Japan is considered as one of the most beautiful countries in the world by travelers, tourists and businesspersons alike, but the Land of the Rising Sun has more up her sleeve than the beauty of her landscapes, her universally recognized gastronomy or her financial opportunities. A daily life safety unbeknownst in our lands, a comfort bordering on obsession, but above all, a level of hygiene above any norms.
Japan has been blessed since immemorial times with an abundance of natural water rushing down her mountains all year round and with a generally abrupt geographical profile for a natural and fast removal of debris and water. This active volcano-dotted archipelago is replete with hot springs which have been exploited for more than 1,500 years and contributed to the establishment of daily baths never witnessed in any other countries.
The Japanese do not wash themselves inside bathtubs, but clean their body first before immersing themselves in clean and ideally warm water. This attention to the cleanliness of their bodies before plunging it in a veritable liquid massage is more remarkable when you consider the icy cold winter and tropical summers prevalent in most of Japan.
In fact, the love of the Japanese for their hot springs (“onsen”) lies not only in the need to warm up their bodies in summer but also to treat their skins and even clean their internal organs in summer.Junior high school students scrubbing their own toilets
When it comes to natural needs, the inhabitants of this crowded archipelago far away from the rest of Asia have always understood the vital importance of a strict daily hygiene be it that of individuals or groups. As early as the end of the 19th century, when Japan “reopened her doors” to the rest of the World, Western visitors were surprised, if not shocked, by this attention brought to the care of the body that they often mistakenly interpreted as a lack of decency, the more for it that the same Japanese showed a great sexual freedom and a marked veneration for all kinds of fertilty symbols in their daily life and festivals (“matsuri”). After all the famous/notorious Japanese erotic woodblock prints (“shunga”) had only been possible due to ethics vastly differing from those considered as normal in Europe and and North America. Homosexuality and bisexuality were condemned as they were in the “Westernized World”. Accordingly the Japanese are not bashful at all when it comes to talk frankly about natural needs even when Westerners attempted to impose their customs and interdicts in this country which never accepted colonization in spite of its preparedness to other standards than their own.
Japanese magic toilets/a recent revolution
Undoubtedly those famous Japanese toilets are very much talked about yet few outside Japan know how they have become part and parcel of daily life in this country. Until 30 years ago they existed only in two distinct forms.”Japanese toilets”, that is the oldest model that consists of simple toilets above which you have to crouch (somewhat like inverted Turkish toilets). They still can be found in many public toilets. After WWII, flush toilets and urinals started to appear. In 2004 the Japanese toilets became magical thanks to the added quasi computers hidden inside their structure enabling the control of a bidet system that architects and builders adopted to the point of equipping half of the Japanese abodes within a single year. In Japan, bidets are commonly called “washlets”, a commercial name owned by the TOTO Company, a company based in Kitakyushu (Kyushu Island).
Apart from a far better hygiene, easier maintenance and cleaning, the main reason for the popularity of this type of toilets is that many Japanese suffered from piles/hemorrhoids due to the physical effort required to stay in a crouching position above the traditional toilets. Actually Japan holds the world record number of clinics solely specializing in proctology and colorectal surgery, an extremely lucrative medical field in spite of the recent change in toilets.
Most public toilets, school toilets and those found in temples and stations are traditionally equipped yet the Japanese prefer to sit down on a toilet at home, especially old citizens for whom the crouching position can become particularly difficult and uncomfortable.
When you disembark at a Japanese airport you will discover incredible state-of-the-art facilities due to the fierce competition between the two biggest companies in the field, namely TOTO (50% share of the production) and INAX (25%), which make most of their profits with hotels all over the world, especially in the Middle East. The long rolling carpets carrying you from planes to different arrival gates are regularly interrupted to allow tired travelers to relieve themselves after a long voyage, not only inside vast and spotless facilities but also equipped with the very latest amenities. Although divided according to gender, the only difference is that the toilets for gents are also equipped with state-of-the-art urinals (no button to press, which avoids any dicey contact!). The toilets on which you sit are fitted with two types of washlets (you can regulate the temperatures): one to wash your backside, the other for ladies’ intimate parts. Even if you do not understand Japanese the small illustrations will leave you in no doubt! And they are even equipped with hot air drying systems for people who do not want to use paper at all!Of course all modern hotels are equipped thus, but another difference with Western countries is that you will find toilets almost anywhere in Japan: inside railway stations, parks, beaches, sport centers, leisure spots and supermarkets where they will always be state-of-the-art and immensely cleaner. But they will sport the latest models inside department stores, museums, theaters, movies, concert halls as well as inside town halls, police stations and other public buildings! An embarrassment of choices! And furthermore they are spotlessly clean at any hour of the day or night!
The Japanese went as far as devising a mobile telephone app called ”Check a Toilet”. this app will enable you to find the nearest public toilets, wherever you are!
A word for our ladies: “otohime”
Many Japanese ladies feel embarrassed by the notion of someone being able to hear the noise raised by their visits to the toilets to the point of developing a kind of allergy called “timid bladder”! To hide all the noises, many women will let water run all the way through thus causing an incredible waste of water. As education campaigns could not help eradicate such a practice, a system was devised during the 1980’s. Once activated, it reproduces the sound of water being flushed without actually having to flush. One of the brands proposing such a device is Otohime (音姫), which literally means “The Princess of Sound”, thus named after the Japanese Goddess Otohime, daughter of the God Ryujin (although the Chinese characters for Otohime are different (乙姫) and mean “the Second Princess”. This device is installed in most new toilets for ladies, while many old public ladies toilets are also equipped with it. The Otohime can either be an independent device fixed on the inside wall of the toilets or as a component of the washlet. One can activate the device by pressing a button or with a hand passing in front of a sensor. Once activated, the device will emit a similar sound to that of a real water flush. Thus more than 20 liters of water can be saved every day with such an apparatus. Nonetheless many a lady still thinks that the sound of the Otohime is artificial and prefer a constant water flushing to that of the recorded tape. As it seems that such a device is not required or requested in gents toilets, it will very seldom be found in public amenities.
Apart from the toilets, you will also discover that the hygiene standards in Japanese hotels is almost unheard of in western establishments. In any case you will not find a star ranking system or else which allows tight-fisted hotel owners back home to do without advantages considered as the norm in any Japanese hotel. Any decent standard hotel provides shampoos, eau de toilette, razors, combs, brushes and others changed every day with your sheets, and this in hotels costing less than 50 euros a night!
Of course the same applies to restaurants and cafés in the whole country. Actually it has turned into a cutthroat competition as to which establishment will offer the best amenities. Even away from Tokyo, I know many a restaurant which besides state-of-the-art bilingual washrooms will offer you mouthwash, disposable toothpicks, ear cotton swabs and not without mentioning a whole palette of paper napkins!
Talking of paper it simply becomes outlandish: single layer, double layer, triple layer, soft, exra soft, white, colored, with motifs all kinds, I just can’t mention them all! Stores generally have a single department dedicated to their sole display!
Incidentally many hotels complain that their toilet paper completely disappears after the visit by tourists from other Asian countries.Finger napkins/wet tissue.Anti-germ finger wet tissue napkins.Finger napkins/wet tissue and others for men only
Finger napkins/wet tissue are simply delirious! In fact, finger napkins/wet tissue doesn’t mean when one is confronted by its choice, be it for ladies or gents (or children and senior citizens!).
Wet napkins, anti-germ or perfumed, not only for hands and fingers (and nails) but also various parts of body, napkins of different sizes, napkins for sportsmen or professionals, talcum napkins, anti-germ napkins for toilet seats, tables, chairs and others, and others, and others…
In fact many people buy them just to build up a collection to show to their friends as many of them are conceived for a publicity and commemorative purpose.