My goodness, there's a goddess at the toilet That's why if you clean the toilet
You can become beautiful like the goddess
The plaintive lyrics, in Kansai dialect, of Kana Uemura's 2010 hit ballad, "Toilet no Kamisama"(the god of the toilet), relate the tale of a lonely little girl taken in by her grandmother after her parents divorced.
So popular was Uemura's autobiographical song that she was invited to perform all 9 minutes 52 seconds of it at NHK's Red-White singing battle on New Year's Eve.
Uemura has also spun off two eponymous books, and a two-hour drama based on her story aired last January on Mainichi Broadcasting and affiliates.
About half a decade ago, psychiatrist and author Shizuo Machizawa proclaimed discovery of the "lunchmate syndrome," used to describe the stress felt by school newcomers who, finding it so troublesome or stressful to make new friends with whom they could sit together for lunch in the dining hall or cafeteria began taking their meals in toilet cubicles. The Japanese term for this activity is "benjo-meshi" (toilet rice).
Last year, Spa! magazine launched an in-your-face response to the phenomenon, with a weekly column by comic entertainer "Chihara Junior" (nom de plume of Hiroshi Chihara) named "Sunawachi, benjo wa utchuu de aru" (in other words, the toilet is outer space). Chihara claims -- and what reason is there to doubt him? -- that his columns are composed while seated atop the commode. Nevertheless the photo accompanying his most recent installment, No. 62, showed him writing while standing, using the shelf above a row of urinals as his desk.
Web newspaper J-Cast News (Sept 11) reports that even within the hallowed walls of the elite University of Tokyo, a rumor was circulating that lonely students had taken to engaging in benjo-meshi -- to the extent that the institution was obliged to post signs prohibiting consumption of food therein.
A sign reading "No Smoking, Writing Graffiti or Eating in the Cubicles" was indeed posted on the Web, but it was impossible to verify if the location was actually at Todai. So J-Cast dispatched a reporter to the main campus in Hongo, Bunkyo Ward, to determine if there was any truth to the story.
Inquiring to the university's public relations office, the reporter was informed, "No such notice as been posted."
As befits a prestigious university, the reporter observed that even in the older buildings, the toilets were clean and functioned well. And signs existed, but they requested users to "Flush completely" and "Leave it clean for the next user." Nothing at all about prohibiting snacking. In another building, two signs read "Smoking prohibited" and "Conserve water" -- but again, nothing about eating.
Having come all this way, the reporter thought to himself, "Well at least I can say I did it myself." Entering the cubicle, he sat atop the toilet seat and extracted a piece of pastry from its wrapper.
"The toilet may have been clean, but it was gloomy inside, and I couldn't describe it as a very hospitable place to eat," he writes. "Anyway I took a bite. But just then a person went into a neighboring stall and there was a noise (what tactful ambiguity!). At that point I completely lost my appetite and gave up.
"The whole effort turned out to be futile."
While the practice of benjo-meshi might not be a problem at Japan's preeminent institution, the phenomenon has nonetheless been widely discussed in the blogosphere as being widespread among alienated youths, for whom eating in toilet stalls is preferable to enduring the stress of seeking out a lunchroom companion.© Japan Today