“Just press the button and see what happens. You’re not going to blow anything up”. That’s the rather cavalier advice I typically offer to my wife when she asks me computer related questions. It is a philosophy that has served me well throughout my life. Until that is, I encountered the Japanese toilet.
I had heard much about these hi-tech contraptions before our arrival in the country and had wrongly assumed them to be found exclusively in upmarket hotels and fancy restaurants. This assumption was proved to be false in our first hotel and as we have travelled the length of Japan we have had to tackle some of the most complex bathroom technology imaginable.
My reluctance to press any button stems from an early incident when I did just that, finding a row of identical silver buttons next to the toilet paper, each bearing an indecipherable label. One press and a gush of air came from down below, followed by a gurgling sound and the threat of an imminent upward jet of water. I shot up, slammed the lid down and breathed a sigh of relief that no harm hade been done to anything other than my dignity.
The variety of gadgetry in a typical Japanese loo is mind-boggling. Water, air, heat and music are the most common options available for what is, after all, an unavoidable part of our daily lives. You can switch on sounds of trickling streams or gentle music that mask the ones you create yourself and you can even adjust the seat temperature to be exactly as you want it. There is a pre-flush function that kicks into action as soon as the device senses a backside has made contact with the seat, while the flush when you arise from the throne is automatic.
The more advanced models even have a remote control, presumably so that you or anyone else can operate the buttons from anywhere within a few metres (imagine the mischief you could cause by wandering the corridors and activating other people’s loos). Some complex devices require detailed instructions and these are duly provided, often even in English although these can make quite uncomfortable reading.
When we return home I suspect we’ll find it strange for a while to have a loo where the seat temperature is constant, where no jets of water are expelled at random moments and where we have to make a physical effort to flush. But perhaps given the number of remote controls and user manuals I already struggle with, adding a toilet to our electronic menagerie is one luxury I’m happy to do without.