The Royal Flush

Design reigns supreme in Japan, and luxury design is as commonplace there as the mediocre is here in the States.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in a Japanese restaurant.  However, it’s not the interior architecture or the food styling to which I refer.  It’s the bathroom.

When I was opening Union Square Tokyo in Japan a few years back, I was fascinated by bathroom culture and design.  Our store didn’t have its own restroom, rather it was a shared commodity, with an anteroom and four stalls.  Sounds familiar, right?  But once I stepped into a stall, it was as if I ventured into the cockpit of a jet airliner:  all these buttons and levers and, of course, the unfamiliar Kanji characters (not, to me) explaining it all.  At least I thought I knew the basics:  sit down and let nature take its course.  But wait!  The  sensor alerts a mechanism to rotate the plastic liner on the seat before I sit down, which is slightly startling, and then once I do… Oh!  The seat’s warm.  You know that gross feeling you get when you sit on a public toilet, and it’s been warmed by the last person?  Your backside has just been IM’ed by the bare bum of a stranger.  Yuck.

That wasn’t the case, however – no one had been inside before I entered.  Then I keyed in on the display panel… who knew there were so many variations to relieve yourself?  I pushed several of the buttons, just to see what happened.  There were sound  options.  Odor options.  Temperature options.  To distract fellow stall-dwellers from any offending sounds or smells, I could make fake flushing sounds, at different volume levels (trickle, whoosh and Niagara Falls), and pick three degrees of deodorizer to scent the room.  The seat could be heated on a scale from room temperature up to ski-slope thaw.  And although I could practically bathe in the basin,  I was never bold enough to explore all the cleansing options.  I feared walking back into work with telltale signs of toilet water geysers gone mad.

Recently, I was reminded of my Japanese powder room explorations during my last visit to New York.  I was deciding whether to go high-end or low-end for lunch – a Shake Shack burger or the healthier sushi option.  The Upper West Side fast food line out the door swayed me –  to Gari – and I figured enough time had passed since my last raw fish dining mishap (laugh at my Empty Cup story).  Seated right away, I  decide to treat myself and order the omakase (chef’s choice) and a small carafe of junmai daiginjo sake.  Then, I ask for the ladies’ room.

In here I am instantly transported back, and this time I can actually read what each button is for.  As I lock the door behind me, I turn while the lid  rises automatically.  This is what’s so great about Nippon hygiene:  the seamless choreography of sanitation.  The lid self-rises, I can warm my chilled bum, gently shower my nether regions  – all with ease and discretion.  Of course, this is the scaled back US version and I feel slightly gypped.  I want the full, miso-soup-to-gingko-nut Tokyo experience, but I’ll either have to sell my car for airfare or settle for installing one of these modern contraptions in my own house someday, along with a Japanese soaking tub.

In the meantime,  you can vicariously experience the sheer bliss of bathing in Japan as I’ll soon share my hot springs in Hakone escapade.  The Japanese really know how to treat the naked body.

About these ads
Previous Post
Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. Cara

     /  10 December 2010

    I wonder if those toilets are good for those who fear going in public…would it just push them over the edge and keep them in their home bathrooms forever? Another good description of the Japanese toilet is in The Elegance of the Hedgehog. But knowing you were there randomly pressing buttons makes it real!

    Reply
    • Kellie

       /  10 December 2010

      You’re right – like we need another source of public anxiety :)
      (Now you got me wanting to reread Elegance… brilliant book.)

      Reply
  2. I used to have a japanese girlfriend, and I have several japanese friends, and I’ve heard of these for years from them. “Washables” I believe they call them. It’s this tantalizing experience that they talk about with this wistful look in their eyes… I almost bought one of these once, just so I could try it out… I couldn’t quite justify the expense though, especially since I don’t know how I would really feel about one of these…

    Reply
    • Galen ~
      You just may find yourself falling in love with them, if you’re, at all, a spa/luxury/hygiene/new experience kinda person. I’m ALL about the soaking tub, I must say. Way better than sliding down your back and trying to stay underwater in our shallow American tubs.
      KB

      Reply
  3. Would you allow me to run some of your articles in a paper publication I have. It is run quarterly and the next issue will be in June. I can not pay my writers but have a good group. If you will let me, send me your address and I will send you the next copy.

    Reply

Add your 2 cents!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 120 other followers

%d bloggers like this: