Nothing reflects the balance of power between the sexes quite like toilet politics.
In Japan, the job of toilet cleaning has generally fallen to the matriarch of the house. Little has changed there, it seems. What has changed is that many of those women are now asking their husbands to sit down when they urinate, and their new-age men are only too happy to oblige.
A well-publicized 2007 survey by electonics and toilet-seat-maker Panasonic suggested that 51 percent of Japanese men betwen the ages of 30 and 60 now pee sitting down. That figure was up from 15 percent in 1999, and from 30 percent in 2004. (The survey will probably be repeated next year, but for the moment the 2007 figures are the most recent.)
Panasonic explains that the chief reason for the trend is that if men sit down to pee, the amount of urine “splash” coming from the toilet bowl is greatly reduced, so keeping the toilet area cleaner.
In a parallel study, Panasonic counted how many droplets of “splash” are generated when a man urinates standing up. The results, which naturally depend on where in the toilet the man is aiming, are sobering nonetheless.
If a man aims at the pool of water in the middle of the toilet bowl, splash from 400 milliliters of urine is kept to 85 drops. Aiming for the back of the bowl bumps that figure up to 207 drops, while a shot at the front of the bowl invokes a positive flood of 311 drops. That’s 311 drops of urine-and-water-cocktail flying out of the bowl during every pee — every single one of which has to be cleaned up by the household’s appointed toilet cleaner.
In response to the survey, Panasonic reports that they started tweaking their marketing materials to emphasize the comfort of their toilet seats. Other companies are courting the sit-down-pee men with new products altogether.
Late in 2007, the Kaiteki Raifu Kenkyusho (Comfortable Life Research Center) released a kind of bench that men could use to kneel on when they urinate. The idea is that if men use one of the benches — which bear an unfortunate resemblance to the ones used in church for prayer — the height from which they urinate is reduced and thefore the amount of splash is kept to a minimum.
The company reports that around 280 of the benches, which they call Tenshi no Hiza Makura (Angel-lap Pillow — another unfortunate religious reference), have been sold so far, and they are receiving new orders regularly.
Being able to urinate standing up has long been considered a symbol of masculinity — author Camille Paglia wrote famously that “male urination really is a kind of accomplishment, an arc of transcendance.” For Japan’s current crop of men, however, it seems transcendance is taking a back seat to cleanliness and household harmony.