When it comes to toileting habits, the world is divided into two groups: water cultures and paper cultures. Each clan is convinced their way is best, but the intercultural mantra of “there’s no right or wrong, just different,” fails in this case: in the sanitary sweepstakes, water cultures are the clear winners.
In The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (yes, this is what I read in my spare time), Rose George writes: “Using toilet paper to clean yourself down there makes about as much hygienic sense as cleaning yourself with a towel and imagining you’re rubbing off the dirt.”
Muslims have known this for centuries, as I recently wrote in The Lota Position. There’s still hope for the paper-wielders among us, though. We only have to look at the Japanese, who a scant 200 years ago were still using paper or [shudder] sticks to clean themselves. They’ve since undergone what George calls a “toilet revolution,” renouncing their paper-centric ways and zealously embracing the joys of the post-excretory wash.
About 15 years ago, when Chef Boyardee returned from his first trip to Japan, he told me wondrous stories about the toilets there. Japanese commodes, he sighed, had heated seats, a built-in spray for washing your nether regions, and a booty blow dryer that didn’t chafe your delicate skin. I thought he was pulling my leg, but he was deadly serious. “If we had a toilet like that,” he said with a fanatical gleam in his eye, “I’d put a bar fridge and a small TV in the bathroom, and I’d never come out.”
Happily for my marriage, we don’t have a toilet like that. We’re in good company: most North Americans have probably never heard of the Washlet brand toilet that stole my husband’s heart. But in Japan, it’s a sanitary staple: 72% of households have at least one.
They’ve evolved since Chef Boyardee’s maiden voyage, and now require a remote control to handle all the options. In addition to “anal and genital cleansing jets,” air dryers, and heated seats, some models also boast:
- air conditioned seats for the hot summer months,
- automatic spritzing of deodorizing spray,
- glow-in-the-dark strips that ensure you won’t get lost in the dark (I’m guessing this feature is especially useful after a night of carousing),
- motion detection sensors that obligingly raise the lid and seat if you’re facing the toilet, or just the lid if you’re facing the other way,
- a sound system that plays classical music to relax the sphincter, plus music (or old-school flushing sounds for the purists) to mask any less-than-delicate noises that might otherwise spoil the Zen-like ambiance, and
- medical sensors that check your pulse, blood pressure and body fat percentage, and even analyze your urine to determine your blood sugar level.
Well! All that’s missing is a foot massage and complimentary cocktail. I’m tempted to run out and buy one of these beauties, but I think I’ll wait. Surely Apple will one day figure out how to add these features to the iPhone. Bum wash and blood pressure check? Yep, there’ll be an app for that.