In addition to keeping my friends and family up to date on the happenings in my life, I figured it would also be good for me to present some of the cultural differences that make this such a unique place to live. Of course writing something like this may have seemed more appropriate around the time that I first arrived in the country and was still getting used to it all, but that just didn’t happen. At least now that I’ve had more time to understand the ‘whys’ of what they do a bit more, perhaps I can shed a better light on it all. Anyway, this first edition wont require much of an anthropological eye, as its is just comparing the differences between Japanese and Western methods of washing and defecating.
The process of getting clean in Japan is rather different from back home. Here, people wash themselves with a shower, and often while sitting on a low stool. Upon completion, the westerner would simply get out and towel off, but the Japanese person then gets into the bathtub. Taking a bath in Japan is for warmth and relaxation rather than getting clean. All members of a family share the same bathwater, which isn’t as bad as it sounds considering they already done the full scrub down by the time they get in. Think about any situation where you get in a public hot tub, and just imagine all the unclean people you share it with throughout the day. While the idea of basking in my brother’s butt water doesn’t really appeal, its just not like that. Even having remnants of soap on your body as you get in would be seen as a bit rude. Interestingly, the father would have first claim to the tub and then it goes on down the line according to age, but if a guest were to be present, they would have the honors of first dip.
Here you can see the shower and tub in an ordinary home. The tub is a but shorter, but much deeper. Never mind the guy in it.
One of the things that also separates a Japanese and Western lavatory is the location of it. In the home, a Japanese toilet is located in a separate room and wont have a sink near it. Instead, one can just rinse their hands from the faucet affixed to the top of the tank that runs after every flush. One of the greatest differences is in fact the toilet itself. The thrones here are actually worthy of such a title and are equipped with buttons and features galore.
Does this intimidate you?
The one in my house is pretty basic, offering only a heated seat and the option for a large or small flush depending on the contents of the bowl (great idea). The toilet at a restaurant or store would almost undoubtedly also have such features as bidet and rinse nozzles (with water pressure and temperature control of course), warm air to dry you, air freshener, and either a flush or soothing sound to mask the potentially embarrassing first moments after sitting down. Of course, if you need it you can always go on and hit the appropriate button to enjoy your veil of secrecy.
For all of the wonderful toilets here in Japan, there are equally as many that are just an Asian style squatter. These require a bit more effort than just plopping down but are more ergonomic than their chair-type counterparts. Some people are fine with them, but I’ve never really taken to them and generally only use them when there is no better option. These certainly are not only in Japan though, and can be found all over Asia. One of my all time favorite was one on a Chinese train that offered a direct view of the tracks below.
I included a how-to for those of you who would otherwise be defeated by this contraption.
Other things that are a bit different from home yet common here are folded toilet paper and bathroom slippers. The logic behind the first is that it looks nicer, that’s all. Obviously it is a one time use before it needs to be done again, but you would be amazed at how often you enter and find it like this. While the simple triangle is most common, I’ve seen a book of toilet paper origami showing off such works of art as a bow or a rose. As for the slippers, this is just to promote better hygiene. In situations where people are wearing slippers around a school, house or wherever, these are offered so that you don’t track the bathroom germs back with you. One last instance of Japanese bathrooms fitting the needs of their society is that most urinals will have an umbrella hook while your hands are occupied.
Sadly, that is all I have to say about Japanese bathrooms and I hope you were able to learn a thing or two about this daily routine. There are a couple more of these uniquely Japanese spins on what we would call ordinary life that I would still like to document in the future. I’ll do my best to slip them in between the other events that busy my life.