Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Toilets of Asia: Cafe Saint Amour, Kyoto

Today's featured toilet:

Gender: Unisex (single-stall)
Toilet type: Eastern squat toilet, aka "squatty potty"
Special features: vain attempt to conceal horrifyingness of squat toilet; world's narrowest sink

I try to be open-minded as I live overseas, and my reward for that has been discovering some ways to do things that are genuinely superior to ways back home. Korean under-floor heading ("ondol"), for instance, is so much better than anything done in North America or even in Japan or the UK, that anybody who experiences winter should just knock down their houses and start over. Chinese food is easier to eat with chopsticks, once you get good at them. Coins of actual value are fun (Japan's most valuable coin is 500 yen, or about $6 these days). Sleeping on floor mattresses solves all sorts of problems, from cleaning under the bed to keeping your covers from falling off.

But objectively, squat toilets are terrible. Simply terrible. They have no redeeming feature whatsoever. Here is how you use them:

(image from Japanory blog post located here)

Yes, I know, medical types may tell you that squatting is actually a more ergonomically sound position for, you know, getting your business done. You know what? Tell that to my knees. Especially tell that to my knees when I'm experiencing, as one does, travel-related digestive issues. (There's a reason they teach you the phrase "to have diarrhea" in 2nd-year Chinese). Nothing compounds a stomach problem quite like having to choose between another five minutes on the toilet and the throbbing pain of blood vessels exploding in your thighs.

Some squat toilets have bars in front which you can hang onto to help you keep your balance. Let me tell you how dignified that feels, squatting and dangling like you're on water skis preparing to go over a jump. Sometimes I think locals don't actually use the squat toilets, and they're acutally just a hilarious hidden camera prank on foreigners.

But alas, no. Other people do use the squatty. And not a single one of them can aim. When you share the toilet with men, they let fly from about three feet up and the splash goes everywhere. When the toilet is limited to women, you still get spray from the high-capacity flush. (Once you press the flush lever on a squatty, run like hell). The Japanese are the cleanest people alive. The word "beautiful" and the word "clean" are actually both the same word here - kirei. If the Japanese cannot make a sanitary, non-smelling squatty, then it cannot be done.

So squatties invariably smell faintly of urine, and that's if you're lucky. If you're unlucky - say, the squatty is frequented by children, or drunks, or is located on a moving train - you will find full-on puddles and non-liquid deposits flanking the toilet. I can't tell you how much fun it is to contemplate placing your nether regions two inches from that. Sure, I hear you say, what about the mess people leave on a toilet seat in the West? You actually have to sit on that! And I reply: first, you can wipe it off, which you cannot do for the five square feet of squatty space. Second, if things are bad enough, go to a different stall. There is no different stall in squatty world - they will ALL be like this. If you are a female foolish enough to wear pants, you have to roll them up before you get near that toilet, and a skirt has to be tucked up under your armpits. After you leave, I strongly recommend setting fire to your shoes.

So I honor the Cafe Saint Amour for its valiant attempt to convert the agonizing, bacteria-ridden torment of squatty usage into a charming autumnal cottage experience.

I just hope they change the flowers frequently, because you know exactly what splashes on them.

Bonus feature: Japanese toilets are often wedged into awkward, cramped spaces. Because of this, Japan has developed fabulous tiny sinks. If this bathroom had featured a normal full basin sink, you would not have been able to walk inside.

This sort of engineering is available here, and yet they still have squatties... sigh...

1 comment:

  1. My fondest squat toilet memory is from a public toilet in Shanghai. It had grody squat toilets -- with automatic flushes. And automatic sinks and soap dispensers. We have the technology to do better!