When travelling to a foreign country, most people look at practical things such as vaccinations, language, customs, money etc. I do that too, except that there is one thing I add to the list that most people ignore.
Yes, I am going to write about toilets again – I apologise in advance.
Regular readers will know that Chinese toilets make me quake with terror, for reasons, I won’t repeat here (if you really really want to know, try this link).
The good news is that last year I encountered the best toilets in the world.
That honour goes to Japan.
I know you are wondering why I have awarded this prize to Japan, so allow me to explain. The Japanese have done exactly what they do to most things – they have combined technology with a basic human function and come up with a world beater in my humble opinion.
My first experience of a Japanese toilet was memorable.
First, I had an initial shock, when I perched myself on the throne. The seat was warm.
Picture the scene (if you dare). It is a cold winter night in England and I wake up in a cold bedroom with an urge to go to the toilet. I cannot fight this urge so I have to go. I enter the bathroom and see my nemesis in front of me. I know what is going to happen; I am going to have to park my bare backside on a freezing cold toilet seat. I brace myself and just go for it. The seat is so cold that I struggle to stifle the scream of shock.
This did not happen in Japan because a heated toilet seat is completely normal, unlike the UK where they are rare.
Back in Japan, another thing happened when I perched myself on the warm toilet seat; the toilet flushed automatically. Adjacent to the toilet, was a remote control, pictured below.
These are simple things that make you toilet experience very pleasurable. After I had answered my call of nature, I decided to experiment with the remote control. As you can see, the images indicate the function of each button (and thankfully the English translation helped) so it was relatively easy to operate.
I pressed the button marked SPRAY and was so shocked at the outcome that I actually shrieked, prompting Mrs PM to run to the door and ask whether I was okay.
“Yes,” I laughed.
I explained to her what had happened. The button caused a continuous jet of warm water to be sprayed on my backside and my outburst was due to the initial shock of that. Even better you could adjust the water pressure and I spent a good five minutes pushing the + and – buttons to achieve optimal pressure.
I won’t go into any more detail (in the name of good taste), but suffice it to say, I actually looked forward to my trips to the loo.
However, I have to say that not every toilet experience was enjoyable. I did had one potentially embarrassing experience in a café toilet.
I sat down and the first thing that struck me was that the remote control was more complicated, similar to:
I managed to decipher it and enjoyed my experience as usual. But when the time had come to flush, I suddenly realised that there was no handle. The very first toilet had an automatic flush when I sat down (although not a full one) and it also had a handle to use when the job was done.
Not this toilet. I stared at it, perplexed and scratching my head. Unlike my first toilet, there was no English on this one whatsoever. The spray and bidet icons were there but there was nothing that indicated FLUSH.
“Ah,” I thought. “I can sit down again and it will flush automatically.”
It didn’t. The toilet was so clever that it knew I might not have finished. It was TOO clever if you ask me.
I actually sat down again and pushed button after button but to no avail.
What was it looking for?
A combination of buttons?
Did it want me to jump up and down on the seat?
Believe me, I tried that. Anybody waiting outside must have wondered what the mad monster inside was actually doing.
I started to panic, aware that there may be another person waiting to use the loo. I had to solve this; I couldn’t bear the thought of running out of the loo and leaving a horror show in the toilet bowl (I have been on the receiving end of people’s disgusting toilet habits before and it is most unpleasant).
Eventually, more by luck than judgement, I managed to get the thing to flush. I actually whooped with joy and high-fived myself in the mirror – which is doubly embarrassing (a) because I don’t usually high five anybody and (b) because I am English not American.
Yes, that’s right. This stubborn toilet briefly turned me into an American tourist.
When I left the toilet there were two Japanese guys waiting to use it. They smiled politely at me (as Japanese people do) and I tried not to look embarrassed (I think I failed because although I struggled to flush the toilet my face was still flushed).
That aside, I cannot fault Japanese toilets. Yes, they still use the disgusting hole in the floor toilets in some places, but the vast majority are technological marvels.
When I left Japan and reflected on the trip, I decided that I would miss the toilets a lot – and that is something I have never felt when leaving a country.
And now, back in a British winter, I miss them even more.
I might just invest in a heated toilet seat.