Monday, December 17, 2007

O-toire wa doko desu ka

When you prepare to go to another country one of the first things you learn in that language is “Where is the bathroom?” When you come to Japan, I’ve learned you should also ask, “How do I use the restroom?”

How? You say. It can’t be hard, just drop your pants, sit, and let nature progress. Except in Japan most public restrooms are equipped with squat toilets, which like the language, I am struggling to master. There must be a specific way to position myself without worrying about accidentally peeing all over my pants (it hasn't happened yet but I’ve come close!) Though there is a call button for when you are in distress, perhaps for those of us who miss the toilet? Maybe they have spare pairs of pants waiting for us clueless foreigners? Somehow I doubt it, and even it were true I don’t know enough Japanese yet to explain my embarrassing situation, although if pressed I suppose I could come up with something like “toilet I don’t understand.”

Unlike the countless books I have on how to speak and write Japanese, none of them broach the topic of how to use the restroom in Japanese. So far, I just cross my fingers and hope to get the bidet toilet. I motion to the people behind me in line that if they want the ceramic hole in the floor they are free to have it. However, sometimes there isn’t one to be had or I simply cannot wait, but when I am lucky enough to get one I cheer, Yay! Yay! I got the bidet! But even this bidet doesn’t look like its French counterpart. (Which on a side note, I also never could determine how to use the bidet in my French apartment for anything other than washing my socks in. Obviously I fail in cross-cultural restrooms or WCs as they are know outside the U.S.)

This Japanese bidet is a normal looking toilet but with lots of exciting looking buttons that spray water on your private bits. There is a dial to control the water pressure, usually several buttons to aim the spray in various directions, and one button I haven’t tried yet that looks to me like it might play some music to go along with the flushing. Seriously, it has a music note pictured on it. More research will need to be conducted. The part I do like is the heated seat, which is very nice considering the schools I work out only heat the teacher’s room. That’s right, it’s December and there is no heat.

And during one particularly cold morning this week, I discovered why fancy technologically advanced toilets are side by side squat toilets – the fancy pants toilets must be expensive. Most organizations can’t or won’t put out the money for more than one. And since no one wants to sit down on an unheated toilet seat in the dead of winter, why not squat? People have been doing it for centuries. There is one lone regular American looking toilet (as in no heated seat) at one of my schools and with a loud yelp I had this epiphany. Suddenly for the first time I thought maybe I should have picked the ceramic hole in the floor.

Except that I didn’t want to teach my first graders having peed on my pants. Although if anyone were to understand they probably would.

Men have it so easy.

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