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.


Don’t Fight A Cold, Embrace It

I felt like Helena Bonham Carter‘s The Red Queen when I awoke this morning – head tripled in size, pale as a mime, yelling “off with their head!”  It would’ve been funny if I didn’t feel so under the weather.  Where did that saying come from anyway? As if there’s a hovering, dark cloud I’m crouching beneath…

Well, it seems that cloud has been ominously harboring an occasional cough, lurking…stalking…waiting for just the right moment… and now it’s invited some rascally friends over:  sneezey, wheezy, runny, and headache-y.  I feel like an Alka-Seltzer commercial, or one of the Seven Dwarves.

So what, you say?  It’s December.  But I’m not one of those who, when this time of year rolls around says “I always get sick when this time of year rolls around.”   In fact, I don’t get sick anymore, at least not in that bronchial infection-sore throat-winter blues kind of way.  Rather, since I purged the bad habits of my life, like smoking, drinking to excess, dating emotional vampires, and working 65 hours a week, I’ve been respiratorily fit.  I could make out with a phlegm-friendly, Keflex-popping, walking pneumonia patient and saunter away sniffle-free.  Luckily, my immune system is currently respecting my lack of health insurance, and for that, I am grateful.  So what’s with my Big Head Todd and the Monsters?

Well, apparently even a downsized life adjusts relative to its environment.  Less affects me more now.  I’m like the princess and the pea and DAMN that pea is a bruiser!  So what’s my strategy?  Don’t fight it, embrace it.  And stop with the fairy tale metaphors.

First thing, I hydrate incessantly – water, tea, cider, and no coffee, thankyouverymuch. There’s cups of Yogi tea and OJ in progress on practically every flat surface and I hope I don’t capsize, I’m sloshing around so much.

Second, I check my trusty Louise Hay mini-tome, Heal Your Body, hands down the most thumbed-through book on my shelf.  (Buy it.  Read it.  You’ll thank me later.)  According to the guru of metaphysical therapy, I’ve got too much going on;  I’m disordered.  Maine to Connecticut to Manhattan to Brooklyn back to Connecticut to upstate New York to Connecticut back to Maine.  What?!?

What I need is a break, both geographically and creatively – it’s not just my engine that’s been thrown full-throttle, but my imagination has been working overtime, too, hence my body’s message to climb back into bed…




Third, the hug:  a deep appreciation for my body’s wisdom, even though I mostly overlooked it ’til now.  If I didn’t hit the brakes, I’d be like Wile E. Coyote, splat up against the painted boulder.  Who wouldn’t choose a cuddle over a crash and burn?

Now the Rx:  supplements.  Airborne, Vitamin C, zinc… and just because Echinacea hasn’t run the FDA gauntlet successfully doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work.  Put that in your cauldron and stir it.  Can you say, at the very least, P-L-A-C-E-B-O?

Finally, I focus on all those beautiful, healthy parts of me.  Remember how your mom said if you kept making that face, it would stay that way?  She was right.  So I stop making that ugly, can’t-you-see-I-feel-like-crap face and begin marvelling at those new muscles I’m getting from yoga, and how strangely enough, my hair looks shiny and smooth today.

Wouldn’t ya know it?  I feel better already.

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