Friday 30 October 2020

Japan's Obsession with Poop (Part 1): The Unko Museum

Japan, like any other country, is full of contradictions. One area where these contradictions seem to particularly noticeable is the toilet and the things that go in there. Japanese toilets are well-known for their hi-tech functionality; I recently returned back to my university campus after a long corona-break and found that the toilets had been refurbished, complete with a control panel with pressure, volume, privacy, and "wand-clean" buttons (don't even ask about that last one). The privacy button is usually known as "noise-princess" (oto-hime=音姫)and plays a loud waterfall-type sound so as to disguise the "embarrassing" sounds you typically make while on the loo. 
On the other hand, Japanese are far more open than, say, the British, talking about poo and related bodily issues. They will quiet nonchalantly tell you that they have an upset stomach and diarrhea using the phrase onaka o kowasu (literally "I broke my stomach"). They will also share the fact that they are constipated (benpi=便秘 meaning "secret" or "hidden" poo) - something that apparently 20% of Japanese men and a whopping 40% of women suffer from - without batting an eyelid. The everyday casual words for poo are unko and unchi - the latter apparently softer - while the scientific word is ben (excrement) which leads to the formal word for toilet (ben-jo=便所, literally poo place) though nobody ever says that - the English toilet (toire=トイレ) is the normal word with o-te-arai (hand-washing [place]) used by those looking for an extra euphemistic layer of politeness. If you're looking for a ruder word closer to the English "s**t" you could kuso but even this is pretty mild in a country which lacks any decent swear words (interestingly, hana-kuso or "nose-poo" is the word for bogey and is not rude at all!).  Just how open Japanese are about the whole poo thing is illustrated by the Unko Museum which I recently had the pleasure of visiting.
"Please enjoy the MAX UNKO KAWAII world," reads the English blurb, "by looking, touching, taking photos of, and playing with poop." This is not just poo-PR: on entering the museum you are met with a line of toilets and are encouraged to sit on one and do your thing (the group of four young women in front of me found this all rather hilarious, in contrast to the rather embarrassed English chap behind them). Magically, a plastic poo appears in your toilet and you are then given a stick which slots in the bottom of the poo so you can carry your poo around the museum. Yes, really. It is, as the blurb promises, all very hands on.

 The museum itself is rather small with a few poop-themed rooms including a poopy convenience store, a flying poop room, a poop volcano, a crappy arcade, a "let's draw your poop" gallery, and (perhaps most interestingly) a poop merchandise of the world section. This latter mini-museum features real poop paraphernalia from all over the globe including a  British offering I had not seen before: a "Poo head" game (pictured above second from left). The Japanese offerings - and there are a lot of these type of goods here in Japan - included a poo-shaped rubber (eraser) and a panda poo snack (though the Spanish Caganer dolls - above right - take some beating in terms of realism).
I've actually realised that I've much more to say about the subject of poop in Japan - looking around they are, in fact, rather obsessed with the stuff - but I'm all pooped out and have decided to split this post into two parts. So you're going to have to hold on another few weeks to find out about lucky Golden poos, poo kanji drill textbooks, and toilet-bowl shaped curry. In the meantime, if you're in Tokyo why not pay a visit to the musuem - who doesn't need a plastic poo on a stick to take home?

No comments: