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Saturday, April 23, 2005

JAPAN LITE

Put on your Nike shoes and 'just squat'


For years now, readers have been sending me their opinions on toilets. I can almost consider myself a toilet therapist. Every time I mention toilets in a column, I am sure to get opinions, especially regarding which is better -- the Western-style toilet or the Japanese-style toilet.

Reader and fellow columnist Erik Deckers says of plastic seat covers: "Chicago airport has done this for years. That's why it's the only public toilet I use." The thing is, Erik doesn't even live in Chicago; he lives in Indiana. That's a long way to go just to use the toilet. Perhaps he has a private plane for these occasions.

Most people don't want to sit on a public toilet seat. After all, can you think of anything more unhygienic than a toilet? Why would anyone want to sit on it? Besides, most of us sit all day long at a desk working -- Why would we want to sit down in the bathroom? Gosh, we're lazy.

Toilets have come a long way in Japan over the past decade. Previously places of filth and disgust, the new public toilets are pristine.

This is in contrast to the U.S., where the only place to get a clean public toilet is the McDonald's at Chicago airport. Public toilet facilities in general are disgusting, with graffitied walls and shoddy stalls with doors that don't latch properly. I fear that soon Japanese will start photographing them and putting them up on Web sites along with a U.S. toilet map.

Apparently, a good percentage of people who use public toilets do not actually sit on them. Women tend to hover over the seat while voiding (yes, "voiding" is the medical term meaning "to pee"). Hovering is an old female toileting technique, as is substantiated by the oft-seen bathroom stall graffiti "If you sprinkle while you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie." In other words, if you must hover, put the toilet seat up before you do. Men have been putting the seat up for years. Why women complain about them leaving the seats up is beyond me. Personally, rather than sit or hover, I prefer to use a Dixie cup.

It doesn't take a Japanese tourist very long to look at the ugly public toilet situation in America and wonder: Why don't they just squat? And they have a point. God gave you hamstrings, use them! If you've never squatted before, I'll teach you how right now. Stand with legs at shoulder width apart, and lower yourself straight into a deep knee bend. If you fall over, you just need more practice.

Japanese-style squat toilets eliminate the need for toilet seats. In an effort to convince you of the benefits of this system, I'll share with you my "damn good reasons why you should be squatting":

For the environment: No need for toilet seat covers, plastic automated toilet sleeves or wiping toilet seats. Squatting is environmentally friendly -- no plastic or paper used (although a few trees may be required if you prefer to squat outside).

Portability: Take your toilet with you

Once you learn how to squat, you'll find you can do it anywhere. No more "holding it" until the next exit on the highway. When you gotta go, you gotta go. Find a tree, a flower garden, a mountain or a field and convene with nature. It's completely natural.

Doctors recommend squatting: Asian doctors will tell you that squatting facilitates elimination of the bowels. No, not because you're scrunching up your intestines in this position, but because you're spreading the gluteal region, allowing a wider passage for elimination. Got hemorrhoids? Try squatting! I have an Asian friend who believes so strongly about this that he squats even on Western-style toilets, by standing on the toilet seat and then lowering himself. This is quite a balancing act -- get accident insurance first.

So there you have it: put on your Nikes and just squat.

Check out Amy's new book, "Guide to Shiraishi: Island of Mists & Trances," at www.mooooshop.com/MooooBooks/order/index.htm -- free to peek into, and just $1 to buy.


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