My wife just burst into our living room, furious.
“Did you use the last of the toilet paper?”
I admitted I had and asked, “What’s wrong with the washlet?”
“The drip!” she said and scowled and marched back down stairs.
Toilets in japan are like something out of a science fiction movie, perhaps 2001. They can be either intimidatingly futuristic or unapologetically archaic. The toilet in our house is equipped with an adjustable seat warmer, two flush settings, and a water jet that can wash your ass in three different places with five different power settings. Despite this marvelous piece of technology, my wife still prefers toilet paper.
“It just doesn’t feel clean without it. Plus there’s the drip-dry.”
I am decidedly in the other camp, and see the minute you need to air out as a minute of quiet bliss. I have not used toilet paper in our house since we’ve been in Japan, and am not look forward to digging around my butt crack with thin tissue when I get back to the U.S. of A. It’s unsanitary, ineffective, and a huge waste of resources. The Japanese bathroom experience is superior. They even have a little faucet on the back of every toilet, so you can rinse your hands with the water that fills up the toilet tank. Not that you need to, because you don’t have to worry about getting shit underneath your fingernails.
That is, if you’re at home.
Taking a dump in public takes far more courage. Some toilets are the sleek futuristic models, but most are barely a step up from a latrine, just a trough in the ground with handles to hold on both sides. You’re not even supposed to face the door, you’re supposed to squat facing the wall, while the guy in the stall over sits atop a porcelain throne. I have no idea how a people so accustomed to a robotic butt butler can transition to keeping their balance while their cheeks dip so precariously close to cold porcelain.
What’s worse is that the food in Japan is far from fibrous. I was eating the hipster veggie diet when I lived in America. Kale, chard, and spinach, all from our garden, with a healthy dose of brown rice (sounds fibrous to me) and the occasional bowl of raisin brain. Now I eat primarily raw fish, white rice and miso soup with a single leaf of seaweed. This means I’m far from regular, so when duty calls, I make for the nearest bathroom for fear of losing my golden opportunity.
I’ve been lucky. Normally I can just clench it and wait the guy in the good stall out, but all good things must come to an end.
I might’ve lasted longer if my know-it-all friends Tam and Cole weren’t in town from the States. After three days of their badgering about the toilets, I found myself above the only vacant trough. Their words of wisdom raced through my head. “Dude western style toilets cause you hemorrhoids,” “Yeah man pooping in a squat gives you a more complete poop.” On and on, as if they’d lived here for years. Still I found strength in their words, gritted my teeth, and grabbed hold of the railings so as not to lose balance. It went successfully. I told my friends and they looked shocked. “Whoa, like, how was it?”
What do you mean how was it? You were just singing its merits!
“Yeah but like, I’ve never used one.”
Goddamn know-it-all Americans. But at least they give me courage while I dangle above the squat toilet that has haunted me the most, the one at work. I would think that an English language school of all places would have a western style toilet, but of course that’s asking too much in this paradox of a country.
So I squat, and I shit, and I miss my Washlet and its multitude of features. I don’t care what my wife says. I’ll take the drip-dry and a newspaper over a deep-knee bend any day.Joe Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama Japan with his beautiful and patient wife. He would like to apologize for the potty-humor, but can't promise it won't happen again. If there's something you'd like to know about being a foreigner in Japan, say so in the comments!