Lifestyles: Flush and Go
Japan Offers a Third Way
multi-ethnic Asian societies, like those in Singapore and Malaysia,
a certain paper v. hand debate can be a quite serious
point of contention -even if not immediately apparent to a western
visitor simply there on business or holiday.
To take Singapore,
for example, among the locals three major ethnic groups, the Chinese
fall into the paper camp, and the Malays and Indians both
fall into the hand faction.
In the larger scope of things, this paper v. hand issue is just a manifestation
of friction that can and does crop up between the differing cultures
co-existing in that tiny city-state. But its a manifestation that
can be taken quite seriously by said locals. When gauging somebody new,
Ive heard that whether a subject uses paper, or their hand, can
be taken into consideration along with other standard social metrics
such as job, religion, bloodlines, etc.. Ive read about inter-racial
weddings that have been called off because either bride or groom refused
to adapt to the ways of the significant others family.
What Im talking about, of course, is by which method one tidies
up oneself after a
bowel movement. And therein lies the rub.
Now, most dear readers of this fine webzine who are used to sampling
the first-hand travel accounts from all across the globe will probably
not need this following primer. But if you are like I was in the summer
of 1988, when I first set foot in Thailand oblivious to a certain
hygienic practice of close to two billion of the worlds people-
then please know that the Thais, as well as most Malays, Indonesians,
Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Arabs, and black Muslims I
dont know about Christian Africans- of both northern and sub-Saharan
Africa, clean their butts with their bare hands after nature has called.
(And now you know why the Thais always smile so much. Especially after
they just shook your hand.)
However, as an Australian lady-friend of mine who traveled throughout
Indian put it to me:
"But in India, they always have lots of water nearby. And you dont
use a wiping motion. You flush. Using lots of
water. Actually, when you think about it (cleaning yourself with your
hand), its actually a lot more sanitary than just wiping yourself
with toilet paper like we do."
And though I prefer not to, when I do think about it, just wiping away
what you can and leaving what you cannot just sort of smeared about,
is nothing for us paper users to be particularly smug about culturally
So it is now that, here from my perch in Tokyo, I would like to offer
a third way, and wish that this proposal may go a long ways towards
fostering world racial harmony. Heres hoping to an end to this
war between civilations being fought on(or in) the rear front. Privy
to the customs and mores of Japan, allow me to explain (though not demonstrate)
just how it is the Japanese address this tickler of a problem that has
been known to tear nuptial ceremonies apart.
For, leave it to the Japanese to spy an economic opportunity and come
up with some techno-gadget to exploit it. Actually, I was surprised
to learn that the Japanese developed this technology back in the 1950s.
And per usual, they cleverly were adapting and building upon the invention
of somebody else; in this case, the French. (The French? Innovative??
Hey, dont pooh-pooh it.) But whencesoever the technology, what
matters is that for the last decade the majority of households in Japan
now boast of a nifty little convenience called a washlet
in lieu of a loo. Slowly, more and more public facilities are beginning
to sport them as well, though standard western thrones,
along with traditional Japanese porcelain holes in the floor that you
must squat over are still very much in operation.
Perhaps, in another writers report from Japan, you have read about
washlets. Its an all-in-one toilet seat unit with
special built-in mechanical features based on a bidet. Almost every
scrivner who encounters a washlet usually ends up putting that encounter
into writing. I cant recall my own first episode with a washlet,
and Ive been using one daily since I having it installed in my
home few years back. But heres an account of what to expect with
a typical "washlet experience".
completing your business at the toilet, you remain seated as you
were, and press a button on a panel located along side your right
thigh. This activates the movement of a small, discreet tube that
slides into place a few centimeters below your derriere. The tube
then shoot jets of preheated warm water up into your exposed surfaces
and apertures. Shifting your booty around in a slight and gentle
boogie ensures that every last nook and cranny gets the treatment.
And for the ladies, a separate (usually pink) button activates a
separate tube with jets that moves into a different position and
angle for servicing a very important place about which men dont
have to concern themselves (but spend their lifestimes doing so
either of the above functions is performed to the satisfaction of seats
occupant, a third function the warm air dryer- can then be activated.
From somewhere in the nether regions of the
washlet apparatus, gusts of heated air are emitted and blow dry your
own freshly cleaned nether regions. Contrary to my earliest apprehensions,
by the way, there is no resultant chapping. Before dethroning, you may
then dab with toilet paper should a few remaining droplets of water
Im sold on washlets. Upon returning to the U.S. someday, Ill
have them installed on my toilets there as well. Even if I have to bring
them back with me from Japan. (Specialty retailers offer them stateside
for $500 to $700. But a good one can be picked up in Japan for $200.)
And I believe all the rest of the world should be converted to way
of the washlet. No more paper versus hand handwringing.
No more cultural wars. Paper-scorning Islamist Osama Bin Laden and born-again
Christian, Charmin-squeezing George Bush -infidels both. Brethren, mend
your ways. Open yourselves up to the third way. The way of the washlet.
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