Craig Mod
Tokyo & New York & SF & elsewhere
Hi co-founder. Writer. Travel lover. More at:

Toilets and culture and the culture of toilets

August 17th, 2013, 4am in Hounslow, United Kingdom

Look at that thing! That hole! A british monster deep in Heathrow, terminal 5, near Starbucks.

Oh, the toilets I've seen.

The shapes: round, square, amorphous dirt holes.

The complexities: handles, buttons, double buttons, hand sensors, foot pedals, hanging chains, control panels on the toilet, control panels on the wall.

The doors: short, tall, lots of space below, no space below, closes easily, locks, doesn't lock, doorless.

In In Praise of Shadows Tanizaki went on and on about toilets. His focus? Nature. Watching the sky as you squat. I won't even try to paraphrase. Here, look:

Every time I am shown to an old, dimly lit, and, I would add, impeccably clean toilet in a Nara or Kyoto temple, I am impressed with the singular virtues of Japanese architecture. The parlor may have its charms, but the Japanese toilet is truly a place of spiritual repose. It always stands apart from the main building, at the end of a corridor, in a grove fragrant with leaves and moss. No words can describe that sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji, lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden. The novelist Natsume Sōseki counted his morning trips to the toilet a great pleasure, “a physiological delight” he called it. And surely there could be no better place to savor this pleasure than a Japanese toilet where, surrounded by tranquil walls and finely grained wood, one looks out upon blue skies and green leaves.

I wondered, there, in Heathrow, what cultural toilet oddities awaited in Ghana. Would they move me such as Tanizaki was moved? Would they be like Tibet? Holes in the ground atop mountains, wallless for you to hold gaze with yaks? Or Hanoi; small shacks in the backs of bars? Or Cancun; coverless porcelain spittoons?

Who knew. Who knows. Not I, still. I've yet to venture beyond the hotel. The toilet here is just fine; well shaped, simple, two buttons. Easily parseable by most. Tomorrow we head to the villages. Tomorrow we find out what this country's toilets are made from.