3 Jun 2010

Toilet Humour

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. 1 Corinthians 12:22-24a

Any traveller worth his backpack will have his own share of toilet tales to recount. These are the stories that are humiliating in the extreme at the time, but you dine out on them for years to come.

As a lemming, I have many.

There was this toilet throne in Malaysia - up three flights of stairs - from which you could survey your kingdom. My, that was a classy one. Only problem was, you couldn't lock the door. There is no propping the door shut with your foot from up there. Think about it. Despite appearances, it doesn't flush. You dip water from that box on the left, the mandi, with a scoop and just pour it down. Works pretty well, actually. You wash your hands with mandi water too. Later, you use the same method to bathe. But I digress. We're on toilets here.

Then there was this one. In Vietnam. Now I've used my share of squat loos throughout Asia. Generally they're more hygienic than the sit-on style, and I vastly prefer them. I can't help but wonder whether they've forgotten something here, though... Um, like the holes?

I couldn't bring myself to take a photo of the toilet in Bhutan. The squat one where the pile of...um...er...your know...reached so high that squatting was a physical impossibility. So what do you do, girls? Stand?

Wait! There's more! There was the one in Borneo. The one over the river. Yes, the river. The same one that you showered in. And cooked with water from. And drank. When you scooped water you had to watch for floating...ummm...oh never mind. Yes, there was that one.

Ah, of course. The one in South-west China. There was just a room there. Four walls, a door and a concrete floor. Nothing else. There are times when all you want is a nice clean bush to go behind...

Then there are the toilets in Japan. Some of them - the old Japanese style ones - are the squat type. Pretty okay, most of them, provided you remember to face the plumbing. In most of the rest of Asia you face away. Apart from that, all you need to remember is the toilet paper. Most Westerners find it kinda essential. I do, anyhow, especially after I ran out in Borneo.

I didn't take this photo. I found it here. This nice specimen even has loo paper. In a pretty pink holder. A double-decker variety, no less. The bin is for the used paper. You do not, I repeat, do not flush it down the bowl. Glad it isn't my job to empty the bin.

The other type of toilet in Japan is the Western type. Only it is quite unlike the loo in any Western country I've ever visited. You can catch hubby's video of our toilet here. What WAS he thinking of, videoing the toilet? I am quite aghast!

At least he didn't film someone demonstrating... This is our fifth trip to Japan (I think), but there have been significant advances in Washlets since our last visit.


This model had the following features:

  • Automatic, hands-free flushing system
  • Sensor-activated lid that automatically lifts as you approach the toilet and lowers as you walk away.
  • Soft-close toilet lid that closes automatically after flushing
  • Auto flush activated by Sensors or the Simple Touch of a Button
  • Gentle Aerated Warm Water
  • Front and Rear Washing
  • Vibrating spray nozzles
  • Pulsating cleansing mode
  • Warm air drying with variable temperature setting
  • Automatic fan to remove smells
  • Sound muffler with variable volume
  • Heated seat with temperature control
Interestingly, having viewed the video, the clever toilet operates differently depending on whether you approach it front forward, in which case lid and seat rise together as shown, or back first, in which case only the seat rises. How clever is that?!!

Despite the advanced features, the toilet is somewhat incomprehensible to poor gaikokujin, since the controls are written only in Japanese kanji characters. It is hard enough sometimes to get the thing to actually flush, let alone wash, condition, dry and curl your bits for you. I am afraid I was known to dart quickly from some public toilets without flushing, only hoping that it was one of the self flushing models available. Another time I left with the sound of a quickly flowing waterfall emanating from the cubicle, the result of too much curious random button pressing.

It seems though that these new-fangled toilets confuse more than just we foreigners. Prize for the fanciest toilet must go to the Okamoto Keiyaku Reformed Presbyterian Church in Kobe, which has three buttons for every function I have seen elsewhere. The instructions - in Japanese only take up two A5 pages and are pinned alongside the wall mounted computer. It was all that I could manage to flush this beauty, but I'm sure the other buttons were not just there to look pretty.

So there you have it.


Amazing what you'll find when you visit A Peaceful Day isn't it?

To raise the tone marginally, I leave you with a literary quote. On toilets. It's from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. More on this book in coming posts. Have a read:
The paper at Monsier Ozu's abode - thick, soft, gentle and delicately perfumed - is there to lavish respect upon a part of the body that, more than any other, is partial to such respect. How much for one roll? I wonder, as I press the middle flush button, which is crossed with two lotus flowers; my tiny bladder, despite its lack of autonomy, can hold a fair amount. One lotus flower seems a bit skimpy, three would be narcissistic.

And then something dreadful happens.

A monstrous racket assails my ears, practically striking me down on the spot. What is terrifying is that I cannot tell where it is coming from. It is not the flush, I cannot even hear the flush, it is coming from above me and right down upon me. My heart is beating wildly... ...Did I press the wrong button, misjudging the amount produced — such presumptuousness, such pride, Renée, two lotus flowers for such a ridiculous contribution — and consequently I am being punished by the earsplitting thunder of divine justice? Am I guilty of overindulging - of luxuriating - in the voluptiousness of the act...? Have my lumpen manual laborer’s fingers, succumbing to the effect of some unconscious wrath, abused the subtle mechanism of the lotus button, thereby unleashing a cataclysm in the plumbing that threatens the entire fourth floor with seismic collapse?…

I am convinced I have gone mad, or have arrived in heaven, because the unholy racket, indistinguishable thus far, now becomes clearer and, unthinkably, sounds not unlike Mozart.

Sounds, in fact, like the Confutatis in Mozart’s Requiem. Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis!

I am hearing beautiful…. voices.

I have gone mad.


  1. Ewww. That's gross! But funny. :)

  2. Oh, you really, really are a brave woman! I've never even considered the difference in toilets around the world...my children will be thanking the Lord for their very simple and clean toilet even more after I show them your post. :) Thanks for the info. and the chuckles.

  3. this is HILARIOUS. I can very much sympathize since these types of sordid toilets that you have so graciously pictured for us are my EVERYDAY occurences. :) Of course, only the toilet paper bin is really *everyday*, the rest are only if I go to someone else's house...


    well, then again I can only dream of such a deluxe toilet as the newly discovered one. I'd be confused, lost and probably wet by the time I was done...


    thanks for the grins,
    amy in peru

  4. lol. As you say, any traveller dines out for years on their toilet experiences. My Dearest ran into one in France exactly as you describe your Bhutan one & he always wondered how the last person made their deposit! lol I giggled my way through this, having had similar [& dare I say worse] experiences. I dare say I'm not the first western traveller to travel with a little trowel & a roll of nice toilet paper!

  5. Oh, Jeanne, I should not have read this post while eating breakfast!

  6. Even before I got to the end of your post, I had thought about Muriel's toilet, I enjoyed the book and that part was particularly funny.

    This was very interesting and entertaining! We have stories too, but the Asian toilets beat ours so far! (The funnier is the Russian toilet, a wooden hole, with paper that was could be found in a hardware store. I didn't know if you were supposed to sand the toilet or clean yourself).

  7. I reckon the u-beaut Jananese model is on its way to Oz. Just recently there was a lot of media/ advertising about the woman who took out a bill board ad threatening to leave her hubby if he persisted in leaving the seat up. Many guessed that it was all an advertising stunt in preparation for the introduction of these sensor loos.
    Who said the thunderbox is dead, eh?
    Best Aussie dunny I have seen was a double throne! Yes, a two seater side by side in tha little out house on a property where one of my friends went to live. Classic. We sat on it but not in use at the time!

  8. Having been in Southern Africa for a few years, then to Ukraine, to our own State Parks and even in UK I've seen my share of "interesting" water closets--the throne one is really special!! My personal "favorite" is the women in southern African can "relieve" themselves standing stock still with a chitinje [sarang] neatly wrapped around their waist, smiling as though nothing was happening!!

  9. Oh, Jeanne, this post made me so glad that I chose to fixate on Japan, rather than some other Asian country. Whew!

    I am also glad to be the bearer of good news. Next time you're in Japan, go ahead and flush the paper down the squatty-potty. I have never ever heard anyone say that you shouldn't, and have been doing it for more than 15 years. The bin next to the toilet is for other "unflushable" feminine garbage, I believe.

  10. When I went to Japan 15 years ago, I came across one of hese amazing loos at the airport. As you say, there was no clue as to what each button did and I was curious. I stood over it trying out the buttons and ended up with an unstoppable spray of water absolutely drenching me... it took a while to stop giggling from that one, I can tell you!

    And a bit closer to home, one of the things I fell in love with when we found our present home was that it has a Victorian blue and white porcelain WC with The Deluge written inside it in large letters!

  11. Oh, this made me laugh. And say "eeewww" a few times. I have not traveled enough to have experienced any of these sorts of toilets, so I enjoyed this chance to live vicariously through you. (Although some I think I'd rather skip!)

  12. I'm coming over from Amy in Peru's place, and let me tell you, I feel so much smarter now. Thank you for educating me. ;)


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