One of our favorite things in Japan was the toilets. Whether in our hotel rooms or the fast food joints (Simone was especially fond of unagi bowls for a quick lunch), nearly every fixture was replete with features not found in the US. Some toilets played a little jingle when you used them. Some magically lifted the cover or the seat for you. All were heated. And they had a variety of sprayers and a drier of varying force and heat. They were always, always pristine, as if someone had gone in and sanitized them after every use. (Except, of course, the only time I had a gastric emergency on the whole trip, which just happened to be in Shinjuku Station, the busiest train station in the world. That bathroom didn’t have a fancy toilet at all. It didn’t even have a toilet — just a hole and a roll of toilet paper.)
When I lived with a family in France way back in college, I never, ever used their bidet. It creeped me out. Maybe if I’d had my own personal device—which I’d never have to share—I might have considered it. But the idea of a communal butt-washer didn’t appeal to me.
I didn’t use the special features in public toilets in Japan, either.
But, oh…in our own private hotel rooms? That was a whole (hole) different story.
Simone talks about Japan just about every day. I mention that we might visit Israel or Australia or China for our big 2016 trip, and she asks when we’re going back to Japan. She babbles about the lack of quality vending machines in the US (no bottles of green tea, or Royal Milk Tea, or cans of sweetened coffee. And no melon bread, either). She moons over bowls of sashimi and rice served alongside rich miso soup. She longs for a proper anime store—or a whole neighborhood dedicated to them. She watches full series of anime, all subtitled, and picks up bits of the language, and nuance that blows me away.
We talk about that night when we wandered Shibuya and found Book Off, a chain of enormous bookstores that is often parodied in her shows (they call it “Book On” in the cartoons). Or that hot and humid day in Kyoto when we ate cold buckwheat noodles dipped in sugar syrup. We dream of walking the forest path up to Kurama temple.
And we laugh wistfully about the toilets.
So I’d been thinking for some time about replacing the ones in our bathrooms with Japanese-style washlets. I’d watched for deals and done my research, and then decided a few months ago that I’d wait and install hers as a Hanukkah present. I was so excited to bring a piece of Japan into our house, and give her something that she could enjoy (?) every day.
When one of Woot’s daily deals in November happened to be a version that would work perfectly with our fixtures, I ordered two.
Simone was away for the first three nights of Hanukkah, which gave me time to install the new seats. I did mine first, in order to learn how long it would take and to sort out any pitfalls or shortcuts. It didn’t take me more than 30 minutes to get the thing wired and the plumbing sorted out, and when I did, well, give it a spin, I was very happy with the result.
Honestly, the single best feature is the heated seat. Nothing like it on a chilly winter morning. No, really. I know that totally makes me a dad, but I’ll just have to live with that.
Simone’s seat went in even faster than mine, and once I tightened up the seals and turned the thing on, all I could do was wait another couple of days until she came home.
But the day after I installed Simone’s new washlet, I was downstairs in the kitchen and felt a drop of water splash onto my head. I looked up to see the ceiling stucco bowed and scalloped as if a small creature were burrowing underneath the surface. My stomach did one of those rollovers that only a homeowner will understand, and I tore up the stairs to her bathroom.
Yep, I guess one of the connections wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t a serious leak, but the incessant drip-drip over the course of 24 hours had created a small pool under her toilet. I tightened the joint, dried the tile, and prayed something disastrous hadn’t happened between the bathroom floor and the kitchen ceiling. After pushing the rest of the water through the ceiling stucco and into a bucket, I toweled it off, and waited. And waited.
Definitely one of those times when I channeled my father, but would have much preferred the option to call him and talk through the problem. He taught me my handyman ways, but I’ll never be as proficient as he was.
By the next day, it was clear that I’d dodged a bullet. Thank goodness Denver is so damn dry, especially in the winter.
When I picked Simone up at school that Wednesday, I told her she couldn’t go upstairs until it was sunset and we had lighted the Hanukkah candles (that’s when we open presents each night). Her eyes grew wide, and I couldn’t wait to see her reaction to her fancy (and, let’s just say it, expensive) first present from me.
Candles lit, prayers sung, we walked upstairs. She was headed toward her room (which should have been my first clue that I’d misjudged), but I stopped her and opened the bathroom door and turned on the light.
“Go on in,” I prompted.
She walked in, looked around, then looked back at me. “I’m confused,” she said.
“Look!” I gestured toward the back of the room.
Simone looked at the pretty blue bow I’d stuck to the toilet seat, and then looked at me, perplexed.
“It’s a Japanese-style toilet!”
Then: “You…you gave me a toilet for Hanukkah!?”
Me (trying to make a case for myself): “But you loved the toilets in Japan! You told me how awesome it would be to have one in your bathroom!”
Simone: “But you gave me a toilet for Hanukkah!?”
Needless to say, it was a complete and utter miscalculation on my part to think that my 15-year-old daughter would be excited about a new appliance. I don’t make a ton of mistakes as a dad (though I do make my share), but this one was a big whiff.
Simone had gone running up the stairs, thinking I’d bought her the gecko and tank she’d been coveting, but I’d told her before that she wouldn’t get a new pet until she had a place in her room to keep it (in other words, she needed to clean off her messy desk and dresser before I’d add more clutter). She’d somehow forgotten (or decided to ignore) that stipulation in the excitement of wondering why she wasn’t allowed upstairs.
Her disappointment was palpable; an ugly, sullen cloud that stuck with us as she prepared to head back to school and work on a show she was helping to produce. I was annoyed with her for not being appreciative of the time and effort and thought and money I’d put into her gift, and she was annoyed with me for buying her a fucking toilet for Hanukkah.
As a parent, it’s easy to work yourself up over an expected reaction to a present that you put lots of thought into. You’re looking for a reaction that validates your careful planning and excitement. And when you miss the mark, it’s easy for your child to feel like you don’t understand her. You can see it in her eyes.
I remember being woefully disappointed with a gift my father gave me when I was a kid, because it was something I wasn’t interested in at all. I thought it demonstrated that he didn’t really know me—that he thought I’d like something other kids would like, but that just wasn’t for me. I felt guilty for feeling ungrateful, and I’ll never forget how he comforted me when I asked him about it in a roundabout way a few days later (my very first “asking for a friend” question).
So the worst thing for me would be for Simone to think that I don’t “get” her. That I’d be excited to give her a gift that wouldn’t resonate for her at all.
Luckily for both of us, I way overspent on presents for her, this year, so when she got home later that night, I had another one wrapped and ready to go. And the rest of her gifts were home runs.
And now that she’s had it for a few weeks, Simone really does appreciate her Hanukkah toilet.