Recently I was asked for a holiday recommendation, to which I unhesitatingly responded: Asia. ”Ooh, nah, it’s hot and dirty there” was the reaction.
Our recent experiences in Japan proved the exact opposite. The first thing that strikes you as you speed into Tokyo on the high-speed train is how clean the place is. Crowded, yes, what do you expect if you cram 38 million into a city? But the houses are spotless and well-tended, no graffiti is to be seen, and the streets free of litter, chewing gum and dog souvenirs. They say they had to remove all the litter-bins after the sarin attack on the underground, but that alone cannot explain such cleanliness.
Most people have heard of removing your shoes when entering an Asian’s house. In Japan you shed your outside shoes and wear house slippers inside the threshold until you reach the living room and its bamboo mat with low table and chairs with the legs removed, or simply cushions to kneel on. The mat must not be sullied even with slippers – only socks or barefoot contact are permitted.
That is not all. If nature calls, you retire to the bathroom where you should wear toilet slippers so you do not soil the rest of the house with whatever you encounter on the floor in the bathroom.
For westerners, especially for the less nimble or after a few beers or sake, unobtrusively excusing yourself can be a challenge. Even if you wish just to blow your nose, you have to retire out of sight, so you might as well go the bathroom to avoid embarrassing your Japanese hosts. You struggle up from the floor or that low-slung chair, stagger to the edge of the mat, don your house slippers and proceed to the lavatory where, maintaining balance as well as you can as there are no chairs etc, you swap shoes as you enter.
Incidentally, the Japanese are so clean they wash themselves before getting into a bath…
The pièce de résistance, however, is the Japanese high-tech loo. As you open the bathroom door the lid opens automatically, beckoning you in. The first contact will surprise you with the warmth of the greeting: the seat is heated. You then admire the console with countless buttons and labelling usually just in Japanese. Fortunately there are a few symbols to guide the illiterate. All have a bidet and posterior function. You can adjust the direction and pressure of the jet of water directed at specific vital parts. Some loos offer temperature control, pulsating water, fan drying, deodorizer and even background music to cover embarrassing noises that may emanate. When your ablutions have been completed and you stand, the toilet flushes automatically and the lid shuts. I do not recommend experimenting while standing in front of the toilet: if the proximity sensors are not working you will have a free shower too.
What a shock it must be for Japanese tourists visiting the west!
- Japanese toilet: BCO