Toilets – Knowledge is Bliss!
I went toilet hunting yesterday. I had a list of public toilets to visit spread across a few kilometers of Tokyo’s west.
At one point I couldn’t locate a toilet that was meant to be in a particular area so I went to a local police box for help. In Japan police boxes have very detailed local maps as most streets have no names and people often need help finding their destination.
I gave the policeman the address of the toilet, only to be told the address didn’t actually exist. It seemed there had been a misprint on my information.
A dilemma. Where was the toilet I was looking for?
The policeman didn’t understand the nature of my quest, so quite reasonably asked me “Do you need a toilet?”.
“Not just any toilet”, I replied. “I need this toilet. It’s a special toilet“.
There followed a very interesting pause, in which I could feel the question palpably hanging in the air. But of course he wouldn’t ask. And I didn’t tell.
an abundance of information
Toilets are big in Japan. Not physically big; big in popularity. Japanese society is incredibly concerned with cleanliness and hygiene and perhaps as a consequence has developed the most technologically advanced toilets in the world.
Furthermore, because this is a country where public property is respected and nearly always beautifully maintained, one often finds such high-tech toilets in public places, spotlessly clean and inviting.
Heated seats, automatic flushing systems, bidets with temperature-controlled water, music, designer decor – it’s quite common to find such things in the conveniences.
This is a far cry from almost every other country where public conveniences are generally to be avoided, even in emergencies. I grew up in countries where the words “public toilet” are synonymous with filth, graffiti, obnoxious smells, dirt, darkness, discomfort, hard surfaces, vandalism and often danger. They’re places of trepidation and uncertainty, not comfort and relaxation.
But in Japan nice toilets are available almost everywhere – department stores have them on every floor, train stations, parks, any large shops. And most conveniently of all, all convenience stores have them for the public to freely use.
With toilets such an integral part of the culture, there is a great deal of information, many related products and (of course) toilet-related characters.
In this previous post I documented one such product.
Other products include training videos with typically cute smiling characters.
The Hajimete no Toire* series makes going to the toilet fun, and features Toire-chan, a happy toilet character:
* (“toire”, pronounced like “toilet”)
And now let’s go further! (subtitled)
There is also a great deal of public information out there, from the helpful advice to foreigners (picture below) to engineering information, again illustrated with cartoons for happy public consumption.
A Japanese-style toilet with instruction poster in English:
The wonderful world of toilet information
The reason I was searching public toilets yesterday? Seiko-chan and Mr. Claypipe present a “learn about toilets” campaign in a number of public toilets in the Shibuya area!
Seiko-chan and Dokan-kun’s toilet poster information – click to download
Here’s a fascinating page on the history of toilets in Japan:
Japanese toilet history – click to view
Here, Dokan-kun (dokan = “clay pipe”) explains sewerage systems with flash animation:
All about pipes! – click to view
And here you can download a special instruction booklet on how to make origami from the hanging roll of toilet paper next to you as you sit!
Toilet paper origami – download