I’m quite fond of my toilet. I enjoy visiting it. It’s one of those ones that plugs in so that the seat can warm up and so that you can fire a jet of water up your bottom should you so desire. At two different strengths no less! You may think you can do without such lavatorial accoutrements but once you’ve got used to a bottom wash you feel dreadfully unclean without one. Now, without the rinse I feel as though I am camping and have just wiped my arse with leaves.
Fortunately, when you get caught short out and about in Japan you are never far from such a bum-squirting public convenience and, more often than not, it will be spotlessly clean. Although hole-in-the-ground jobs do still exist, hi-tech toilets like mine are quite readily available. Enter a department store and it is quite likely you will find one with even more functions. You get the heated seat, the water jets, warm air to dry yourself off and, if you’re lucky, a curious button which offers a flushing sound when pushed. Yes, a flushing sound; not an actual flush. I am told this feature is far more common in women’s toilets than men’s and its purpose is to smother any indelicate expulsions that may announce their arrival with an unflattering noise. In other words, you pretend flush to hide the fart. All very well, I suppose, but I can’t help thinking it’s covering one shame with another. After all, when the flusher comes out and goes to wash her hands, the woman watching her approach via the mirror may not be thinking, ‘Look out, here comes farty,’ but she will probably be thinking, ‘Bloody hell, love, it took you enough goes to get rid of that one, didn’t it?’
The easy availability of an acceptable public convenience is what sets toilets in Japan apart from their British brethren. On trips back home I am always ashamed at the facilities my wife is forced to use when she requires to use a public restroom. Perhaps my judgement has been clouded by once entering a station toilet to find that someone had actually done a shit on the floor, but the image I have of public toilets at home is of broken, unlockable doors, sodden toilet paper lying in puddles of urine, graffiti cocks, and the fear that either a junkie or a large and randy sex-offending man will be loitering outside. Here, however, almost any convenience store has a toilet that they will let you use with no purchase necessary and it will be pristine. Better yet, the staff will greet you exuberantly as you enter and thank you loudly as you leave. A friend of mine told me he always felt like a king amongst men when he went for a sit-down in his local 7-11. ‘It’s great,’ he said, ‘You go in and everyone shouts irrashaimase to welcome you, you stand and have a look through the dirty mags and nobody bothers you, then you go for a shit, stink out the toilet, come out, buy nothing and are thanked profusely for doing so as you leave. Now that’s customer service!’