It is not every day that you come across this strange message. So what do you do if the Little Green Light is flashing and you want to get up? The simple answer is: Don’t! Some readers are probably confused now! No! I was not on the “Starship Enterprise” going through Hyperspace. I was just [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Do not get up if little green light is flashing!


Iillustration by N. Senthilkumaran

It is not every day that you come across this strange message. So what do you do if the Little Green Light is flashing and you want to get up?

The simple answer is: Don’t!

Some readers are probably confused now!

No! I was not on the “Starship Enterprise” going through Hyperspace. I was just sitting on a Japanese toilet!

I suppose that at this point, I need to explain to you and you need to understand the Japanese mentality. Briefly: They had had a hard time with crazy American cowboys dropping nuclear firecrackers over Hiroshima. Some of the nice Japanese people were actually sitting on their squatting toilets when the nasty Americans dropped their firecrackers. It was 8.15 a.m. Not a nice thing to do when you are squatting over a toilet at that time of the morning.It resulted in a national and collective phobia of toilets. Simple!

Toilet technology

The Japanese then got over that nasty moment and started producing “technology”. At first it was ballpoint pens, then cars and then they decided to do something about their toilets. If cars have dashboards with flashing lights then it was a good idea to have dashboards in toilets. That was their thinking. That is how it all started.

My first experience of a Japanese toilet was  a couple of years ago when I checked into my room in the Asakusa Hotel, Tokyo. Travel weary I walked into the tiny bathroom in my tiny room to wash my face when the toilet suddenly started singing and the lid lifted up.

I jumped up and said “Ha!” It is not every day that you come across a singing toilet.

Actually, it was not singing but it played the first few phrases of Op. 62 Nr. 6 Frühlingslied by Felix Mendelssohn. This is when I noticed the flashing high tech panel telling me to sit down. I sat down as commanded. On the toilet.

First shock to my nether regions: The toilet seat was heated and warm! Then the toilet immediately flushed itself even before I had done anything! I waited for the next development. After some time I decided to press the button depicting a man sitting on a fountain. I had always wanted to sit on a fountain. Haaaa! I shouted when the bidet function came into play. As instructed, I remained firmly seated.

It was a good thing that I didn’t press the button of a woman sitting on two fountains! Work that out for yourselves! It was also a good thing that I didn’t get up as per flashing of the little green light (read on!)

When things subsided a bit I pressed the button of a man sitting on the smoke stack of a steam locomotive. Whoosh! A blast of hot air confirmed that this was the drying function. Meanwhile Felix Mendelssohn continued to play. The green light then quietened down and I felt confident enough to press the red button.

You don’t press red buttons lightly. Could be the self-destruct button! It seemed that I had made the right choice. The toilet flushed itself. We were finished and I got up. I thanked the toilet. I had to! It was human! I said “Arrigato!” which is Japanese for “Thank You”.

Toilet humour

I spent the next hour or so playing with the toilet In spite of the fact that there were better things to do in Japan. Good fun! Better than a computer game!

Actually, as I soon discovered, this toilet was a very basic toilet by Japanese standards. I decided to research Japanese toilets.

One night we were in a posh Karaoke bar in Kyoto. I sang Johnny Cash. My young travelling companion Anna rushed to the toilet. Maybe it was my interpretation of the late J. Cash. She came back much later looking flushed (no pun) long after I had finished singing “I Walk the Line” for the third time.

“Gyan! Come and have a look at the ladies toilet!” she commanded. I did as I was told. As I walked in with Anna into the ladies toilet, an ornate cubicle door opened silently and intense blue laser lights played around the seat.

“Haaaaaa!” I shouted.

“Shut up Gyan!” she commanded; Anna not the toilet. I shut up as commanded by Anna.

The lid slowly lifted as the orchestra played “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. A whiff of deodorant wafted across and the toilet gently flushed itself in preparation.

Mindful of the fact that I was now in a ladies toilet, I got out quickly in case a female Samurai toilet attendant turned up with a sword in “Kill Bill” fashion and caused Grievous Bodily Harm or GBH to my nether regions. Anna later explained the whole business to me in graphic detail.It took a long time. She had had an “awesome” experience!

Beethoven’s Toilet Symphony

Apparently, Japanese women are rather shy about the person in the next cubicle hearing various sounds associated with using a toilet. So they repeatedly flush the toilet to drown out such sounds. This causes wastage of water. So the clever guys have fitted sound modules in ladies’ toilets, which when activated, produce the sound of a continuously flushing toilet in addition to Beethoven. Very clever!

Whilst Anna researched feminine toilets I undertook research of male toilets or “Man’s Toilets” as they call them. The biggest block of public toilets was at Shinjuku Railway Station. They, the toilets, have a display of their own next to the Shinkasen “Bullet Train” departure indicator. Man still in toilet, train about to depart.

This was about the time that Lizzie one of the middle-aged ladies that we met, decided to use a public toilet in a shopping mall in Yokohama. She was from Wales. They still have basic outdoor toilets there in Wales. She was not yet toilet trained in Japan!

Anna and I waited for her. It didn’t take very long. She came out screaming “Omigod”, pulling up her trousers, totally drenched and looking behind her fearfully. I swear that I could hear the “Dies Irae” by Verdi emanating from the toilet. Two diminutive Japanese female toilet attendants dressed in pink floral patterned transparent plastic raincoats with matching umbrellas sprang into action. Like all Japanese people “they were of good humour”. They giggled with hands covering mouths. Charming.

They shut off the toilet. It was of course Lizzie’s fault! She ignored the Golden Rule!

“Do Not Get Up if Little Green Light is flashing!”

Tsunami Warning

I did find other uses of a low-technology nature for Japanese toilets. When an earthquake starts the water in the toilet bowl shows ripples! This is a sort of an early warning system.

You keep on watching the ripples, the ripples increase in magnitude and then the whole building collapses around you.

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