Today’s Japanese culture class–toilets

A student mentioned that there should be some kind of instruction of Japanese cultural differences for kids studying abroad. So today I thought I’d post an old entry.

Original post: July 09, 2003

In class yesterday, we got on the subject of Japanese toilets. No, not those new fangled bidets, but the old fashion squatters. Some students were surprised to hear that they still existed. I had to tell them that the Japanese aversion to touching something dirty (of course this is not exclusively Japanese) promotes squatters at public venues such as train stations and department stores–if you squat, your booty really doesn’t touch anything, at least theoretically.

I told them there were a number of things involved, including bunching your pants around the knees. If you drop ’em to the ankles, you’ll crap into you pants. Also important is direction: most of us sit facing away from the wall. but if you do that on a squatter, there is no hood to catch the splatter when you piss–Yes, ladies, guys can take a leak and crap at the same time. Anyway, I should know about the splattering. I was squattin’ the wrong way and thinking, “how do I prevent this?” as I was trying to find a point on the inner wall that would offer the least amount of resistance to a stream of… never mind.

Speaking of direction: I’ve heard a couple of old stories about elderly Japanese who didn’t know how to use western toilets. One was amazed at American toilet ingenuity: a flat top to a tank so you can sit there–facing the wall–and peruse the magazines stacked there, or even maybe write a letter as you did your business. Once I went to a hot spring in the boonies, and discovered directions using stick figures on how to use western toilets. Laughing, I told my grandpa, and he told me in all seriousness that there once was someone who marvelled at “the balance that white people seemed to have.” “Huh?” “I stepped up onto the seat and tried to squat but it was slanted inward and I couldn’t keep my balance. I put the seat up, but the rim was so narrow, I could barely keep my balance. How do they do it?”

In case you’ve never been to Japan, don’t fret. Virtually all modern homes have western-style toilets. What you have to worry about is the bidets. But if think you’ll find yourself in a dorm or old housing, practice your catcher’s squat. It just takes practice. After a year or so, I even started to take the newspaper with me.