This piece was shortlisted for the people’s choice award in AUTOMATED: The 2017 Honi Soit Writing Competition. To vote, head to our Facebook page.
A coup d’état had been launched by my stomach against my bowels. It was like my intestines were a gearshift and I’d shifted from 4th to 2nd with a terrible grinding sound, pain and discomfort.
The omelette I’d eaten for breakfast in Hiroshima and the kara-age I’d eaten in Shin-Osaka had congealed together in an unholy Ouroboros of chicken and egg, brewing fetid alchemy in my gut.
I needed the toilet more than I’d ever needed the toilet in my life.
As soon as the shinkansen pulled into Nagasaki Station, I bolted out of the crowded carriage, desperate to find a WC. Being tall is a distinct advantage in Japan – I stood out amongst the crowd, towering and furtive like a giant anxious meerkat, on the lookout for a gent’s sign. Stumbling through the salarymen mumbling sumimasens, almost drunk with discomfort, I finally found a bathroom.
I waddled in, slammed the cubicle door shut, and more or less passed out on the throne.
I won’t elaborate on the detail of my relief in deference to good taste. Suffice to say, my painful situation was alas relieved. Whilst often not discussed, this most essential of human functions was rewarding. It is worthwhile to pause on the sublime nature of submitting to one’s bodies most basic of needs. Pausing on the loo to regain my composure, I took a deep breath. Panic, over. But just as I was relaxing and thanking my lucky stars that I’d kept my man brand intact, I made a unique and life-changing discovery about humanity’s relationship with technology.
Japan is truly a unique country, a land of contradictions and mystery. Countless philosophers and socially-awkward teenagers have sung its praises; examined its customs; pondered its nature – how Japan celebrates the intricacies of past customs whilst simultaneously embracing the cutting edge. Something that is uniquely Japanese is the robot toilet. The Western-style toilet in Japan has a complex history and cultural implications; some borne out of Japan’s strangely prudish culture – it used to be common practice for Japanese women to repeatedly flush the toilet in order to disguise the sound of their business, as it were, in order to not deal with the awkwardness of having others hear your natural eminences. At best, they could only guess at which point during the 5 minutes of running water you did your thing.
However this is obviously inefficient. Not only would you have to sit there, fanning the hammer of the flush, like a bathroom cowboy or some demented pinball wizard, but using all that water just to protect your modesty is unbelievably wasteful. Something needed to be done. The first robot toilets simply made sounds or played music to disguise the sound of you going to the toilet, but nowadays robot toilets – or “washlets” as they’re called in Japan – host a whole suite of functions.
I didn’t notice that the toilet I was using had a washlet seat installed. So it came as an enormous surprise when the toilet suddenly started spraying water up my arse. The washlet had detected that I’d finished, and without my consent, decided to enter me. The water was cold to start with, but warmed slightly as the stream continued. I was being penetrated with a very smooth liquid plunger handle – the experience was slightly aggressive but also slightly triumphant, as the washlet was also playing the Ode to Joy at a moderate volume whilst it was filling my anal cavity with water.
I hesitate to say that this unfamiliar bathroom experience was quite surreal. This automated ablution felt like a technological overreach; a computerised violation of my privacy; a robotic conspiracy against my anus.
Biologists talk about the “fight or flight” reflex, but I didn’t do either, I just sat petrified as my lower intestine was being irrigated by a robot. As I tensed up, the toilet adjusted the trajectory of the stream, to ensure thorough and total colonic cleansing. I could hear others in the cubicles next to me being serviced by similarly maniacal machines – a soft symphony of running water and orchestral tunes. The guy next to me was getting serenaded with The 1812 Overture, which upon reflection is a rather patronising, or at least, somewhat concerning choice of background music to one’s bodily functions.
The water stopped. The washlet blow-dried my bum and energetically thanked me for visiting it. I left the toilet a changed man – something essential about the human experience had been altered for me.
I ponder my fellow students who study hard to complete their science, design and engineering courses, only to face the prospect as a possible robotics specialist engaged in the vanguard of innovation of automated toilets. Do you think that Isaac Asimov, when creating the Three Laws of Robotics, envisioned having to write a Fourth: “wipe from front to back”?