From the bowels of hell

For awhile now, I’ve been planning to do a two-part post on the best and worst things about living in Japan. Originally, I was going to save this for my Worst of Japan list, but circumstances over the last two days have forced my hand. Best and Worst lists are still forthcoming–just consider this the preamble.

(Note: If you have a weak stomach, I recommend waiting until after lunch to read this).

As you’ll eventually see in my Best of Japan list, there are lots and lots of advantages to living in Japan. One of the disadvantages, in my case, is that I do not have a flush toilet in my home. Now, this really isn’t that big a deal. I’ve shit in many an outhouse and latrine before, not to mention the occasional pit and/or lacrosse field. I’m not a nervous pooper. But, like most Americans, I’ve always had a flush toilet in my home. So when I found out I was going to be sans plumbing, I thought, oh well, just remember to keep the lid down.

In most ways, the privy toilet looks and feels just like a regular bowl. And it’s actually misleading to call it non-flushing, since it does have a flush that releases water. It’s just that when the waste disappears, it disappears only about a meter down, where it collects in a sewage tank. My initial fear was that I was going to drop something important in there by accident. Ever had your keys fall out of your pocket and into the toilet before? Not like this you haven’t. I make a point to unload my pants before I start to unload my ass, just in case.

Sewage tanks are inconvenient because they obviously need to be emptied. I chatted with my predecessor–the previous occupant of the apartment–about how often he had the tank cleared, and he said every three to six months. Now, I’m not angling for a poop off, but I topped that fucker off in 11 weeks. Granted, I am something of a legend in my own mind when it comes to pooping. In my younger and more vulnerable years, I clogged toilets with such regularity that I began to unburden myself in public restrooms whenever possible, since they tend to have a stronger flushing mechanism than many residential models. If I was coming to your house, it was Word to Ya Mother, because she better put a plunger next to the toilet just in case, WHAT WHAT. Thankfully, I now recognize the need for less TP and multiple flushes, so while I’m still incurring surcharges on my heavy freight, I don’t need to blaze the Drano as often as I once did.

Anyway, I brought her to brim in just under three months, and I have to admit, the last week or so was terrifying. You first start to suspect that space is at a premium when you stop hearing the splash from below. It’s just a clench followed by eerie silence and a sinking feeling that something ain’t quite right. But that’s just the beginning. Pretty soon, you see It start to creep out of the darkness of the tank, beginning to climb towards you up the one meter shaft. At that point, every poop is nerve-racking, because until you get up to check after the fact, you don’t really know how much space you have to work with. And especially at night, when the lighting is poor and you can’t see more than a foot of pipe clearly. You just hope that you don’t crown the bastard before its too late.

Of course, I did get around to calling for someone to come around and empty my tank. That is to say, my supervisor called, since my trifling Japanese is ill-suited to such an important task. (This wasn’t as awkward a conversation as I thought it would be). Apparently, they can come and clean it out while you’re at work, which is very convenient. Except that when I came home from work, ready to drop trow and excited to have some breathing room, I opened the lid to find It smiling cruelly up at me, unchanged. The next day, I told my supervisor about my increasingly dire situation, and she called the sanitation people again. Apparently, she told me, they came and removed 250 liters (~66 gallons) worth of waste (is that a lot for three months? I assume so but I really have no idea. Presumably a lot of it was water). But–I know what I saw. That turtle-headed fucker was waiting for me at home. It can smell my fear. I can smell It. The situation is increasingly dire, I said.

She told me to try dumping water on It. So, when I got home, I went straight to work. If water can carve the Grand Canyon, it can surely clear a pathway through my nightmare, right? But no. It was resilient. It wanted to taste the porcelain mere inches away. It would not be denied. I finally reached the conclusion (that you, of course, being infinitely wiser and better proportioned, reached far more quickly, during just the course of this story) that I had probably waited a little bit too long to call for sanitation backup. The 250 liters were removed from the bottom of the tank, but by allowing It to begin ascending the shaft, I brought adhesiveness and suction into play. Unlike the 250 liters at the bottom, this tenacious liter-and-a-half had not succumb to gravity.

Running out of options and patience, I took up arms, in this case my broom. In an effort to salvage dignity in an undignified situation, I jury-rigged a ziplock bag over the broom handle, using a rubber band to secure it in place (because, aside from unclogging toilets, I use this broom as a broom, from time to time). Then, resolute, I jammed the handle down the shaft, into It’s heart. It cried out, a squishy, squelchy cry, like a rubber boot pulled rudely from a puddle of mud. I stabbed at it a few more times. The slapdash ziplock-and-rubber-band condom-of-sorts got summarily stuck in It. My broom got summarily poopy. At first, the condom-of-sorts seemed to strengthen It, but soon It gave way, falling into the relative darkness a meter down.

Of course, despite the many videos and demonstrations forced upon me during 7th grade health class, I hadn’t proven very able with the condom-of-sorts, and the broom handle looked like a prop from Amateur Colonoscopy Night at the free clinic. After a thorough cleaning involving six ounces of dish soap, two sponges, twenty squares of toilet paper, and nine q-tips (for those hard to reach poop stains!), the broom is currently in overnight quarantine on the porch outside.

As for me, I learned a valuable lesson: be vigilant when it comes to emptying your sewage tank. Also, don’t try to save water by flushing conservatively. It isn’t worth it.

Ironically, my scatological adventures continue tomorrow. I am scheduled for my mandatory health check in the morning and they have requested that I provide not one but two poop swatches. They even gave me little plastic sample cases and foreigner-friendly picture instructions. A regular How To Collect Your Poop Swatch travel kit! (Fetishist Display Kit sold separately).