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By Louie Diaz Jr.

Squatter’s rights and wrongs

Eastern-style toilets have had their day… and that day is past

Louie Diaz Jr. is a freelance writer living in Tokyo

They appear in the new building where I work,
in a bar that I frequent, in some of the city’s busiest train stations, and in places that are posh and modern. They are a sight unwelcome to most foreigners in Japan. I am referring, of course, to the Eastern-style toilet, also known as the squatter.

Japan, especially Tokyo, is high-tech and ultramodern, on the cutting edge, trendy and state-of-the-art. The various restrooms that I have used prove this. That is why it amazes me that Eastern-style toilets still exist.

I can understand if, say, a country like Indonesia has Eastern-style toilets. It just recently escaped a repressive and brutal 30-year dictatorship. It is still trying to industrialize and modernize its economy and raise its standard of living. So, I realize that it doesn’t have time to update and revamp its toilets and I accept that I have to use squatters there when I visit.

But here in Japan, some toilets are smarter than me. They can sense when I’m done and automatically flush. The lid can tell when I’m in the stall and lifts automatically. I can press a button to have a cover appear to protect me from bacteria and germs. Some toilets even have a powerful deodorant spray. Who, at times, hasn’t wanted this tool? If toilets have more technology than my first car, then I think it’s about time for the squatter to go the way of the dodo.

As if all that technology wasn’t enough, consider how elaborate toilet systems can be. A perfect case in point is the craziness that goes on in the ladies room. Women can press a button that makes a “distraction” noise while they take care of business. There are even different kinds of noise, including gentle waterfalls. If toilets go to that length to uphold the feminine mystique of beauty, to give the impression that women never go potty, then I think it’s about time Eastern-style toilets are phased out.

The argument I’ve heard from pro-Eastern-toilet supporters is that they are cleaner and more sanitary than Western ones. Because no part of your body touches the receptacle, there’s less transfer of germs. But on nights, especially drunken ones, or on any night when nature calls hard and strong, accidents are more likely to occur in an Eastern toilet—the squat position is not exactly the most comfortable to be in during a vulnerable moment. Accidents do happen, and there is more of a chance of one happening in an Eastern than a Western toilet stall. That pretty much neutralizes the sanitary argument.

And if the country is really concerned with cleanliness, then what about Japanese-style baths, which have little benches to sit on while you wash yourself. Your naked rear end is sitting on the little seat, and when you’re done you put the bench back, where it sits in a damp, moist bathroom, with germs festering in the steamy atmosphere. The next naked person then gets the same bench and sits on it, exactly where your naked butt was moments before. This is basically bottom-to-bottom touching. Here, I think, is an even more unsanitary practice than Western-style toilets, where only your upper thighs touch. So if the bath bench is readily accepted, then there’s no reason why Western toilets can’t be accepted too.

Another problem is that I like to think of toilet time as relax time. I look forward to going in there and taking a load off, figuratively and literally. But in an Eastern-style toilet, it feels like I am struggling. I can never relax, and my quadriceps are under constant stress. The burn in my leg muscles makes me feel like I just did a round of Pilates.

Some people might argue in favor of Eastern-style toilets, saying that they’re actually easier for women to use, or that it is a custom, like using chopsticks instead of spoons and forks. The East has one way, and the West has another. They say they are wrong. The squatter has no place in Tokyo, where we’ve come to expect automatic gadgetry in the restrooms. It’s about time this toilet is flushed down the drain.

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.