The Japanese may not have created the car, but they certainly made it better. They didn’t make the television either, but they certainly “own it” when it comes to the number of brands out there bearing Japanese names. Should it be any surprise then that they would continue to make improvements to many western inventions? You’d think so wouldn’t you? And yet even I was probably blown away by a simple invention that we all take for granted.
So picture it, Honshu 2006. You had a seventeen hour flight, two hours with immigration and customs, a five hour bus ride and a fourteen hour time difference to get used to. It’s your first day in your new apartment and you struggle around, bumping into everything, before you finally find it, the most important room in the house.
It’s your reading room, your getaway from it all room, your “I badly need to relieve myself after all that time on the bus” room, yep, your favorite and mine, the Bathroom. You step in and the lid of the toilet rises up by itself. You stand there with a perplexed look on your face. “Did that toilet lid just go up by itself?” you ask. The toilet looks at you fixedly. “So number one or number two?” it asks.
This time it’s your turn to stare “I know you didn’t just talk did you?” you ask the toilet. The toilet fixes you with another stare. An uncomfortable silence descends and your bladder, at least momentarily is forgotten. “So number one or number two it asks again?”
The silence resumes. Sighing the toilet flickers its handle back and forth. “Don’t have many state-of- the-art toilets where you come from, do you?” it asks. “No, not many.” you reply grudgingly. The toilet looks on airily “Thought so” it says, “So uh. look buddy you got to go, or what? Time is money, you know?” You nod in agreement; you’ve pretty much been getting that since you stepped off the plane. “Tell you what,” the toilet says in its most patient voice “why don’t you grab a seat and we can get to know each other a little better.” You nod acquiescence, after thirty plus hours without sleep, the thought of a talking toilet doesn’t seem so far fetched.
“So” the toilet says, “come here often?” You begin to get up and the toilet apologies. “Sorry” it says. “that was a little toilet humor.” And then proceeds to laugh uproariously at its own joke. “Look you,” you say, “I’ve just been traveling for the better part of two days and the last thing I need is a toilet with a dirty mouth.” The toilet looks up at you with what is clearly bad taste.
This time it’s your turn to apologize “Sorry.” You mumble. The toilet decides to let that one slide. Trying to avoid another embarrassing silence you point to control panel fixed to the wall. “What’s all this for?” you ask. Beaming with pride, the toilet explains that that is its control panel. You nod as if the sight of a toilet with a control panel is an everyday occurrence. “So what does that knob do?” you ask in all innocence.
This is clearly too much for my ceramic friend, who barely stifling a laugh just manages to say “If you haven’t figured that one out yet buddy, then I certainly can’t help you.” before bursting out into loud braying laughter. You begin to get up and the toilet hurriedly apologies again. “Sorry.” it says “I couldn’t resist that one.”
Grimly you press on “The knob, if you please?” You ask again. Struggling to maintain its calm, “That,” the toilet intones “is there to control the heat of the seat.” A self warming toilet, you think. “You mean, your seat is an ass warmer?” you ask.
The toilet looks at you as if it’s convinced you’re brain-damaged. “Have you ever tried going to the bathroom in an unheated apartment, in the middle of a snow storm?” It asks. “Point taken.” You reply “So the apartment is unheated?” you ask. The toilet shrugs and suggests that you “talk to the air conditioner.”
Clearly the two do not get along, you think. Seeking to avoid another incident, both you and the toilet generously skip the comment about the AC. “So what does that button do?” you ask pointing at the first in a long series of buttons. “See those two cheeks printed on the button there?” the toilet asks all business like “notice the jet of water coming up between them?” “Aahhh” you reply. “Yep” the toilet nods. “Well what about that other button there?” you ask. “You’re not a girl are you?” the toilet asks serenely. “Ahhh” you reply. “Yep” the toilet agrees. “And that button there?” you ask. “Urine analysis”, the toilet replies “And that one?” you ask in increasing amazement, the toilet seems to contemplate how best to answer “That one is a massager.” It says finally. “You’re kidding, right?” you ask incredulously. “Would I kid you about a thing like that?” the toilet asks.
“And how about that one?” you ask “Ahhhh that’s the blow dryer.” Now you’re sure you’ve heard everything. “You mean you can blow dry someone’s ass.” You ask. “Of course.” the toilet responds as if speaking to a small child. “If you wash it, you got to dry it.” It says. “Naturally.” you say conceding defeat, “Surely there is nothing now that can top a blow dryer and an ass massager.” you say exasperatedly pointing to the last button in the row. “Aaaahhhh that one.” The toilet says with obvious relish “That’s one of my most popular features.” It says proudly “you press that button if you need to mask any unflattering noises.”
Seeing my skeptical reaction, the toilet explains. “Look the Japanese are very fussy about making toilet sounds, especially peeing.”
Seeing my look of incredulity the toilet continues, “You see Japanese women hated the thought of any one hearing them when they went, so they used to flush the toilet continuously to hide the sound. So to save water they came up with this feature.” A stunned silence descends while I digest this bit of information. Finally the toilet suggests I try it. I do. The seat emits a whirring noise and produces a nozzle which shoots a forceful jet of water directly into the bowl; the sound it makes is not unlike the kind one might find at a small waterfall. “Cool, huh” It says. Yes I nod in agreement.
Noticing for the first time that the toilet is also plugged directly into the wall I ask erroneously “So have you ever electrocuted anyone?” the toilet looks up, genuinely peeved. “If you have no other questions and nothing else to do, I suggest you leave.” Realizing my mistake I put my foot in even further by saying “I mean you know it’s just that people say water and electricity aren’t exactly good friends?” The toilet ignores me pointedly. Sighing I get up and head into the living room, where the air conditioner asks “Rough day?” “Yes,” I nod. “You don’t know the half of it.”
The air conditioner wags its vents up and down “Met the toilet I see?” it says. “Would you mind if we don’t go into this right now” I ask “it’s been a really long day.” Offended the air conditioner closes up and falls into silence. Not wishing to offend anything else, I gracelessly make it to my bedroom, where I lapse into a fifteen hour long dream, consisting of talking appliances. It is only when the microwave begins its monologue about do’s and don’ts that I wake up.
Making my way tentatively to the bathroom, I see the toilet seat rise up by itself. “You didn’t just get up by yourself did you?” I ask quietly, I am greeted with silence. “Is it that you’re not speaking to me because you’re offended or is it that you just can’t speak?” I ask timidly, more silence. Relived I take care of business surprising myself with my knowledge of the workings of the control panel attached to the wall.
My business finished I grab a towel and head to the shower, all the while berating myself for having eaten those pickles with peanut butter and ice cream shortly before going to bed “Talking appliances indeed” I say scolding myself. Still you have to say something for a country that makes a toilet seat that keeps your ass warm in winter. “No wonder this country is a world power.” I say in the shower. “You’re damn right!” The shower agrees vociferously. “So what kind of water would you prefer for your shower?” It asks “Hot or cold water?”
Rico-san is a Jamaican English teacher, adventurer, and book lover touring Japan.