Toi­let tales

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - SARAH MORI star2@thes­

Lan old lava­tory in a ceme­tery in Ja­pan of­fers a stark con­trast to the high­tech toi­lets that can be found all over the coun­try. Ja­pan has come a long way in­deed. AST Oc­to­ber, when my son and I were walk­ing in the neigh­bour­hood, the wo­man who lives near the play­ground there called af­ter me in Ja­panese: “Ex­cuse me, do you know how ...?” Her voice trailed off in a hushed tone, so I didn’t catch what she was ask­ing. See­ing the blank look on my face, she ex­cused her­self and walked away.

“Mum, I think she wanted to know if you could read the ‘Please do not uri­nate here’ no­tice on the tree branch,” Ken mut­tered later.

“Of course, I can. It’s in hi­ra­gana (a Ja­panese syl­labary). But why did she ask me that?”

“Maybe she wanted to know if you, a for­eigner, could un­der­stand it,” said Ken.

Taxi driv­ers and sales­men of­ten park their ve­hi­cles near that play­ground dur­ing their break. Per­haps some for­eign men could also be among the cul­prits, eh?

Since the wo­man feeds the stray fe­lines there, she must have posted the no­tice af­ter en­coun­ter­ing un­pleas­ant in­ci­dents. Her predica­ment ended af­ter the play­ground un­der­went a facelift and at­tracted more adults and kids.

When­ever my hus­band drives me to town for gro­cery shop­ping, we pass by a sign­board hang­ing on the wall of a house be­side a lane. The sign­board dis­play­ing an icon of a ver­mil­ion torii and some in­struc­tions, is rare in town.

The torii, a sym­bolic gate­way, of­ten in­di­cates the pres­ence of a Shinto shrine or a sa­cred place, and usu­ally stands at its en­trance to de­mar­cate sa­cred ter­ri­tory. Some­times it is placed in front of a small shrine hous­ing a statue or stone.

One day, my hus­band slowed down for me to take a closer look at that in­trigu­ing sign­board. It reads: “Re­frain from uri­nat­ing. Do not dis­pose cig­a­rette stubs and other garbage here.”

Why the torii icon? I sup­pose this sa­cred sym­bol would prompt peo­ple to toe the line.

An Amer­i­can friend once thought there was a shrine around, when he drove past one small torii af­ter an­other by the road­side, on a moun­tain road. How­ever, no shrine was in sight. Puz­zled, he stopped his car and got out to look at the torii. He found a “no uri­nat­ing and lit­ter­ing” warn­ing writ­ten be­hind it.

Built on a raised ground at a ceme­tery in Kawasaki is an old lava­tory. A con­crete par­ti­tion sep­a­rates the women’s sec­tion from the men’s. Although a big board cov­ered its front view, the squat toi­lets and uri­nals are con­spic­u­ous be­low it. The squat toi­lets have doors at­tached, but not the uri­nals. Pri­vacy is com­pro­mised as what the male oc­cu­pants do in­side, can be seen, if viewed side­ways from the right side of the board.

Squat toi­lets are be­ing phased out in modern build­ings in ur­ban cen­tres. Un­like the squat toi­lets in Malaysia, the ones in Ja­pan have a hemi­spher­i­cal hood. The user squats fac­ing the hood. The hood ei­ther faces the side or back wall, and not the door. n Sarah Mori, a Malaysian mar­ried to a Ja­panese, has been liv­ing in Ja­pan since 1992.

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