I just came back from Japan a week ago, as probably everyone and his mother knows by now, thanks to my Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and jet-lag-induced phone calls in the middle of the night. An excited person might call our six days in Tokyo life-enriching. A melodramatic person might call them life-altering. I came back with a deeper love of Japanese food, a deeper appreciation of Japanese culture, and a deeper longing to live in a city full of respectful people with a desire to keep it beautiful. But most of all, I came back with a really clean butt.
I’ve had friends with fancy rental apartments with bidet-equipped bathrooms, but we’ve always laughed and pointed at them. I used the Japanese toilet at Brushstroke restaurant here in NYC, but it was just a novelty to me. But my boyfriend, Jack, and I rented a condo in Tokyo with our friend Nik while we were visiting, and let me tell you, a girl can very quickly get used to a warm jet of water massaging her bottom when she’s finished using the loo in the privacy of her own vacation home.
If you’ve never seen one of these things, they seem to always be in a little room of their own, oftentimes without any sink/mirror/tissues/pampering lotions/other things Americans consider elementary to a bathroom. You slip on your special bathroom-only slippers as you enter to keep the toilet germs contained to the toilet room, and the lid of the toilet senses your presence and jauntily pops open to welcome you. There’s a panel on the wall to your side that lays out your options:
• If you’re a lady and want to maintain your decency, you press the button to play either music or a continuous flushing sound so your gentlemen callers won’t hear your shame.
• If you’re a lady and you make a simple #1, you press the button labeled with a stream of water and a stick figure woman.
• If you make a simple #2, you press the button labeled with a stream of water in the shape of a butt.
• If you make a big #2, you press the button labeled with a stream of water in the shape of a butt and the Japanese character for “big”, which we didn’t figure out until our last day in the country.
A little valve pops out of the toilet from nowhere, and a not-too-cold, not-too-powerful, just-right jet of water begins to flow. The stream somehow knows exactly where to hit you, and it lasts until you push the button to stop it, which the caretaker of the apartment thankfully pointed out to you when he was showing you around the place on Day 1, or that water would still be running now. There’s toilet paper, but it’s really, really crappy wherever you go, which is either a side effect of everyone using water to pre-wash or the very reason the pre-wash was invented. There’s also a button on the panel that blasts warm air at you in lieu of toilet paper, but we can’t read Japanese and therefore had no idea which one that was.
You either press the Flush button on the panel, or on the nicer models, it flushes automatically for you. And then the lid closes to bid you adieu, and you’re left standing with hands that feel totally dirty to you because you’re a Westerner who always washes her hands after using the bathroom and in fact chides people who don’t wash their hands in public restrooms, but there’s neither a sink nor any hand soap in sight. But I guess the Japanese people think their hands are clean because the bidet “wiped” for them? It seemed so strange to us that a culture that had special slippers to wear in the bathroom to keep from tracking toilet germs elsewhere in the house didn’t care about potential toilet germs on their hands.
I have to admit that I got used to that by about Day 3, though, and started to really appreciate the handsoap-lacking toilet room in our rental condo once Nik explained the little faucet on top to me. When you flush (either by pushing backward on the little flusher thingy for a regular flush or pulling forward on it for a longer flush to conceal all of the evidence), the tank begins to refill via a little faucet on top that filters down into a hole in the tank cover.
So while the tank’s refilling, you can rinse your hands off in the water that was going to be used to refill the tank either way, making it a really efficient water-saving device. Clever! If you can get over not using soap after you go to the bathroom.
Jack wasn’t the hugest fan of the toilet somehow, but Nik and I actively talked on a daily basis about how much we were going to miss it. And then we got back to NYC and really did miss it. Every time I went to the bathroom, it just wasn’t as pleasant and rewarding. Wiping seemed like such a hassle, and I never felt as clean. I was walking around Jack’s condo–this condo we’ve lived in for almost five years, which he bought brand new and which I’ve always thought was perfect in every way–having daydreams about moving into a new build and having the construction crew install a Japanese toilet in my bathroom. I thought about asking Jack about putting one in my current bathroom, but I figured it was thousands of dollars and more trouble than I was willing to go to even for a Japanese-clean bum.
But finally the longing was too much for me, and I mentioned my pain to Jack just to have someone to share in it. Of course he immediately went to Amazon and found that you can buy bidets that attach to your toilet seat for as little as $35!
Even though Jack totally didn’t care about this thing and it was only going in my bathroom, which he never uses, he spent an entire morning online with me, deciding if I wanted one with a self-cleaning option, one with the separate spout to clean my lady bits, one in blue or in white, one that used a handle or a knob to turn it on, and so on and so on. There was concern that my toilet paper holder was too close to my toilet to leave room for the bidet on the right side (as you’re sitting on it), but no one seems to make a left-handed bidet, so Jack did about two hours of measuring and re-measuring. We finally ordered the Luxe Bidet Neo 180 for a mere $49.95 with Amazon Prime, and then I spent the next day holding in my bowel movements, because I wasn’t going to waste them on a non-bidet toilet.
It was supposed to arrive on Sunday, but it actually came Saturday while we were at the beach, so we raced home from out on Long Island so Jack could install the thing for me at midnight. It was about 20 times harder than all of the YouTube videos purport, because NYC bathrooms are about 20 times smaller. Jack is a rather fit gentleman and was squeeeeeezed in between the toilet and the wall, trying to get my old water line unhooked with absolutely nothing to use for leverage. (But it should take about ten minutes max to install the bidet in a normal bathroom outside of the city.) We decided that there must not be overweight plumbers in NYC.
The pink dot is for lady parts, the blue dot is for the bidet to self-clean, and the line in the middle is for the regular wash. I like my dial between the regular wash and the woman’s wash.
I’ve been using it for more than three days now, and let me tell you, I’m basically not going to ever leave the house again, lest I have to use a non-bidet toilet. My BFF, Tracey, said I’m “spoiled by international travel”, which I’m wearing as a badge of honor as someone who hadn’t needed a passport before this trip. We ended up going with the model with the special spout for women, because we saw a YouTube installation video where a guy told us that putting the dial halfway between the Wash option and the Woman option creates a really nice gentle spray that sort of gets all of your bits, man or woman. Jack was all ready to drill a hole in my sink cabinet to run a line from my hot water to the bidet, but we read that it takes a couple of seconds for the hot water to start flowing once you turn on the bidet, so you’re going to get hit with cold water first, anyway. Plus, “cold” water is actually “ambient temperature” water, as we’ve heard it called, which means it’s basically the same temperature as the bathroom. Whatever the case, it seems perfectly warm to me. You just pull up on the handle very gently, the spouts pop out from behind the little door that conceals them when not in use, and the fun begins.
I read a blog post that said a bidet is a conversation piece, and everyone who sees it will ask you about it, so you have to own that you’re a bidet person. Hello, world, I am a bidet person.
Thanks for all of your help, Jack!