Japan circa 2006
I stare at the strange looking symbols with trepidation. Fear mixed with equal doses of excitement, is this the time I finally do it? Yes.
I gather up the courage and push what I believe to be the start button. There is a whirring noise then nothing, for an excruciating second I think I have made a terrible mistake. Then it happens, a gush of initially cool but then warm water blasts my rear end in surprisingly the correct spot. The sensation isn’t unpleasant but certainly unfamiliar and although I seemed to have correctly started the process, I am soon filled with the fear that I won’t be able to stop it.
I again stare intently at the Japanese characters hoping that one unlocks some forgotten part of my brain that will allow me to decipher the stop mechanism. The warm water continues to jet relentlessly. This newness of this experience and the increasing desire to make it end makes me reckless so I just guess and push another button. The water stops. I am unreasonably relieved. This too soon passes.
Another whirring sound puts me on high alert, the vulnerability of this position cannot be overstated. Suddenly another blast, this time of warm air. Although I made a mistake, the urgency to stop a flow of air is less than it was with the water so I take my time analysing the foreign symbols. A part of my brain unlocks, and I press the stop button. I’d done it, achievement unlocked, the boy became a man yadda yadda. Seven seconds.
That was my first true experience with a Japanese toilet seat, but my first ever encounter actually occurred nearly 6 years earlier.
Australia circa 2000
My girlfriend at the time lived with her brother. Having recently visited Japan he returned so enamored with their modern bathrooms that he brought home $800 of electronic rear end washing wizardry.
He spent the next few days wiring it up and adding the necessary plumbing (most seats of this type require power and access to a fresh water tap). It was a lot of work, for something that at the time I felt was frankly, stupid.
Although I probably sat on that seat more than a hundred times I never even once considered pushing the buttons. For whatever reason the idea of using water instead of paper to clean myself repelled me. When you added the uncomfortable just used feeling that the electronically heated seat gave, it wasn’t my favourite location.
I write all this to try and convey how disinterested in Japanese washlet toilets I was. So disinterested that it took 6 years and the pressure of experiencing Japanese Culture while on holiday for me to finally push the wash button.
Today the situation is completely different. For a variety of reasons I ended up spending a large amount of time from that first button push in Japan. I currently live in Tokyo and although I plan to soon return to Australia, I will never return to normal toilets.
So what happened to completely change my opinion on this matter?
Own one / Learn the controls, especially the Stop button.
Most likely when you first experience an washlet toilet you are in not in the comfort of your own home. With this comes the anxiety that if you do something wrong a very embarrassing situation could ensue. A Japanese model only adds to this anxiety, as not knowing how to stop it is the main problem.
When I moved into my apartment I had my own seat to experiment with. There is often a myriad of controls, for controlling everything you could want. From Water/Air temperature and pressure through to seat temperature and timing systems. Knowing that “Stop” will stop everything is crucial, as it allows you to experiment freely without fear.
It’s not just about using less paper.
Often I’ll read some spiel spouting the environmental benefits of using washlet toilets, claiming that you use substantially less paper. These claims are often countered by skeptics who argue that in their experience the wash cycle alone was not enough to… finish the job.
Using such a toilet effectively requires both the wash then the paper approach. They’re not mutually exclusive, it’s about getting the best (cleanest) result. First you blast it down with water, then you dry up with paper. (side note: I’ve found all “air dry” mechanisms to be far too slow in practice.)
As a friend once explained to me, in those times when you experience the perfect mess free evacuation, a Japanese toilet has little to offer over a normal western one. It is in tougher times, say the day after a junk food or beer binge where it will come to the fore. In those more challenging times it can be the difference between feeling refreshed, and immediately desiring a shower.
That warm seat.
This one is pure preference. Initially I couldn’t escape that uncomfortable just used sensation. But you can switch it off, I did that, then during the winter decided to re-enable it. Being in control of the situation has over time completely changed my perception. Now it actually feels really uncomfortable if a seat isn’t perfectly warm in a cold room.
I felt the need to write this down mainly because people often still have a look of disgust whenever it comes up in conversation (quite regularly with visitors from outside Japan). I too was once blind, but now I see. I’ll trot the regularly used (but no less true for it) example that if you were to get mud on your hand, would you use paper to wipe it off? Or rinse it with water?
I’m a convert and I think if you give it a real shot you probably will be laughing at Stallone too.
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