My fascination with Japanese toilets originates from three sources:
(1) Firstly, I have a sincere and deep interest in plumbing that goes back to my childhood when I demanded my parents flush the toilet repeatedly so I could hear which pipe the water ran through by hanging out the upstairs window.
[Take home message: scientific pursuits always ought to involve adult supervision.]
It's also an inhereditary fascination since my brother once lost his pre-school pants-on-wheels race by stopping mid-track to look down a drain.
(2) Japanese toilets are genuinely object of wonder. These porcelain body waste cups come in the exciting duel variety of (a) super futuristic with more buttons than your average flight control deck or (b) an upgrade from a shovel only because you don't actually have to dig the hole yourself. It's a risk with every visit.
Plus, I won a travel writing competition discussing their features which just fuelled the obsession.
(3) I suffer from irritable bowel syndrome which results in me spending some serious quality time appreciating such facilities.
It was the result of (3) that found me scampering from my Japanese class into the (mercifully opposite) restroom this lunchtime. This wasn't wholly unexpected, since I had my period which tends to trigger the IBS with spasms in the smooth stomach muscles. The result is a diarrhetic mix of mucus, blood and excrement.
Hello new readers! Please, shake my hand.
As I was sitting there, fantasising about hysterectomies, my eyes fell upon the toilet control panel. In these cubicles, the options were a modest two choices for the bidet (weak or strong water jet), a music button for the fake flushing sound (with associated volume controls) and a stop button.
I hit the stop button optimistically. No change in the current situation. Well, it was worth a go.
I then eyed the bidet functions. Normally, I left those well alone since the icon was enough to cause deep concern; on the stronger water flow button, a pair of bare buttocks were being lifted physically into the air on the top of a geyser. However, at this precise moment I really wanted a full-on shower and this was probably as close as I could get without inserting myself into the toilet.
… briefly tempting, but I do know what just went in there.
I pressed the button for the weaker spray.
Then immediately realised that every single person in the restroom was going to know all about it as the sound reverberated off the walls of the cubicle.
THIS PERSON IS WASHING THEIR BOTTOM! MY, THEY MUST BE FILTHY!
I jammed my finger first on the 'stop' button and then on the 'music' button. The water jet sounds were replaced by ones of fake flushing. This sounded even worse:
NOW THEY'RE DOING SOMETHING SO DISGUSTING, THEY MUST DISGUISE THEIR ACTIONS!
In a normal Japanese restroom, this would be less of an issue since many patrons would be likewise using the music button to cover up their natural bodily functions. However, I was in the International Student Centre, where typically people don't care about such things.
Except right now, I was caring a lot.
I tried the 'stop' button again. It had no effect. I tried pressing the 'music' button a second time. Nothing. In the end, I turned down the volume to a low level tinkle.
Then I stayed stock still for 10 minutes until everyone left, before putting on a falsely calm face and exiting the cubicle. Thoughts about hysterectomies had been replaced by considerations of the minimum acceptable excuse to wear incontinence pads.