Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sound Princess

音姫 I have developed sound paranoia after going to the bathroom for almost a year at a Japanese company. The bathrooms on my floor have about 10 stalls and they're all outfitted with the typical Japanese wonder toilet that people always marvel about. These toilets are the stuff of dreams really. With a handy menu panel running down the right side, you can adjust the seat warmer, partake in a bidet or a "just the butt" spray (temperatures can of course be adjusted), or press the mysterious "sound princess" button.

The first time I saw the characters above I thought I had gotten the kanji for princess wrong. Did it really say oto hime, or sound princess?! How cute. To check that I have in fact, been reading the sign correctly, I looked it up in Jim Breen's online J-E dictionary:

音姫 【おとひめ】 (n) melody or flushing sound played by a Japanese toilet to mask excretion sounds

That's right, mask excretion sounds. It masks all sounds actually. Farts, pee, "feminie hygiene product" wrapper crackling, you are good to go.

I have a friend back home actually who cannot have anyone listen to her pee and I have run water from the taps in public bathrooms for her to facilitate this. So it's not just Japanland and I don't think every woman in Japan feels acutely embarassed about other women hearing her pee. So are we simply being polite to our neighbours? Are we pretending that nothing is really going on behind the closed stall door?! The kanji characters have nothing to do with what they define. I must ask around and see if the men's menu panels are also outfitted with "sound princesses". Or maybe 音王子, sound prince?

Either way I have definitely developed a neurosis about people hearing me pee or excrete. Even when I'm alone in the bathroom at work I get panicky at the clicking of heels and can't push that button faster. The worst is when your business takes longer than the appointed sound princess time! So you have to push the button again which alerts anyone else present to the fact that you are really busy in there. Thus defeating the point of masking the activity at all. So now when I'm in ghetto bathrooms sans Princess, I can't stand the sound of my pee which sounds like the niagra falls and so pedestrian compared to the light and uplifting sound of the Princesses at work.
*** Will try to get a pic of the Princess joy button later, of course masking the sound my camera makes with the Princess.


Crossing Borders said...

I think Atlanta just spent 10 million dollars for ten of these toilets at the courthouse.

I really don't think toilets like these will do well in the US.

One visitor made me lol:

"I don't want to listen to music! I just wanna pee!"

I thought it was funny :)

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Really? I remember seeing something about a marketing campaign for Toto, the biggest maker of them here, in NYC and people were pretty puzzled...

I always found them kind of a novelty (I certainly wouldn't use the special functions in a public bathroom!!). My apartment is pretty new and it has one actually! I love the seat warmer in the colder months!

Most of the Princesses make the sound of gushing water, and when all the stalls are full at work it can sound like a deafening waterfall!

kel said...

This is priceless!

Reannon said...

I've been wondering about those buttons...I'm just learning kanji so I had no idea that meant 'sound princess'. I never use the button...maybe because I haven't been here long enough. But I don't know, I like to think that it's my way of taking a stand agains that aspect of polite Japanese culture...because I think it's so silly! We all go to the bathroom, get over it already.

One of my friends (Japanese) says that it's not really about feeling embarrassed that people are hearing you pee, as it is about making the person who has to listen to you pee, embarrassed and uncomfortable. She says it;s rude not to push the button.

That made me rethink the whole thing a bit...I don't know.

Do you think that's true?

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

reannon: if there's anywhere that would be true it would be Japan. In which case, the secretary was dissing me by making me listen to her pee! Sounds about right...! It has probably created a circle of embarrassment and now EVEYRONE is embarrassed, both the listeners and the peeers.

jimbocho geek said...

I have never seen men's toilets with cover sound devices.

But the killer is when you need a stall at 14:00 and 80% are occupied by people sleeping. The stalls seem to be places to hide and sleep!

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

jimbocho geek - If you're going to be a geek, jimbocho is the best place for it, I love the area!
Thank you for some data on the male side of things. I don't think I've ever known anyone to sleep in the washrooms here but good to know if I ever need to find someone. Also, ew.

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across your blog and it's brilliant. I actually came across this when I was in Japan as an exchange student last Christmas and it was a horrifying experience.

My dilemma began when I was looking for the flush button - I couldn't find it anywhere! I ended up waving in front of a hand symbol thinking it was a motion sensor but the "sound Princess" went off! I jumped off the seat and the toilet flushed itself! Having only been in Japan for 1 day and not aware of the "sound Princess" existance, the sound scared me so bad that I ran from the stall in fear, found my host mother and cried like a baby (a 15yr old 5ft 8 baby) outside the toilets of Shin Osaka Station. The looks I got from the Japanese were unbelievable lol.

Needless to say, I never touched anything in the toilets again.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

azeleghia: thanks for dropping by. It can be daunting with all the bells and whistles that come with toilets here can't it? Lucky for you, you only got the Princess. I've gotten the bidet when I wasn't paying attention!

Foggia said...

As you heard, there's usually nosuch buttons on the male side. But it gets on automatically in some species. Or an actual gush of water. Always hated this waste.
Anyway, the thing I did found out about the Japanese toilet etiquette is that people here don't want to be seen getting of the stall. Well I'm not sure it's etiquette actually, but some people would just stay inside when they here other people coming, and flushing the toilet again and again to make it sound like they're still at work in there.