Hush, Just Flush

Tell me what your toilet habits are, and I will tell you who you are.

I was in the ladies’ room, minding my own business, when I heard someone flushing in the next cubicle. Whooosh, whooosh, whooosh! It’s the sound of flushing, and the flushing lever had been pulled down three times in succession. Three times! How many times does one need to flush human filth down the toilet? Inspite of myself, I couldn’t help but count how many times the person had already flushed, thinking of all the volumes of water going down the drain.

There was a pause. Then suddenly, another whooosh! Ok, enough already! I silently cursed. Think of all the water that’s being wasted, woman! Images of filthy toilets unflushed because of clogged pipes, inadequate water supply or poor water pressure flashed in my mind, as I recalled how things could be back in my country. Back home, one would always find large waste baskets in toilets, simply because nobody should ever flush toilet papers down the toilet. This is a horrid act with dire consequences! Ever watched Ben Stiller in “Along Came Polly”? Aha, now you get the picture. In most public toilets in the Philippines, used toilet papers usually go into the waste basket, not into the toilet. Eww, I know. And this is a rule that I always tend to forget whenever I visit home. I tend to forget that we don’t always have the luxury of efficient toilet flushing systems.

The Sound Princess. But why sounds of flushing water? Why not play Vivaldi instead?

But here in Japan, where water is abundant and toilets flush the way they should, flushing with wanton abandon has been used as a way to “hide” the sounds of “bodily functions.” Here in Japan, women are “very embarrassed by the sounds they make in a toilet.” According to a site I found:

“The Japanese are notoriously fastidious: the daily bath is practiced with near-religious fervor, and walking inside with your shoes on is considered filthy. The Japanese word for clean – “kirei” – also means beautiful.

And what happens in a bathroom stall is, well, among the dirtiest things that humans do.

Going to the toilet has been considered embarrassing and even shameful for women since ancient times in Japan, said Noriji Suzuki, a parasitologist at Kochi University Medical School.

“Sometimes you see people talking to each other over a stall in Western countries, but that would never happen in our culture,” he said.”

More interesting bits of information about toilets and toilet behavior in Japan can be found here.

Fortunately, there are already gadgets like “Oto-Hime” (literally translated as “Sound Princess”) which are now installed in most modern public toilets. Instead of actually flushing the toilet to mask the sound, all you have to do is activate the gadget, usually by placing your hand over the sensor, and it will play a recorded sound of water flushing. And yes, it’s loud enough to cover even the loudest fart you’ll ever make. :) I’ve used these on occasion, especially when I know that the cubicle next to mine is occupied by another person. Unfortunately, one may not always find this in public toilets, particularly in old buildings and establishments. And thus the water flushing habit continues. I think that this is a rather odd cultural behavior. And it’s really not environment-friendly.

Personally I don’t think that the sounds while I perform my “bodily functions” are embarrassing for me – but as a courtesy to the other persons, I use the Oto-Hime. Or in the absence of such a gadget…well, I beat my chest and sing “My Way” to the top of my lungs. Nah, just kidding. C’mon, I’m a Filipino, so I know how to improvise — anything else but flushing precious water down the toilet.

Actually, I only found out about this behavior years after coming here. When I finally realized what those gadgets were for, I could only shake my head at the thought of having made all those junkets to the toilet without any attempts of hiding the sounds. So when the time came around, I oriented my sister about the existence of the Oto-Hime, what it does, and why it is there. However, I never really had the chance to show her what it actually looked like. I just told her that she could find it in the ladies’ room. One time, out of curiosity, she explored the buttons she found inside the public toilet, hoping to find the Oto-Hime I told her about. She found a button, and pressed it.

Nothing happened. There were no sounds. Thinking that she must have pressed the wrong button, she dismissed it. A few minutes later, somebody knocked on her door. When she opened it, there was a guard standing outside. Uh-ohh…what did I do wrong now? she thought.

It turned out that the button she pressed was for emergency calls. Poor sister! The guard realized at once that it was no emergency, just another clueless “gaijin” who made a mistake. She made a quick bow and promptly exited. We all enjoyed a good laugh at that incident. I told her, “Only in Japan, my dear, only in Japan.”

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20 Responses to Hush, Just Flush

  1. Prab says:

    Makes me wonder if the Japanese are too O-C sometimes. First time I’ve heard about a person being ashamed of his/her own body.

    The last bit was hilarious! What does gaijin mean, btw?

  2. bw says:

    Is it installed in men’s stalls too? Just curious :) I guess Japanese women are so shy that they have to supress the sound of their evacuation :)

  3. kathy says:

    What is O-C? Over-conscious?
    Well actually they’re not necessarily ashamed of their bodies per se, just of the sounds that accompany something that they consider “dirty.” :)

    Gaijin is a shortened term for “gaikokujin,” which means foreigner, or literally, outsider. But the term gaijin has derogatory connotations, so I heard.

  4. kathy says:

    It’s not installed in the men’s room, according to my husband (just so you know that I didn’t actually go into the men’s room to check it out :P). I also realize that shyness can be defined within the cultural context. Filipino women are ashamed of exposing their bodies (or body parts) in public. But people here go to naked public baths without being shy at all. 😉

  5. Prab says:

    O-C: Obessive Compulsive. And I guess I have to rephrase. It’s considered as a form of taboo then? 😉

  6. dimaks says:

    I think I’ve seen those kind of toilets ( especially the shared ones) in some restaurants :) Haven’t used them yet though.

  7. kathy says:

    Ah, so that’s what O-C stands for. :)
    Well, taboo might be a strong word. I guess the closest analogy would be the same way that Filipinos regard the act of farting in public. One would never want to be caught doing it. :)

  8. kathy says:

    So now you know what those things are for. Even if we as foreigners are not really expected to know these things, sometimes it helps to know the quirks and oddities of the culture we’re living in. :)

  9. Abaniko says:

    For all you know, she dumped a tonful of sh*t and had to remove all evidence of it. Be thankful she flushed. Imagine if she didn’t. :)

  10. dimaks says:

    that sure be a big mess.. oops! 😀

  11. herb says:

    the japanese are really strange. the more i know them , the stranger they become. ;P

    i was thinking that the person using the next cubicle just flushed down a huge log of sh*t and first flush was just to break it down, and two other flushes to send it spiralling to the sewers. wheeeeee!!!

  12. kathy says:

    Gyah! I would rather not imagine! :)
    Thanks for dropping by Abaniko. :)

  13. kathy says:

    lol! you guys have a wild imagination. 😛

  14. kathy says:

    herb, hahaha! sobrang natawa ako ron ah. 😀 and i thought abaniko and dimaks had wild imaginations. hands down, you’re the one with the best graphic description…:P

  15. dimaks says:

    or perhaps he/she suddenly thought of the sound diversion and had to make cover noises for the next let outs :p yikes!

  16. hazel says:

    oo nga bakit wala sa men’s room???? siguro di sila nag flu flush?! hehehe

    when i was reading your post i have the same imagination as herb :)

    nice site, btw!

  17. kathy says:

    if it’s two flushes, that usually means it was No.1. two or three, then it’s No. 2. four or more, LBM na yun haha. :)

  18. kathy says:

    according to dimaks, baka meron nga sa “common” toilets, but this is more for the benefit of the women than the men.

    thanks for dropping by, hazel! :)

  19. rhodora says:

    Haha! This is funny. I wish we could have one of those Oto-Hime in our home, but I would prefer sounds of water running from faucet instead of water flushing. I find it embarassing when we have guests in the living room and they hear flushing sounds from the bathroom. Nice post, Kathy!

    BTW, I tagged you. Please visit my site and see what I did for meme. Hope no one has tagged you yet on this meme. Unfortunately though, my comments still don’t work.

  20. kathy says:

    Thanks! Now that you mentioned it, I wonder if Oto-Hime can actually be custom-made.

    Oh no, got tagged again! :) I just finished my earlier assignment (see latest post) hehe. But don’t worry I’ll get on with it, as soon as I can! :)

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