It all started last summer in a yakitori shop in Kyushu. I went into the bathroom and the toilet slippers greeted me with a chirpy English phrase written on them: “My life, my toilet!” This humored me greatly at the time. However, I have learned my lesson. I will not laugh next time.
There are over 8 million gods in Japan, and one of them, I found out, is the god of Japanese English. If you laugh at him, he turns you into the very words you are laughing at. I know this is true because it happened to me.
A few months later, a strong stench wafted through my living room window. This usually means it is toilet cleaning day on the island, since most island houses don’t have flush toilets. After double checking my calendar, I realized it was not toilet cleaning day. Yet every now and then this nasty breeze would infiltrate my living room. I looked out the window — no sign of the cheery toilet men in jumpsuits, just an “o-baa-chan” wheeling her cart past my window on her way to the fishermen’s co-op. Nothing unusual about that. But, where was the smell coming from?
After a while, I realized the smell had a sound associated with it. Every time the stench came, it was accompanied by the sound of squeaky wheels.
Just then, my neighbor Kazu-chan came over. We were standing in my living room talking when the stench came, accompanied by the creaky wheels. Kazu-chan said, “Kusai, ne?” (“Smelly, isn’t it?”).
I looked out the window again, and this time I noticed the o-baa-chan had two very large buckets on her cart. She was taking them to the pit next to the fishermen’s co-op to empty them. This is the same pit the toilet men empty their big silver holding tanks into. This o-baa-chan was cleaning out her own toilet.
“Why?” I asked Kazu-chan. “Because she doesn’t have to pay the toilet men if she does it herself.” Wow, talk about economizing — pushing your own excrement. I watched the o-baa-chan as she pushed the cart up the hill from her house toward the pit. Excrement sure is heavy! She wasn’t even wearing a jumpsuit. Her life, her toilet!
Shortly after this, the island was hit by a series of typhoons. Every day typhoons peed into my toilet, the rainwater rushing down the mountain in the back of my house and into the pit of my toilet. It soon became obvious that if I waited for the toilet men to come, the toilet would have already overflowed and flooded the house. I got out my cart, put on a jumpsuit, and prepared some buckets. My life, my toilet!
Even though the cheery toilet men come once a month, Kazu-chan always tells me it’s not necessary to have my toilet cleaned every month. She says it’s a waste. She’s definitely right about the waste part. But I have my toilet cleaned every month for a reason that Kazu-chan doesn’t understand because she never leaves her house long enough for the stuff in the pit to harden. That’s why they’re called solids. If left for a long period of time, the next time the toilet men come, they come with crowbars.
As a result, I figured myself very lucky that December’s toilet cleaning day fell on the day I was to leave to go home for Christmas vacation. I left for the airport and was on the ferry when I realized that in the rush to leave, I had forgotten to sign up for December’s toilet cleaning. The next time the toilet men came, they’d definitely be brandishing extra heavy duty crowbars. My life, my toilet!