Following his recent restroom reno success, Derryn Hinch digs into the ins and outs of Japanese toileting culture. Here’s what he learned…
As a typical, grubby kid, I sniggered when I was told (pre Trivial Pursuit) that the flushing toilet was invented by a man named Thomas Crapper. It gave us all an excuse to use a banned four-letter word.
I have since discovered I was mis-informed. That info was crap. Thomas Crapper & Co did own the world’s first lavatory, bath and sink showroom in London, with several grand Royal warrants, but the flushing toilet was invented hundreds of years earlier by Sir Thomas Harrington, godson to Queen Elizabeth I, in 1596. And primitive latrines – using a constant stream of water to dispose of poo – go back about 5,000 years to the Roman days.
Why on earth do I find this fascinating? And why I am writing about faecal facts?
It is true, that when I wrote the best-selling Derryn Hinch Diet book 25 years ago, I included some sage (?) advice from my butcher in Rushcutter’s Bay, Sydney. He would tell me every Saturday morning, when I went in for the weekly meat order: “If you don’t eat, you don’t shit and if you don’t shit, you die.”
A hint of where all this is leading can be found in an article I wrote for The Big Smoke last year about my quest for the perfect hotel-style bathroom in my own home.
Almost en passant, I mentioned how the whole project had to be rejigged with expensive, pristine, new marble tiles chiseled off the walls because I’d forgotten to include a Japanese lavatory. I was having lunch with Crown Casino PR extraordinaire, Ann Peacock, and mentioned the ablutions revolution at the Hinch abode. She airily presumed I’d be installing a Japanese toilet. As I wrote back then:
I knew exactly what she was talking about.
Those combined lavatory-bidet-bumwasher-and-dryer machines with remote control buttons to control water temperature, air flow and toilet seat heater. ‘We’re getting them installed in all our renovated suites,’ she crowed.
How could I have overlooked such a necessity? I’d been on assignment for Sunday Night doing a follow up in Tokyo to a Yoko Ono interview and been so impressed with the toilet contraption I almost married it.
Straight on to the internet.
I found one in Sydney for $3,400 (which didn’t include the bowl) and broke the news to Paul, the project manager, very gently.
Some of the new tiles would have to come off for an additional water pipe and power point. ‘No problem.’
Some months down the track what’s the verdict? Bliss. Absolute bliss. Worth every one of those $3,400 and I’m saving $10 a week on toilet paper – so it will have paid for itself in less than seven years. Bathroom stops have never been so pleasant, so hygienic and hands-free. Now I know why the Japanese are potty about toilets. Their contraptions make a French bidet look like an Outback thunder box. I’m surprised mine doesn’t play Melancholy Baby. Or at least, Bobby Darin’s Splish, Splash.
The Japanese even have a dunny deity. True. According to mythology, the Japanese toilet god is Kawaya-no-kami. He supposedly emerged from the excrement of Izanami, the Japanese goddess of the Earth and darkness. I guess he wasn’t really born. Just went through the motions.
In an ancient farming practice (still used in some Asian countries) human waste was used as fertiliser. So Kawaya-no-kami was said to provide abundant harvests while also guarding people against falling into the poo pit. A few years ago there was even a pop song about the toilet god, Toire no Kamisama. It was a hit in Tokyo.
The biggest manufacturer of lavatories in Japan is Toto and they have just built a $60 million museum, a tribute to the dunny dynasty, at their HQ in Kitakyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture. (Disclaimer: My fabulous flusher is a Toto Neorest XH but I can assure you I paid full price for it. No dunny discount.)
Japanese phones are loaded with apps showing you where to find the best (and closest) public toilets. One lists more than 50,000 restrooms in major cities and a manufacturer of diarrhoea medicine has an @Toilet app for people caught short.
Little wonder a columnist in the Japan Times recently wrote: ‘The restroom is the face of the household.’ And another major newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun, ran a story about a toilet opening ceremony that involved drinking tea and eating rice cakes on the loo.
Apparently, there’s a toilet opening ceremony known as ‘benjo-biraki’ during which people sit on the loo to sip tea and nibble snacks. I think they keep their pants on and sit on cushions.
But even when you’ve got your pants down and no cushion there’s a permanently heated toilet seat (which will be fantastic on mid-winter mornings) and a mild stream of warm water followed by a jet of hot air replacing paper and fingers. Has to be hygienic. Believe me, this is the ultimate PC in the WC.
Footnote: Am I becoming the opposite of anally retentive? I recently saw a video on the internet about colon cancer. How we, in the western world, apparently increase our chances of contracting it because people like Thomas Crapper got it wrong. We should be squatting, not sitting, when the urge to purge arises.
It seems, the colon has a natural kink to help you maintain continence. So you only go when you want to go. The sitting posture partially relaxes your tight puborectalis muscle around the colon but it’s still too tight and that impedes the exit flow of waste. Cue the Squatty Potty. It’s a cheap plastic frame that sits around the base of the toilet and provides a step for you to raise your feet and sit and squat at the same time to unkink your colon. Emulate and evacuate.
Confession time: I bought one. Call it what you will, but I may never again leave the toilet, lavatory, dunny, powder room, shithouse, thunderbox, outhouse, library, john, WC, shizenhousen, little boys’ room, whatever.
Thank you Kawaya-no-kami.