56. Space Toilet (number 2)

(Finally, the stunning conclusion to . . . Space Toilet! –L. Doyle, U.S. Consulate)

“Come up and I’ll show you a real toilet,” he shouted again from his second-story window, a bit louder than I wish he had for reasons different than they would be if we were back in Chicago, where I would be more troubled by the content of the proposition, which seemed to suggest to passers-by my membership in some sort of weird sub-cult of scatological perversion, whereas here I was more concerned by the form of the invitation, the language, the fact that it was in English, which I feared would remind neighbors of my existence, raising me just far enough above the radar to bring back the bands of roving elementary school children that used to follow me down the narrow streets yelling, “Gaijin!” and “Harro!”

I smiled nervously at the lady on the first floor who was hanging laundry, who was in fact always hanging laundry, 24 hours a day, rain or shine, whites, colors, permanent press, and puckered cotton. She did not smile back. She looked at me with her lifeless laundry-hanging eyes, then at the guy leaning out the window above, then at the toilet deposited on cracked concrete below that window, then back at me. I wanted to apologize for what I did not know, for everything I suppose, for being existentially implicated in this lavatorial burlesque.

Kare wa mado kara nageta kono benki yori motto honto no benki o misete yaritai rashii,” I would have liked to have explained to her. It seems he wants to show me a toilet more real than this one he threw out his window. But given my limited Japanese, I could only point at the offending off-white asteroid and manage, “Kono benki wa honto no benki de wa arimasen.” This toilet is not a real toilet. She looked blankly back while her arms continued to take wet laundry from a basket that never emptied and hang it on a pole that never filled.

But what could be “realer” than the Washlet Lexa 2000 XL, I wondered. What could be better? What kind of toilet did this man have that would lead him to heave out his window this Cadillac of commodes, to dispose of so ignobly this pinnacle of privies, to turn his back on this spritzing and spraying symbol of Japan’s arrival on the international stage, to (sorry, last one) reject like a jealous God such an incursion into the divine and send plummeting back down to earth this porcelain Tower of Babel, just as He had done so long ago when He scattered and separated humankind by language, kicked the hubris out of a bunch of uppity architects, showed some Nimrod who the boss was, and, a while later, made it more difficult for me to order a meal at the Chinese restaurant around the corner where the owner encouraged the customers to laugh along with her as she asked me to repeat my order again and again, which I would, maybe half a dozen times, before being served finally with a big plate of fried rice, which was never what I had been trying to order in the first place.

The Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel

I’m sure He had His reasons but it was hard sometimes not to take it personally.

The memory of those greasy, glistening globs of unwanted fried rice flecked here and there with bits of what might have been meat but could really have been anything, and the fact that I was standing before a welcoming, albeit unconnected, toilet got my stomach to churning. A “real toilet” awaited me just up a flight of uneven concrete stairs, in the apartment of a non-Japanese, English-speaking fellow who I knew nothing about save the fact that he lived on the second floor of a building in my neighborhood and had in the very short time I had known him thrown at least one major restroom fixture out of his window.

I took one step towards the stairs, and was immediately and violently seized and pulled off my feet by a monstrous purple tentacle which lifted me high up into the sky and waved me in the air, as if in boast to the other nearby giant land octopuses who had come to take over Osaka and devour its inhabitants. The creature then just as suddenly and inexplicably pulled me back down and deposited me, not into its octopus mouth of acid and digestive juices, but into the entranceway of an apartment, on the floor of a genkan.

“Sorry,” the second-floor toilet tosser said, standing over me. “That happens on windy days sometimes. Nice noren, though, huh?”


Noren, traditional curtain-type things hung at doorways

“I’ve never seen one this long,” I said, unwinding from my torso what must have been at least ten meters of fabric.

“Welcome to the real Japan,” he told me.

Finally freed of the noren’s tentacles, I looked around my host’s apartment. Never had I seen bamboo embraced quite so enthusiastically.

“Is that telephone made of bamboo?” I asked.

“Everything here is made of bamboo, igusa, and other native grasses and traditional Japanese building materials,” he replied. “This is the true Japan, the real Japan.”

“Osaka?” I asked.

He began to pace.

“Osaka,” he spat. “Tokyo,” he spat harder. “These places are not Japan.”

I thought of the combined population of roughly 15 million people living in these two cities that I had only moments ago believed were an integral part of Japan. How could I have been so blind, I thought. How could they be so un-Japanese?

“There are still pockets of Japan left,” he continued, “still places where the traditions are kept alive. This apartment . . .”

He stopped and turned towards a dim bulb hanging from the ceiling that had been wrapped in extremely flammable washi, which had begun to smoke.

“. . . this apartment, surrounded though it may be by the false Japan of Osaka . . .”

He spun and looked intensely into my eyes.

“This apartment is the true Japan!”

“Is that seaweed on the walls?” I asked.

“Natural insulation!” he shot back defensively, then caught himself and added, “Sometimes we have to make certain inferences or speculations on how people may have lived in the past.”

I smiled and nodded vigorously, just in case he was not a harmlessly enthusiastic Japanophile but instead a raving lunatic.

“Now, would you like to see my toilet?”

I nodded so vigorously I got a headache. I removed my shoes and followed him to the back of the apartment, where we came upon a door fashioned from two tatami mats and a roughly hewn bamboo handle, which he suddenly pulled open and actually cried, “Tada!”

I smiled so hard I got a nosebleed. He just waited, so I spoke.

“You tore out the Washlet Lexa 2000 XL, the most advanced device into which man has ever defecated, and you . . .” I stopped to swallow, to compose myself and try to staunch the spreading horror of my realization that if this man was an enthusiastic Japanophile and not a raving lunatic, he was one of those raving lunatic type enthusiastic Japanophiles, “. . . and you replaced it with this?”

“Yes!” replied the raving lunatic enthusiastic Japanophile toilet hurler.

There, amidst the severed hoses and electrical cords he had cut in his rush to remove the space-age toilet he saw as an affront to an authentic Japan he had at least partially created inside his fevered bamboo brain, was, as promised, a real Japanese toilet of the type you could still see in train stations, older homes, and those coffee shops for middle-aged men that will never not smell like five billion cigarettes.

There were no high-fidelity speakers or high-pressure sprays, no adjustable blow driers or automatic aroma dispensers. It was an elegantly unassuming, porcelain-rimmed trench. It was humankind’s first version of a toilet, with just a few tweaks, such as the porcelain, running water, and pipes leading to a city sewage system. An ingenious acoustic approach, if you will, to the business of . . . doing your business. A sanitary, efficient, zen-like take on taking a . . . well, you know. It was clean, easy to use, and while it involved squatting rather than sitting, it was this very feature that allowed you to avoid coming into contact indirectly with the naked rear end of, for example, the sweaty cable TV guy who smelled like a dirty sock stuffed with goat cheese, and asked to use your toilet last month. It was, I finally realized, truly the ultimate toilet. It was, as promised by the man who I nevertheless was still fairly certain was by any measure insane, indeed a real toilet.

“It’s beautiful,” I gasped, then, a gentle rumbling in my bowels, shyly asked, “May I?”

Japanese toilet

A “real” Japanese toilet


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