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Heir to the Porcelain Throne
by Mad Dog


In their never-ending quest to unseat Singapore as the Place Most Sanitized For Your Convenience, the Japanese have adopted personal sanitation aids like ATMs that sanitize money before spitting it out and the most high-tech toilets in the world.
     It’s hard to feel really safe these days, what with crime on the streets, kids shooting up schools, and "It’s Like, You Know.." getting renewed for yet another season. What’s a concerned citizen to do?

     For one, you might be thankful you’re in the United States. We have safeguards to protect us here, like the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a Congress that thinks posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms will turn bad kids good, and a legal system that lets any person sue any other person for any reason they can think of no matter how trivial, silly, or whether we’ve already seen it on Judge Judy and even she threw it out of court.

     What with states suing tobacco companies, cities suing the gun manufacturers, and kids suing their parents for things they did while still a fetus (the kids, not the parents), we’re about "this" close to someone suing him or herself. Probably for defamation of character over something they said while talking to themselves, which if you ask me is none of their business anyway.

     But at least we’re safe from burning toilets, which is more than people in Japan can say. Even those who speak English. In their never-ending quest to unseat Singapore as the Place Most Sanitized For Your Convenience (1985-1998), the Japanese have adopted personal sanitation aids like germ-free pencils, ATMs that sanitize and press money before spitting it out, and the most high-tech toilets in the world.



More often than not you’ll end up flicking the lights off and on several times, running the water in the sink, cutting power to the kitchen, and starting that worthless hot air hand dryer before you manage to finally get the toilet flushed.
    In most countries the toilet is a basic, simple bathroom fixture. You use it, you flush it, you leave. They’re reliable, accomplish what they’re supposed to do, and you rarely have to intervene any more than maybe a quick jiggle of the handle.

     They’re pretty much the same thing all around the world, though each country has its own variation on the porcelain theme. Usually the difference is confined to the flusher, or what we call the handle. That’s why when you’re traveling you should always budget a few extra hours in your day—boosting it to a suggested 25.2 hours in Europe and more in the less overdeveloped continents—so you have time to examine the toilet in detail.

      You’ll need it. After all, you could be looking for a button to push, an identical button to pull, a push handle built into the side, a chain hanging from the ceiling, or just about anything else that might be lurking around the bathroom. More often than not you’ll end up flicking the lights off and on several times, running the water in the sink, cutting power to the kitchen, setting off the air raid test siren, and starting that worthless hot air hand dryer before you manage to finally get the toilet flushed. If you do.

     The king of the low-tech toilet still exists in many restaurants in France. The so-called "Arab" toilets (uh, oh, here come the letters) are nothing more than a tiled room with a hole in the floor. The tricky part isn’t going to the bathroom—that’s odd, but easy. What is difficult is remembering to grab the pipes on the ceiling so you can do chin-ups when you flush because the water sprays across the tile floor which, coincidentally, is where your feet happen to be.



It turns out that the wiring in some of the older model Washlets can get worn and, well, catch fire, giving new meaning to being in the hot seat.
    The Japanese must find this absolutely barbaric. After all, for the past twenty years they’ve been relieving themselves in Washlets, the most sophisticated, high-tech, complicated toilets in the world. There are a lot of different models available, from the fanciest to the Travel Washlet, which is a battery-powered, refillable, portable bidet the size of a paperback book. "Is that a novel you’re reading or are you just obsessive-compulsive?" is a common greeting in Japan.

     But the coolest toilets are in the home, fastened to the floor. They have heated seats, warm-water bidets, and other features so advanced that it will be at least another five years before anyone figures out what all the buttons do. And another ten until they find someone who really cares. These toilets, which cost between $600 and $3,500, are so popular that 40 percent of the households in Japan have at least one.

     The problem is that, like any technology, sometimes it acts a little too much like HAL in "2001 - A Space Odyssey." Or maybe that’s Hal Linden in "Barney Miller." I get confused. Either way, it turns out that the wiring in some of the older model Washlets can get worn and, well, catch fire, giving new meaning to being in the hot seat.

     Before you decide that this is toilet humor, it’s not. Toilet humor is Jim Carrey, Married with Children, South Park, and George W. Bush raising over $36 million for an election that’s—what?—16 months off. Now that’s a load of crap. This, on the other hand, is a lawyer’s wet dream. Well, as long as they can refrain from standing in front of the judge saying, "Butt your honor" and "I’m behind you all the way." Come to think of it, this could make a pretty funny TV show. Something like "Japan’s Funniest Home Toilet Fires". Or "When Good Toilets Go Bad." It certainly couldn’t be any worse than the prospect of watching "It’s Like, You Know.." for yet another season.   

1999 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read them sitting on your $3,500 Washlet.

 

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