Saturday, April 23, 2011

Red pill or the blue pill

It was the moment of choice.

I couldn't leave the cubicle without flushing the toilet, yet if I pressed the wrong button I might be surrounded by half the store's emergency staff. Even aside from the embarrassment, I obviously wasn't very well so the risk of being carted off to hospital before I was able to offer any explanation seemed dangerously high.

It occurred to me just then that I still couldn't differentiate the sound for the Japanese for hospital (byouin) from that for hair salon (byoin). Unlikely to be relevant, but it added to the annoyance of the moment.

Looking wildly around for some form of guidance (English directions, alternative flush button, Japanese-English dictionary...) I suddenly spotted a large red button mounted on the wall behind the toilet. This was marked in both English and Japanese with 'Emergency'. So if that was the emergency call button, than neither of the other push buttons could be for that purpose. In which case, surely it didn't matter which I hit ....

I pushed one.

A flushing sound filled the cubicle. It would have been even more wonderful if it had been accompanied by water actually going down the toilet bowl. I looked back down at the row of buttons mounted by the toilet itself. Most toilets in Japan are accompanied by a button for creating a fake flushing sound; they were introduced because the too-modest Japanese woman would flush the toilet needlessly to cover up any bodily sounds, causing a significant waste of water. However, they are usually depicted by a music note and situated along the side of the seat. Indeed, this toilet was no exception. The button was there which is why it hadn't occurred to me that the larger button mounted on the wall would also have this result. Clearly, the department store had felt that one button was simply not enough and what was required was some kind of surround sound experience where both noise options could be engaged. Perhaps customers like to feel that they themselves were being flushed through the plumbing in some strange variation of the 3D movie experience.

Shaking my head slightly, I hit the second button. The toilet cleaned itself. I could go.


  1. You should make "availability of a western toilet" a line-item in your contract :-)

    Because I thought you were going to conclude the story in your last post, the last line of that post made me think you pushed the wrong button, and the emergency crew hence created the excitement. I have to wonder if they would have knocked first. Probably not.

    By the way, there was a recent BBC show about the filthy histories of the most glamorous cities:

    I saw two of the episodes and have to say that most problems had to do with toilet-related issues.

  2. I saw a summary for that program on the BBC news website! It looked exceedingly entertaining and ... toilet based, as you say.