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Lifestyles: Flush and Go

Paper v. Hand?
Japan Offers a Third Way
J T Brown

In 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 local’s 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 it’s a manifestation that can be taken quite seriously by said locals. When gauging somebody new, I’ve 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.. I’ve read about inter-racial weddings that have been called off because either bride or groom refused to adapt to the ways of the significant other’s family.
What I’m 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 world’s people- then please know that the Thais, as well as most Malays, Indonesians, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Arabs, and black Muslims –I don’t 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 don’t use a ‘wiping motion’. You ‘flush’. Using lots of water. Actually, when you think about it (cleaning yourself with your hand), it’s 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 either.

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. Here’s 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 1950’s. And per usual, they cleverly were adapting and building upon the invention of somebody else; in this case, the French. (The French? Innovative?? Hey, don’t 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 writer’s report from Japan, you have read about ‘washlets’. It’s 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 can’t recall my own first episode with a washlet, and I’ve been using one daily since I having it installed in my home few years back. But here’s an account of what to expect with a typical "washlet experience".

After 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 don’t have to concern themselves (but spend their lifestimes doing so anyhow).

After either of the above functions is performed to the satisfaction of seat’s 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 disturb you.

I’m sold on washlets. Upon returning to the U.S. someday, I’ll 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.

JT Brown

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