As I lay groaning in the hotel bedroom in Taipei, certain I was going to die, the thought occurred to me that no-one knew where I was. I’d checked into a cheap hotel and, in the days when you thought twice before picking up the phone to make an international call, I hadn’t told anyone where I was staying. In my delirium I convinced myself that when the maid found my dead body the hotel owners would avoid any annoying questions by throwing me and my belongings into the river.
Taiwan isn’t the only place I’ve succumbed to ‘Delhi belly’ (as a matter of fact I’ve had it in Delhi) but I’ve never suffered in Japan, even though I’ve experimented with some of the world’s strangest food there. There’s an irony here because if you were to choose any bathroom in the world in which to spend an excessive amount of time, it would have to be Japan. Their toilets are wonderful. They are there to pamper you, with heated seats and a button which operates a spray of warm water to clean your bottom. There’s a separate button, as a diagram helpfully explains, for washing a lady’s front bottom – gentlemen are advised not to press this button by mistake. Some models will play music or the sound of running water to hide any embarrassing sounds, and the more advanced models will automatically close the toilet lid after use. This last feature would explain why the divorce rate in Japan is so much lower than it is in England – they don’t have arguments about leaving the toilet seat up.
These space-age toilets (known as washlets) are universally popular with Western visitors who often ask why they aren’t used back home. This is a mystery – one of the strangest statistics I’ve been given is that Toto, the largest manufacturer, sold 1m of these toilets in Japan over the course of a year and only 4 in the whole of Europe. One of the reasons for their lack of popularity here may be our reluctance to broach the subject. I’m reminded of the Texan visiting a posh country house who, when asked if he wanted to wash his hands, replied: “No thanks Ma’am, I washed them on the rose bed on my way in”.