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.