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Saturday, Aug. 14, 2004

JAPAN LITE

Bon brings more than family back home


"Attention Shiraishi Island residents. This is an announcement from the Kasaoka city Environment Committee. This month's toilet cleaning will take place on Friday, Aug. 3 and Thursday, Aug. 26. Please register for toilet cleaning at least one day beforehand. And don't forget to buy your toilet tickets."

You can be sure that after this island-wide announcement, all the island residents rushed to their calendars and wrote "toilet cleaning day" next to both dates, in letters big enough to read even without their glasses on. That's how important toilet cleaning day is on this island, where most people do not have a flush toilet. If you miss this day, the results could be, well, monolithic.

Especially this month. With the Bon four-day holiday, when most Japanese people return to their ancestral homes, traditional areas of Japan like ours must be prepared. Thus, whereas we usually only get our toilets cleaned once a month, in August we get two days, one before the family members return and one after they leave.

You city people probably have never thought about it, have you: how much you leave behind when you visit. In Japan, where people take their own garbage home with them after sports events and follow their dogs around with plastic bags to clean up after them, it's surprising that everyone thinks it is perfectly normal to simply deposit human waste in a heap and leave. Perhaps this is a leftover tradition from 50 years ago, when human waste was used as manure in vegetable gardens. So you were really doing a favor by returning to your ancestral home with your fertilizer.

And apparently, there is another reason these island toilets might get particularly overloaded when the city folk return. A reader recently informed me that in Tokyo, it is not the custom to eat fish eyes. Well, I'm disgusted. Why would one waste such a gooey part of the anatomy? Island people, who eat fish three meals a day, eat every part of the fish. And you city-dwellers call Japan an island nation? This is a true insult to us real islanders out here carrying on ancient eye-eating traditions. It's enough to make us want to secede from Japan altogether -- make our own country! We could even put fish eyes on our flag. Wait a minute, maybe there already is a fish eye on Japan's flag (that ain't no rising sun).

Anyway, when you city people are back at your ancestral homes, eating grandma's traditional dishes that include fish eyes and delicacies such as sea slugs and octopus heads, there might be a few more rushes to the toilet.

As for myself, since I don't have relatives in Japan, I don't have to worry about them coming home and filling up my toilet, so technically, I should not need my toilet cleaned on the second toilet cleaning day. However, despite marking both prominent days on my calendar, I still forgot to sign up for the first toilet cleaning day. Not only that, but it has been a couple of months since I've had my toilet cleaned. I tried to hail the truck (the one with the big silver holding tank and vacuum hose attached) when it passed by my house Aug. 3, but they said, "Sorry, we're already full."

So I guess I'll have to wait until the 26th. I've been keeping a close eye on the distance between the top of the heap and the top of the toilet, and there is still plenty of clearance. But I still have reason to worry. The last time I waited so long to have my toilet cleaned, the contents had solidified into something similar to one of the Egyptian pyramids. Needless to say, the rock-hard mass would not fit through the vacuum hose. So, much like the construction of the Egyptian pyramids, we had to disassemble this one in the same manner -- brick by brick.

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