When tourists from China visit Japan and go on wild spending binges, the term describing their behavior is "bakukai," literally "explosion purchasing." But not only is Japan regarded as a shopping Mecca; Shukan Shincho (May 28) reports that visitors from China are also mightily impressed by Japan's lavatory facilities. Not only are those warm-water bidets a nice thing to have, Chinese visitors gush enthusiastically, but Japan's toilet tissue is also soooo soft.
The Japanese government nevertheless feels that there's still room for improvement, and is planning to devote more attention to the beautification of public sanitary facilities. To this, er, end, LDP upper house member Haruko Arimura, who serves in the cabinet as Minister in Charge of Women's Empowerment and a number of other posts, may also soon be adding the unofficial title, "Minister of Toilets."
Of course, it's not only Chinese who have been raving over the washlets. None other than Hollywood actor Will Smith ("Independence Day") praised them to the media, remarking "They're paper free. Wherever you sit on the toilet, somehow it hits the bull's eye perfectly. It cleans and then dries you. It is just water and then air."
Last October, Arimura was appointed by the cabinet to head the special task force entrusted with transforming Japan into a "society in which all women shine." One of the three subcommittees of the newly formed task force was entrusted with "considering the toilet problem."
Architect Akito Yokoyama, a member of the subcommittee, told Shukan Shincho, "At our first meeting Ms Arimura explained why she wanted to take up the matter of toilets. 'Women,' she said, 'are unable to bring themselves to enter filthy toilets in public parks. To enable women who work outside the home to thrive, it's necessary to improve the environment in public toilets.'
"Ms Arimura intends to summon various experts on toilets to the subcommittee meetings," Yokoyama continued, "She said to us, 'I don't mind if you call me Minister of Toilets; I want to fix up public lavatories.' She's really on a roll."
As concrete examples of the kind of improvements Arimura is considering, Yokoyama mentioned such ideas as "to invite corporate sponsors to post advertisements on the walls, with the revenues going toward maintenance of the facilities. Or with the notion of improved safety in mind, making it so the toilets attached to police koban are accessible to anybody.
"These are the kinds of ideas that could only come from females," he said. "Ms Arimura is to be praised for her foresight. Not only is she saying that it's good to make them comfortable, clean and safe, she's seeking to transform toilets into a 'space in which a person can feel serenity.' Now we're considering incentives like awarding the 'Toilet Grand Prix' to the best facilities."
The subcommittee expects to complete its guidelines by the end of May, after which the involved ministries and agencies will make adjustments before the details are worked into the government's budget for the coming fiscal year.
"Starting with Yuko Obuchi, female politicians have been involved in a seemingly endless string of scandals of late," notes political analyst Atsuo Ito. "But Ms Arimura seems to be pretty solid. She hasn't proposed any noteworthy policies up to now, but as a way of making herself stand out, dealing with the problems of toilets may be a good idea, as anyone will be able to see the results. By the same token, some time ago former Environment Minister Yuriko Koike was successful in overseeing the 'Cool Japan' concept.
"So perhaps this time Ms Arimura will become associated with the 'Toilet reformation,'" said Ito.
Shukan Shincho's writer concludes with a lowbrow pun. "I guess we can say Ms Arimura is staking her 'fate as a politician' ('seijika no un') on becoming the 'Minister of Toilets,'" he writes. In Japanese the word for "fate," pronounced "un," is a homonym for bowel movement.© Japan Today