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.