I had a rather amusing conversation with the members of my eikaiwa last night. One of them brought up one of the very many "it's strange to foreigners" facets of Japanese culture... the toilet that sounds like it's flushing, but isn't.
As my eikaiwa explained to me, in Japan it is embarrassing/shameful/undesirable for a woman to be heard using the toilet for, shall we say, "number 2." Now admittedly, if I find myself in a toilet where the likelihood of someone being disturbed by me is high (ie, the toilet has thin walls, a common occurrence in Japan) I engage the toilet for an initial flush to mask any initial sounds. A secondary flush moments later neatly concludes my business.
Now, to a Japanese person, this is quite rightly a waste of water. Obviously the initial solution was to design a flush system (which almost every toilet here has installed, including mine at home) a two-way flush system, big and small, dependent on your requirements. But presumably this wasn't enough. Yes, women were able to mask any sounds they may have made, but unfortunately it was still considered a waste of water. The solution? A toilet that plays a sound recording of a toilet being flushed at the push of a button, masking any initial noises. Afterwards a "real" flush will remove the offensive material. It's an amusing thought, but nonetheless does solve the water wastage problem.
The eikaiwa member in question told me he considered it something unusual and unique to Japanese culture, and asked me my opinion. I told him I agreed with him but had to conclude that it saved water. However, I decided to take this opportunity to suggest a slight modification should I ever be in the toilet manufacturing business in Japan in the near future.
My idea is very simple: the flushing noise should be replaced with something far more comical. Turn the embarrassing/shameful/undesirable situation into one everyone can laugh at. After all, we're only human. My suggestion of animals noises (ie "Moooo", "boooook bok bok", and "baaaaa") were met with an alarmingly large amount of laughter, side-holding and tears. I must admit to feeling rather pleased with myself at bounding across the cultural barrier to deliver a joke which received such a reaction.
So if any Japanese toilet manufacturing representatives are reading, the next time I'm out in a restaurant and need to relieve myself, I want the other patrons to believe a farmyard animal has stopped by to use the restroom. Thank you.