The most memorable thing about my first day in Japan was going to the bathroom.
This might strike many readers as odd, since bathroom excursions are a routine thing for most humans. We get in there, do our business, get out, lather rinse wipe hands on pants, and repeat when the time inevitably comes again. But allow me to explain. During my first hour in Tokyo, I discovered that toilets aren’t nearly as routine as I’d thought. My first bathroom trip after 24 hours of traveling came with a remote control for my toilet (no, really) and an unwelcome spray onto my derriere when I attempted to flush. In other words, I’d unwittingly encountered a Japanese bidet.
“It could be worse,” I can hear you saying now. “A high-tech bidet is way better than most other people have.” I’ll agree- this is very true. Six hours later, when I arrived on Okinawa, I again had to pee. Again, I wandered into the bathroom with an utter lack of suspicion, and was again startled by the contraption I encountered. This time, there was no remote control. There was no water spray. There wasn’t even a seat! What I faced was simply a porcelain slit in the ground, more commonly referred to as a “squat toilet.” I was convinced that someone had removed the “actual” toilet from the room. Much to my chagrin, this was true for every stall in the bathroom. I had to face the reality that this was, in fact, the real deal. Of course, the question then arose: how the hell does one use such a toilet without peeing (or worse) all over one’s jeans?
The answer is to squat for your life, though if you’re largely pregnant, simply large, or have knee problems, this is going to be quite a challenge. Squat as you’ve never squatted before, face the proper direction (apparently porcelain slits have a right and a wrong), and theoretically you’ll be fine. After learning the right and wrong way on a squat toilet (which was definitely a hit-or-miss learning experience), I managed to keep things from getting overly messy. Then I passed out for 14 hours, because two bizarre toilets and 30+ hours of travel was utterly exhausting. And now you understand why bathrooms really aren’t all that simple.
Of course, the toilet dilemma can be improved for us by one simple gadget: the Go Girl, a silicone funnel designed specifically to be tucked in your hiking gear and then unrolled for that moment of release. It’s washable, reusable, and comes in either pinkish lavender or cammo. Bring it to Delhi for when you just can’t squat enough, to Denali for when there’s nowhere to squat, or even to the gas station bathroom for those peed-on toilet seats. In short, it’s pretty much useful anywhere.
Could this be the solution to all the going troubles? I opted to try mine out in the privacy of my bathroom, since I didn’t know how Germans might react to the idea of someone peeing in their naturpark and I didn’t want to scare anyone. The funnel is designed with a wide mouth, to make catching easier, and then of course everything gets aimed wherever you please (as long as it’s towards the ground). No deep squats, creative positioning, or directionality required! It even comes with a wipe and a biodegradable plastic baggie- NOT for peeing in. Of course, it’s not perfect. When you’re done, it’s nearly impossible to get the Go Girl out from between your legs without getting your hands wet- and while this might lessen with more practice, the more germophobic GoGirls out there might find that a deterrent in spite of the fact that urine is sterile. Of course, if you’re not convinced that the toilet you face using is going to be any better, a little urine on your hands is worlds better than a lot on your clothes!
So to sum up: toilets are crazy. Using them can be a challenge, an adventure, disgusting, or simply surprising, especially if it comes with a remote control. Using a product like the Go Girl gives you a little more control over your bathroom time, which is particularly helpful if you’re traveling to places with little or no sanitation or if you’re expecting to be particularly tired when you get there. Essentially, the Go Girl offers the kind of flexibility that’s ordinarily only afforded to those with particularly hose-like genitalia. Only one question remains, and I hope to answer it while hiking in the Rockies this winter: will the Go Girl give me the ultimate bathroom cool and allow me to write my name in the snow?