Nihon no Go-Benjo
And get this…
But as they say, it’s better to be pissed off than to be pissed on. (諺)
Thanks to such idiotic unofficial holidays, it gives me a chance to reflect on how totally awesome Japanese toilets are.
No Time For Shitty Toilets
Even though I had traveled around Europe and the US before I came to Japan, I hadn’t experienced the awesomeness that is a fully functional Japanese toilet. Sure, Europe and the US can claim to have the world standard for a decent toilet. It works. It does what it does. It serves a noble purpose. But Japan took things to the next level.
Once you use the standard style toilet in Japan, you will consider all other toilets barbaric. Even the standard models you find in the US and Europe. (And don’t even get me started on toilets in Korea or Thailand, etc…)
But it wasn’t always so nice
So let’s take a stroll through history. Let’s look at the history of toilets in Japan.
My research has pointed me to this sort of contraption as the earliest type of toilet:
You just pooped in it until it filled up, which depended on how deep the hole was. Generally, they didn’t go too deep because you wanted to clean it out either after each dumping of solid waste or at regular intervals during the day. This would eliminate stench and reduce the number of insects attracted.
The excrement would be collected by some lucky souls – usually 穢多 eta the untouchable caste in feudal Japan These poor people had all the shittiest jobs: working at execution grounds, working with animal carcasses, butchery, leather working, cleaning/disposing of dead bodies, etc. It seems reasonable that they’d get stuck with the crappy job of collecting shit and then selling it to farmers as fertilizer. That said, re-using animal or human excrement like this is very ecological. So good on medieval Japan despite the dehumanization thing…
People used wooden sticks or blocks called 籌木 chūgi (the word means “skewer wood”) to wipe their asses. I’ve seen the pictures. It doesn’t look like a pleasant experience. An alternate word for chūgi is 糞箆 kusobera which literally translates as “shit spatula.”
Once we get to the Edo Period, we find various types of toilets. This one from a farm conjures up all sorts of unsavory images in my mind.
Pre-Modern and Modern Toilets
In crowded cities like Edo, many of the common people lived in narrow apartments called 長屋 nagaya row houses. If you visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum or the shitamachi museums in Ueno and Fukagawa you can get a feel for what life was like in these dormitory-esque family living spaces. Anyhoo, I’m going to assume you know what nagaya are so we can just move on to the toilets.
Nagaya had adjacent or connected facilities that were communal toilets called 惣後架 sō-kōka main outhouses (sō-kōka literally means “communal shack around back”). These were similar to the first picture. That is, they gave a private room with a hole in the ground to squat over. Since people wore kimonos, squatting was the best way to, um, relieve yourself because you didn’t want to shit or piss all over your clothes. Even today, sometimes you come across a freaky squat toilet in Japan. Normally, I avoid these at all costs, but if I’m wearing a kimono or yukata, I prefer them.
There was often clean water running into and dirty water running out of samurai homes and the palaces of 大名 daimyо̄ feudal lords in the Edo Period. In fact,when beginning new real estate developments in Tо̄kyо̄, it’s not uncommon to hear about finds of pre-20th century plumbing in the traditionally posh parts of town. But even posh toilets weren’t much more than a hole in the ground whose contents had to be removed by outcastes throughout the day. There was no such thing as shitty and flushing. Nope. It just plopped into the mud, maybe on another turd, and just steamed there as you squatted in humiliation hoping no one was watching you.
As I said, sometimes you can still find the squat toilet and In my opinion, if you’re not sporting a kimono, it can be a terrifying site.
After WWII, “western toilets” began to proliferate in Japan. These days there are 2 categories of toilets: 和式 washiki Japanese Style and 様式 yōshiki Western Style. The western style is by far the more common.
There are western style toilets just the kind you’ll find in America, but these are for uncivilized barbarians. The toilet of choice is the Washlette type. This is the classic Japanese toilet with seat warmers and a warm water bidet/washing function.
This toilet often has water conserving addons. For example, over the water tank there might be a small sink that automatically runs clean water so you can wash your hands at the same time as flushing.
Another water conserving measure is a two way flush handle. One direction will start a 大 big flush and the other direction will start a 小 small flush.
But the best thing about the Washlette type toilet is that it conserves toilet paper while making your filthy, poopy parts extra clean at the same time.
The Washlette type toilet can generate 2 kinds of warm water sprays, one is a concentrated beam for washing your ass, inside and out. It has a sort of “volume control” for doing soft and general washing and a hard, concentrated spray for getting right up in that ass and making it sparkling clean. There’s a bidet function for the ladies who wanna keep their lady places nice and clean.
In my home, our Washlette has an automatic feature that sucks up the stink and blows a little puff of air freshener. Also, the nozzle – and yes, it’s actually a douche nozzle – is self-cleaning.
My favorite thing about the Washlette type is that it keeps the seat warm for you. In the winter, I never wanna leave the bathroom. Sometimes I don’t even need to use the toilet, I’ll just sit there and check FB and text all my special lady friends for a good hour just enjoying that warm, warm toilet seat.
- Wanna Know What Happened to All the Poo? All Aboard the Shit Train!!
(What does Iogi mean?)