Water Closet or Bathroom: Restroom Design East & West


“Treasure night soil as if it were gold.” ~ Chinese Proverb highlighting the value – then and now – of our fecal waste….

http://www.discovery.com/video/surprise-toothbrush-minimyth/

Everything way too close in our bathroom by Tupperware.

Everything way too close in our bathroom by Tupperware.

Don't Brush where you Flush

Don’t Brush where you Flush

Every time I brush my teeth here in our Kwuirky Kondo I can’t help but think about just how much night soil matter may be involved. I know some people who suffer diarrhea of the mouth, but in a literal sense?! But it doesn’t have to be this way….

So why do the bathrooms of the East and West differ so dramatically? Why is it that engineering and architecture across cultures can diverge so significantly for the exact same biological processes that all humans share? Not to be “anal” about the subject, but “bearing down” the origins of modern design helps to “shower” us with more than a few reasons.

For most of recorded history people around the world got their water from springs, rivers or wells, which self-limited consumption to what could be carried. Since it was so hard to get and transport, water was treated much more as a scarce and valuable resource than it is today. Solid waste was kept in cesspits to be emptied by “night soil men” who would then sell it as fertilizer or otherwise dispose of the unwanted byproduct. Liquid waste from the home was sometimes thrown into the road, to which the French exclamation “gardyloo” (garde à l’eau), or “mind the water!” warning would alert passersby.

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In the West the Romans really kicked off our modern approach to toilets with massive civil engineering projects a few thousand years ago. The idea of Turkish and Asian baths placed the Middle and Far East on a much different trajectory. But it was a cholera epidemic in London in the mid-1800s that really brought the modern Western bathroom to bear. Realizing that excrement mixed with drinking water generally equaled death, the march was on to pump clean and safe water directly into homes. Pipes carrying clean water under pressure became the standard in the west, but with some rather unforeseen consequences.

Although the idea of a flush toilet had been around for many centuries, it was the convenient and 24/7 water supply that led to its explosion as the primary means of personal waste removal. People rushed to install handy flush toilets, and the demand and nature of the resulting necessary architectural engineering lead down a narrow path of thought.

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Initially the architects and homeowners of the late 19th century simply replaced bedroom washstands with sinks and taps, and had to “find” somewhere to place the toilet. Since they were literally often placed, in the early days, into closets, the origin of the term “water closet” becomes obvious. However, it was certainly easier and less expensive to run plumbing to one central location, rather than all over the house. Ah, the birth of the modern Western bathroom.

As this idea matured, wood was replaced with porcelain and tile (or other impermeable stone) in a nod to defeating microbes as more and more people realized the danger of germs. But such materials don’t come cheaply, and as the bathroom continued to become more and more mainstream, it necessarily got smaller and smaller in order to contain cost. Oh, and there certainly was no reason to keep the sinks, showers and toilets all in separate spaces; the plumbers instead simply lined all these features up in a row and ended up using much less pipe. By the early 20th century, the bathroom became more or less standardized and commonplace throughout the West, and relatively indistinguishable from the ones in use today.

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But in the East, the emphasis was placed on much different concerns than mere cost and convenience. Rather, the idea of cleanliness became paramount, and ritual and relaxation overruled economies of scale and installation. In short, human wants and needs took precedence over the dictations of plumbers. Oh, and they probably lacked those pesky trade unions that do little else but jack up prices and stretch a 4-hour job over two weeks.

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That's a kitchen counter.  Right next to the toilet!

That’s a kitchen counter. Right next to the toilet!

From an Eastern perspective, it’s hard to find things we Westerners actually got right in our bathrooms. The high toilets that we sit upon are contrary to the medical claim that our bodies were engineered to squat. Squat toilets remain commonplace throughout Asia, much to the chagrin of many a Western tourist. Sinks are generally much too low to facilitate washing, so much so that Jody and I, when we remodeled all three baths in our home in Pensacola, purposely put in kitchen counters to elevate our wash basins. Showers are generally severe fall hazards, especially the ones that require a high step over the edge of a tub. The tiny rooms we build and outfit are often inadequately ventilated, and then we proceed to fill that space with a densely toxic cloud of chemicals ranging from nail polish remover to bleach tile cleaner. When we flush solid waste down the toilet, we also unknowingly swoosh nasty fecal-bathed bacteria into the air, where it unfailingly lands on our toothbrush located just a meter away. And when we take a bath and bathe, we sit mired in our own muck, completely defeating the purpose of the bath to begin with.

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The American/Western shower is a source of incredible waste and inefficiency, even though it may feel amazing when you have the rain can, shower head, and all three body sprayers going at the same time. Thank about it – even when you don’t really need the water, like during lathering with soap or shampoo, the water continues to run constantly. One usually stands on tile or in a tiny restrictive porcelain tub that’s already slick when dry; such a surface can become downright dangerous when wet! When we actually do care about water waste, mostly based on cost as opposed to environmental concerns, we either take short showers, or install those really miserable low-flow shower heads that more spit on you than stream. In the Navy aboard ship we suffer BOTH insults.

Waterproof Bathing Room!

Waterproof Bathing Room!

However, things are different in the Far East. Here the Japanese flirt with their facilities in an ages-old ritual developed with much different aims in mind. The shower/bath is usually contained in a waterproof room. That’s right – WATERPROOF! I mean it is tiled floor to ceiling, and the ceiling itself is water-resistant. Aside from the bath’s drain, there is a drain for the room, the low point of the gently sloping floor. Light fixtures are sealed, and power receptacles have waterproof covers (and of course are grounded). It is a fabulous idea, both for cleaning your body, AND for cleaning the room!

So in the shower area – which is just a big open area of the room – one sits on a stool. A bucket, sponge, ladle and hand shower are available for washing. There is no shower curtain to get nasty with mold and mildew, and the hand shower is only turned on when needed. To shower, one fills the bucket with hot water from the spigot and ladles oneself wet. When done lathering, the ladle or the hand shower is used to rinse. Often to end the shower one simply dumps the remainder of the bucket over one’s head. Besides being a more relaxing experience (sitting versus standing), some claim that it only uses 10% of the water compared to a Western shower. Maybe. Way less in any case.

An original deep-soak tub in a Machiya, Kyoto, Japan

An original deep-soak tub in a Machiya, Kyoto, Japan. It’s set about another foot into the ground.

But that is only half of the story. In that same room is a tub, but one much different from which Westerners are accustomed. Japanese bathtubs (ofuro) are not for cleaning; they are for soaking. In other words, Far Eastern tubs are for cleansing the spirit and mind, and only are used AFTER the body has been cleansed of more tangible dirt as described above. Thus, the tubs are DEEP but short in length. They are designed to be filled fully, and the soaker to sit with their heads back and knees close to their chests. The position is thought to heighten a sense of meditation, or at least relaxation. I can assure you this: I will, after having tried many Asian-sized deep-soak tubs, take depth over length any day! In fact, it makes me want to turn that deep sink back home into a soaking tub. Heck, the room is already almost waterproof as is…if only it had a floor drain.

Even Japanese cats Soak....

Even Japanese cats Soak….

By the way, there is another important difference in Japan’s baths: on-demand, gas-fired water heaters. Yeah, those tubs are deep and hold a LOT of water. But don’t fret. There is literally an unlimited supply of piping hot water in Japan, at least until your gas supply runs out. The water is heated almost instantaneously but only when demanded, and comes to temperature in seconds. A digital control panel allows you to specify the temperature exactly, and there generally are not any annoying anti-scalding devices between you and a 48 degree C bath. In Japan they like their water HOT, and won’t accept anything lukewarm. Yep, the Japanese actually trust you, a grown adult with a vast amount of experience in bathing, with ensuring your own bathing safety. Oh, and since the water remains clean, the water is re-used across the generations often present in a Japanese household.

Toilet Room quite separate and distinct from the bathing area.

Toilet Room quite separate and distinct from the bathing area.

Another aspect of Japanese bathrooms is quite noticeable and makes perfect sense: never, ever do you find the toilet in the same room as the tub and shower. In their minds, this is beyond logic. Why on earth would you do the dirtiest of deeds in the same room where you try to get the cleanest of cleans? Or, to make it cute:  don’t brush where you flush!  Makes you really think about Western bathroom design…. And the American solution of putting a tiny old-tyme W.C. within a larger bathroom? Doesn’t cut it in Japan.

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In many toilet facilities in Japan a separate dedicated pair of slippers are used only in the toilet area. While you may be wearing house slippers or socks while enjoying the home, a necessary switch to toilet slippers is required to use the toilet. These toilet slippers are considered soiled and are never allowed in any part of the home. In hotels with shared facilities or at some tourist attractions, this switching of footwear is a crucial part of bathroom etiquette.

Japan 2014, bathrooms, rocket-surgery electronic toilet control panel

Finally, even though you might be in a Japanese-style dwelling, it’s quite possible that a more Western style bathroom is provided. But even then, Japan’s toilets are high-tech, a fascinating aspect of the Far East to which I’ve already dedicated a blog: see Moaning Myrtle and Bowel Movements. In summary, a control panel like you might find on the Starship Enterprise offers various options, including music, bidet wash, hot-air blow dryer, seat warmer and other sound and olfactory systems designed to mask the smells and noises of a particularly troublesome session of #2.

The deep-soak tub we installed after remodeling our master bathroom.

The deep-soak tub we installed after remodeling our master bathroom.

While we may not be able to import many of these aspects to our already built home back in the states, we will take with us perhaps the most radical, revolutionary change in bathroom engineering of the ages: heated toilet seats! Whether or not you agree with any of the differences thus discussed, there’s not one of you out there that’s going to turn their nose up at a nice, warm, padded throne.

Our non-slip sizeable shower.  We even have a teak stool in the hidden corner!

Our non-slip sizeable shower. We even have a teak stool in the hidden corner!

And if we ever have a home-built, Jody and I will refuse to be mere “stool” pigeons in accepting some run-of-the-mill bathroom design. No, instead we will “bear down” and “strain” ourselves in perfecting our water closet’s design, reworking the plans until we’re “cramping” from fatigue. We’ll reach deep into the “bowels” of our minds to remember these aspects of design, and “flush” them onto paper, preferably a little more durable than TP. And once finished, we will bask, bath, and yes – even defecate in the full glory of our water-centric facilities.

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And thanks to the blending of the best of East meets West, our toothbrushes will, for the most part, remain night soil-free. Can you say that about yours?!?

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Food Fit for a Scoundrel: Genghis Khan


Okinawa Eats: Genghis Khan

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11811345295_6d6c9a0b60_bAmbiance: Long-standing local Mom & Pop establishment, decorated in what can only be described as the Japanese-spin on a half senile American Grandma….

Service: Self-service buffet where you select ingredients that are cooked fresh to order.  The line at the griddles can get quite long at the prime dinner hours, especially on weekends and around military paydays.

Food Quality: Above-average.

Features:  Spacious and eclectic local eatery with easily reconfigurable, family style seating

Cuisine: Mongolian BBQ consisting of frozen meats but fresh vegetables.

Price/Value: Above Average.

Like you Grandma's attic, with food.

Like you Grandma’s attic, with food.

Khan.  What a glutton.

Khan. What a glutton.

Although you may not have the fathered as many sons as Genghis Khan and your Y chromosome may not live on in around 0.5% of the male global population, you can still certainly dine as he did almost as often.

11811730864_e00e2df623_bGenghis Khan is located conveniently a few blocks from our condo, and although we could walk there, we choose to drive because the journey back home would be just too hard on a bloated belly after enjoying the deadly sin of gluttony for at least the previous sixty minutes. The Mom and Pop joint, a not-so-small hole-in-the-wall that’s been around for almost forty years now, is just minutes from Kadena AFB Gate 1.  And the food is just plain yummy:  freshly cooked, served steaming hot, which seems to expand to fill and form-fit your belly, this style of Mongolian BBQ is true comfort food, and a great way to end a long day of adventure on Okinawa.

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Eclectic Americana...for sure.

Eclectic Americana…for sure.

11812080046_f0b833598d_b11811752804_75c29f36c9_bWalking in it seems like you just might be walking into an old antique shop or possibly your overly patriotic grandmother’s house; if you like American flag hand-crocheted quilts, this place is for you! Hungry patrons are greeted at the door and directed to a table (usually of your choice), where you decide if you would like rice or bread to go with your soon-to-be consumed feast.  Then, you simply get up, grab a bowl – imprinted with Japanese and American flags – and fill it with all the meat (chicken, beef, pork and lamb) and up to ten kinds of veggies to your Mongol heart’s content.  Soba noodles are available, along with a plethora of toppings and seasonings, including a Genghis Khan original sauce, soy, olive oil, teriyaki and even sake!  For first-timers, there’s a guide posted in English about recommended spices, which is a great point of departure to start this culinary adventure.  You’ll soon be experimenting and will certainly come up with your own perfect concoction.  A cook then chops the raw ingredients and grills them under your watchful eye.  On slow nights, the owner may even assist you with what he considers best sauce combo.

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11811320325_36664d0237_bThis buffet-style restaurant is perfect for the hungry Mongol in your life that you can’t seem to keep full. They are, however, only open for dinner.  And an insider’s hint:  be careful on payday weekends as the place is often hoppin’ full of Americans!

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11811743484_c73f7cfa85_bA large establishment for Okinawa, Genghis Khan can seat up to 80. In my past times living on Okinawa, because of this high-capacity, we’ve held command Hail & Farewells here to great effect.  The purse-friendly ~1,800 yen buffet style all-you-can-eat Mongolian barbecue includes free refills of a full array of soft drinks, and also comes with rice or bread.

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And really, don’t worry about fathering all those kids. With a royally stuffed belly, you’ll only have eyes for not the bedroom, but just the bed.

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Hours: Dinner only, Sunday 4:00-10:00pm, Monday – Saturday 5:30-10:30pm

Payment: Cash only, but both Dollars and Yen acceptable

Address: 304-4 Sunabe, Chatan-Cho

Google Maps Coordinates: 26.3314702592, 127.749729032; www.google.com/maps?q=26.3315201,127.7496643&z=15&hl=en&source=embed

Directions from Kadena Gate 1: Take a left onto Hwy 58 and then a quick right at the first light (Family Mart).  Then take a right at the first street, where you will see a sign for a medical clinic in Japanese pictured with a blue person and a pink person with a heart in between.  There is actually quite a bit of street parking just past the restaurant.

Love, Intrigue & Death at Katsuren Castle


“Akusai wa hyaku-nen no fusaku.” Literally:  A bad (or wrong) wife spells a hundred years of bad harvest.  ~Japanese Proverb

Okay, it's not always the woman's fault....

Okay, it’s not always the woman’s fault…. This modern Asian wedding is just an all-around bad idea.

Every day on the way to White Beach back in 1999 I would pass what appeared to be ruins on a hilltop among the urban sprawl of Okinawa’s Katsuren peninsula.  Then for a few weeks, there was intense activity at the site, something which of course peaked my interest.  Finally deciding to play hooky from work one day, I turn my Honda Accord hatchback up the steep, crudely constructed concrete hillside road and barely made the climb to a grass and gravel parking lot.  And then my adventure really began!

Dramatic at Night

Dramatic at Night

It turned out that these ruins, once the site of one of the most significant castles of Okinawa which played a key role in Ryukyu history, were being hastily (and only partially) rebuilt, repaired, restored and cleaned in anticipation of a millennial celebration in early 2000.  And thus began my love affair with this castle that I admired during my daily commute to and from work, and to which I visited often with my family back in the early 2000’s when we lived on Okinawa for almost four years.

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One inescapable aspect of living on Okinawa is that the very ground is dotted with a plethora of intriguing castle ruins, reflecting in the present the rich Ryukyu past when regional kings fought a series of wars over their fiefdoms, eventually leading to the unification of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus.  By some accounts, there are upwards of 500 documented sites that once held a castle, large or small.

Artistic Impression of Katsuren in its Heyday.

Artistic Impression of Katsuren in its Heyday.

8583934564_5464537517_oOkinawan castles are often called gusuku, and are indicated by a “- ” suffix in writing. But “castle” is a bit of misnomer; a gusuku is more akin to fortresses of regional chieftains, dating to a time when Okinawa was independent from Japan, and more aligned with Korea and China.  Except for Shuri Castle, completely destroyed in World War II but impeccably restored to its rightful grandeur, most castles exist as ruins, many just mere crumbling stone walls.  Although little may be visible to the eye, the remains of the day reflect the strong history of Okinawa and remain culturally important.  In fact, all the places where gusuku once stood are regarded as sacred sites, still used as active places of worship and for religious and cultural ceremonies by local residents.

Lord Amawari portrayed in modern times.

Lord Amawari portrayed in modern times.

14519091370_9947c54c7c_bUnfortunately, much of the specific history of most of the sites remains unknown, with little specifics being well-recorded.   Primarily, we know those that had developed into strong fortresses, having been led by powerful chieftains that grew in size and stature by subsuming lesser gusuku.  Three of the most famous chieftains in Okinawan history are Lord Amawari of Katsuren, Lord Gosamaru of Zakimi and Nakagusuku, and Lord Hananchi of Nakijin, all on the main island of Okinawa.  Archaeological excavations at their respective castle sites prove the power and wealth of these Sovereigns, and show their entrenched engagement with China and other Southeast Asian countries.

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14519173368_f6bc538061_bOne of the most popular sites among visitors is Katsuren Castle on Okinawa’s central eastern shore, dating to well before the 15th century. Katsuren Castle (勝連城 Katsuren-gusuku), also Katsuren-jō, is known in the Okinawan language as Kacchin Gusuku. Katsuren Castle was built on a large hill of Ryukyuan limestone, 322 feet above sea level on the Katsuren Peninsula of Okinawa. Not surprisingly, the castle offers magnificent panoramic views of the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. With water on two sides, it is sometimes referred to as the “Ocean Gusuku.” As a sacred site the castle contains a shrine of the Ryukyuan religion dedicated to Kobazukasa.

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14705473812_28e79f13bf_bIts walls, although massive and timeless, couldn’t contain the intense royal intrigue brewing there. According to rich legend and some historical accounting, King Sho Hashi considered the regional chieftain named Lord Aji Amawari of Katsuren, the 10th Lord in succession of Katsuren castle, a powerful rival.  Famous for fostering prosperous international trade, Amawari was also known as a cunning and politicized leader.   Legend has it that he pushed his predecessor, the 9th Katsuren Castle Lord, Lord Mochizuki Aji, off the top of the castle walls.  As Aji was considered a tyrant and was detested by the people, not only did Amawari assume Lordship, he also became a popular savior to the people of Katsuren.

Momoto Fumiagari

Momoto Fumiagari

momotofumiagariKing Hashi sent his daughter, matchless beauty Momoto Fumiagari, to marry the young Lord Amawari, as one means to keep Amawari in check.  Ah, I hear you sigh, a tale as old as time as lovers’ intrigue generally leads to ruin.  But as Awamari’s strength and popularity continued to grow, Hashi then moved his faithful disciple Lord Gosamaru, from Zakimi Castle in the north, to Nakagusuku, just south of Katsuren, to keep a watchful eye on his ambitious son-in-law. Amawari, whose dream was to unify the island under his control, eventually attacked and killed Gosamaru (with Shuri’s support), and then attempted to overthrow King Sho (of Shuri), but was defeated and killed in 1458.

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14702652921_f835efe616_bHowever, like in the genesis of all legends where truth is lost to time, the people of Katsuren today sees things quite differently. Amawari, popular among and compassionate to his people at the time, was a great threat to the King, and thus it was the King who held the hidden agenda.  In another example of revisionist history, the characterization of Amawari is being slowly transformed from one of traitor to hero.  Funny what a few centuries can do to rehabilitate just about anyone’s character.

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007In any case, the 10th Lord of Katsuren Castle, Lord Amawari, was abruptly killed in some sort of politically charged spat, no doubt involving the rivals of Nakagusuku and Shuri castles.  Oh, and surely over the girl (wink).  He was the last powerful personality to infect Katsuren, and the castle slowly fell out of favor and into slow decay.

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14702565151_6f594ac651_bThe castle has 4 enclosures, each at a differing elevation. The first is relatively open, with the castle’s walls there being actively rebuilt during our visit.  The 3rd Enclosure, going from bottom to top, is most likely where ceremonies and rituals took place.  Moving up the large wooden staircase to the 2nd Enclosure, visitors find the foundation of a massive pillared building as grand and on par with Shurijo stood here, based on fragments of expensive Chinese and Korean pottery and colorful architectural decorations.  This level served as the core of the castle where the Lord and his Lady resided, and, in effect, served as the public “government” offices for the region.  Moving up some stone stairs to the uppermost 1st Enclosure, one finds the best views and smallest space, used for the safe repository of valuables according to most speculation.

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137516676_UcxJqCRkThe journey to the ruin’s highest level can be completed (mostly) via the modern, handsome and sturdy wooden staircase, but you may also elect the more authentic and exciting journey up the crumbly rock ramp that is immediately adjacent. Be forewarned though, this is not the day to be wearing your laid-pack island-time flip-flops; sturdy shoes for this adventure are a must.  The limestone is jagged and especially slippery when wet.

Altar of Umichimun, the Ryukyu God of Fire

Altar of Umichimun, the Ryukyu God of Fire

IMG_6741_jpgAs a religious site, Katsuren is still very active.  Numerous gods were worshipped in ancient Okinawa, believed to protect the island and the Okinawans in daily life, and many of those are still worshiped today.  Not surprisingly, there are a few altars at Katsuren, which continue to protect the castle and region.  Interestingly, the castle’s kitchen also is the site of the Altar of Umichimun, the Ryukyu God of Fire.  The grounds also hold an entrance to a cave called Ushinujigama (”gama” means cave), which was most likely used as a refuge during war and natural disasters.  Finally, the Tamanomiuji-utaki stone at Katsuren Castle serves as a sacred shrine.  This stone remains an active place of worship, and is believed to connect underground to Ushinujigama, connecting two sacred sites together.

Ushinujigama at Katsuren Castle

Ushinujigama at Katsuren Castle

Katsuren Castle was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, and is one of the nine Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu.  It was also declared a Designated Historical Monument (史跡 Shiseki) by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs in 1972.

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Although the wrong wife can lead to the ruin of her husband, hopefully you can visit Katsuren with a mate more well-suited.  And maybe, just maybe she won’t have a power-hungry father with an army at his disposal.  More likely the long journey involving a couple of U-turns, poorly functioning air conditioning and perhaps and a man who won’t ask (or take) directions will be the origin of any relationship rift(s).  Don’t be in a rush to physically get there, even though you have must visit this fascinating site.  The drive there can be frustratingly slow.  Nevertheless, it can be made a scenic and relaxing ride.  So adjust your clocks to Island Time, and take in some of the more rural areas of Okinawan on your way.

I have a good one.  Spouse, I mean.

I have a good one. Spouse, I mean.

But just keep one eye on that spouse of yours…. You never know what schemes may be hatched with the rich Ryukyu Kingdom history and colorful intrigue as their guide!

Watch your spouse, and keep from visiting "Nightmare Castle!"

Watch your spouse, and keep from visiting “Nightmare Castle!”

 

 

Katsuren Castle

Open: Closed Mondays and December 29th – January 3rd.

Address: 3908, Haebaru, Katsuren, Uruma-City, Okinawa Prefecture, 904-2311

Entrance Fee: Free

Phone: 098-978-2201

Directions: Exit the Okinawa Expressway at Okinawa Minami and make a left onto Highway 23.  At the Ikento intersection turn right onto Route 16.  Follow the road straight for several kilometers (be patient – it takes longer than you think or want!) until the roads starts uphill as it gently curves left ninety degrees.  Just after the road curves, you’ll find a sign pointing to the Katsuren Castle ruins on the right, with the museum and parking area on the left.

Map: www.jcastle.info/castle/zoom/110

See my complete set of photos in my Flickr stream here:  Katsuren Castle