We in the West are fairly pragmatic about our toilet needs. Not so the Japanese. Not content with simply doing their business and getting out, the Japanese feel the need to turn a trip to the bathroom into something as soothing to the senses as a session of flower arrangement followed by a little light tea ceremony. First and foremost, their magical toilets come with environmentally-controlled heated seats. If you’ve ever cringed at the unbridled wretchedness that is goosefleshed, trembling thighs coming into direct contact with icy porcelain, you’ll appreciate how using a heated toilet seat on a winter’s day feels like getting a warm hug from God. To further enhance the experience, Japanese toilets feature a nifty function called the ‘oto-hime’ (translated as ‘sound princess’) which plays a recording of a toilet flushing to mask bodily noises and minimise embarrassment whilst tinkling. For those with a shy bladder, this device can be life-changing. Many Japanese toilets also feature a handy basin above the tank that dispenses clean water upon flushing, allowing the germ-phobic to immediately cleanse themselves, in the process making toilet stall door handles less of a breeding ground for potentially life-threatening diseases.
‘Kotatsu’ heated tables
In Japan they have these little low tables called kotatsu that come with a thick, padded blanket and a heater underneath. You sit at the table and stick your legs under the blanket, effectively toasting your entire lower body in the encapsulated warmth. Apart from a hot bath, it’s probably the closest you can get to recreating the sensation of floating blissfully in your mother’s womb. I maintain that there is nothing more gorgeous than snuggling under the roasty toasty kotatsu with a cup of tea, a couple of mikan fruits and a good book on a chilly, drizzly day. It’s not recommended, but you can actually sleep under the kotatsu, which I did regularly throughout one particularly frigid Kyoto winter. I dreamed of gamboling kittens and fluffy clouds and woke up with my pillow saturated in drool every morning.
Convenience stores that are actually really convenient
You can buy anything from a Japanese convenience store. Besides the obvious beer snacks and porno magazines, Japanese convenience stores also stock a plethora of essential items you might need in an emergency- combs, spare white button-down shirts for work, nail files, seam rippers, bug spray, hair dye, toothpaste, deodorant, even packets of individually wrapped disposable underpants (because surely even the best of us has the occasional accident!?). Picture it- you pass out dead drunk in the gutter after a night of debauchery and don’t have time to go home and shower before work/class- simply make your way to the nearby convenience store, buy fresh undies, a clean t-shirt, comb, deodorant, toothbrush, makeup and what have you, then lock yourself in the supplied toilet cubicle to transform yourself into a fresh daisy, ready to face the day. You can also use the ATM, photocopy/fax machine, pay your bills, donate to charity, mail a package or even buy concert/airplane tickets from the little magic kiosk, if so inclined. Basically we in the West are still stumbling around living hugely inconvenient lives and a Japanese-style ‘combini’ store on every corner could really help us sort our shit out.
Trust me, in a few years, Hello Kitty will be finished, her empire decimated and her mute white corpse trampled into the dirt by the adorable paddy paws of Rilakkuma. Rilakkuma (a portmanteau of relax and kuma, the Japanese word for bear) is a teddy bear who (you guessed it) loves to relax. He spends his time lounging around, napping, taking baths, eating pudding and other sources of heavy carbs, and basically living a life of unapologetic, blissful luxury the likes of which we wage-slaving mortals can only dream of. He’s also enigmatic and mysterious in that he features a zip-up back with polka dotted lining- wait, is he just wearing a bear suit? If so, what IS he? Rilakkuma’s pudgy fabulousness and utter lack of spare fucks to give make Hello Kitty (real name Kitty White) look like the kind of apple-polishing goody-two-shoes try-hard nobody could get behind. Not even Anne Hathaway. In a few years, Kitty-chan will be history and you’ll be seeing this loveable boss of a bear on lunchboxes, t-shirts, bags, pens, and little rolly suitcases wielded by discerning children everywhere. If you somehow require further convincing, his ears are also made of cake.
Electronic menus and waiter call buttons
Secretly we hate having to deal with those perky, hard-working people who are just trying to provide us with a service- there’s the insincere exchange of pleasantries to get through, the tense moment when your mumbled order is inevitably misheard, and just the inherent awkwardness involved in having to actually communicate with another human being when your only wish is to feed your face in peace. The Japanese are endeavouring to eradicate these little hassles from the eating-out experience altogether, and to that end, many restaurants in Japan feature a little hand-held console on every table with pictures of food and drinks you can electronically order by tapping the touchscreen with the provided stylus. To also bypass the annoyance of having to attract a waiter’s attention (running the associated risk of being publicly ignored, oh the humiliation), Japanese restaurants also come with a handy buzzer at the table which you can press to light up a switchboard in the kitchen, dispatching a serf to your side with robotic speed and efficiency. In a few years we will all be able to dine like the Japanese with the absolute minimum of human interaction, and how sweet that will be.