Americans complain too much. Of all the things I have realized since I returned from Japan, that one bothers me the most. I don’t want to sit through that two-hour class my parents are paying for me to take. Oh no, the president that we elected said something embarrassing again. Gas prices are too high, but it is way too far to walk.
Even the seemingly minute concerns of life, such as where one urinates, are game as subjects of complaint. People everywhere fuss over the condition of public restrooms, how floors are dirty or how the walls are covered in graffiti. Yet all of these complaints deal with conditions created by the users themselves. As I rush to the ladies’ room between classes here on campus, I cannot help but recall the conditions every person in Japan faces.
My first use of a public restroom in Japan occurred while I was in the subterranean shopping district of Nagoya, the fourth largest city in the country. I had just left the subway station when I realized I needed to find a restroom. Clearly marked signs for restrooms are seemingly everywhere in Japan, so finding one was not a problem at all. I walked into the room, indiscriminately chose a stall and stared at the “toilet.”
Known to the Japanese people as a washiki, or Japanese style, a toilet in Japan closely resembles, more than anything else, a urinal that someone has laid on the floor. The basis of its appeal to the Japanese is that one does not need to touch it in any way in order to use it. Never mind the suspicious puddles on the floor from time to time. For those ladies out there who always wanted to try peeing while standing up, this is the perfect opportunity. One simply cannot sit down to use the washiki.
Looking at the porcelain apparatus in the floor, the best option seemed to me to be the squat. I was wearing pants, so I considered taking them off completely, but eventually decided to try it with my pants on. Japanese women must use the washiki all the time without taking their pants off. Surely I am not any less proficient at using a restroom than they are. With that thought in mind, I gathered my pants and underwear around my knees and straddled the toilet.
Next it was time to move into a squatting position. The angle had to be just right. I did not want to get urine on my pants or shoes accidentally, but I also did not want to squat so far as to topple backward mid-pee. Confident in my ability to hold the position for any duration of urination, I began, and somehow I managed to do it perfectly on the first try. I was elated until a new thought occurred to me. Perhaps it would have been better to tear off the toilet paper before I actually needed it. There I was faced with the challenge of maintaining the perfect squatting angle while leaning toward the toilet paper dispenser. It was not an easy task, but again I triumphed.
After I buttoned my pants back into place, I have to say that I was feeling proud of myself. I had entered that stall with no thought to the trial it would prove to be, and I was about to leave it as a victor in my mind. I stepped away from the washiki and pushed the handle to flush it. Water gushed from one end of the toilet and slammed into the opposite end so quickly that several drops sprayed back in my direction. My victory was nothing but a dream, and my pants suffered the casualty to prove it. To add insult to injury, the restroom gave me no soap or hand towels. I found out later that not providing such amenities is normal for public restrooms in Japan.
While I left that first restroom with failure, I am happy to say that I mastered the washiki before leaving Japan. I know I could go back to Japan and feel completely comfortable with the restrooms. For now, though, I think I will appreciate a certain American comfort for what it is without complaining about a door that cannot lock.