes. “A futuristic toilet can cost anything between USD 600-5000 ,” says Toshi San.
Many of the toilets I visit also have sensors that automatically open the lids when you stand in front of it. The Otohime or the ‘Sound Princess’ was invented because many Japanese women were embarrassed using the toilet if others could hear the natural sounds of doing their ‘business’. And one toilet at Narita Airport even has a special toilet paper dispenser for cleaning your smart phone.
Move Over Biennales. Japan Has a ‘Toilennale’
And of course, Japan does not rest on its laurels and continues to innovate. In the bathroom market, more and more niche products are being invented – from a special bathroom for sumo wrestlers that can take their weight, to panels with braille sensors for blind persons. The latest is the ‘Intelligence Toilet’ by Toto which can do medical tests like a “urine analysis” and can electronically send the results to your physician. Or even calculate your body fat ratio.
And the southern city of Oita in Kyushu even has a toilet biennale called the ‘Toilennale’ when many public restrooms become platforms for art installations.
And on the Toto website, I find an entry from the 2016 Toilet Haiku competition that sums up my toilet experiences in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Nippon no / ovoid ni naru / ii toire
A nice toilet / becomes a memory / of Japan
(The author is a freelance luxury travel and lifestyle writer, blogger and photographer based in Chennai, where she also works as a freelance Japanese language interpreter and teacher. Her work has been featured in The Hindu, The New Indian Express, Hindu Business Line, The Deccan Herald, and Conde Nast India (Digital), among others. She tweets at @KalpanaSunder . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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