When ya gotta go

News

When ya gotta go

by: Tetsuo Nakahara | .
Stripes Japan | .
published: September 25, 2014

Using the toilet is an integral part of our daily lives, yet most of us pooh-pooh the idea of discussing it in polite company. Well, a Tokyo museum has thrown caution to the wind in a bid to break the taboo and get people to pipe up about poop.

The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, aka Miraikan, in Odaiba, is showcasing “Toilet!? Human Waste & Earth’s Future” through Oct. 5. The exhibit uses educational and interactive displays to blow the lid off of the history, environmental impact and technology of toilets and, well, what we use them for.

“The concept behind ‘Toilet!? Human Waste & Earth’s Future’ came from our science communicators who interpret exhibits and technology for Miraikan visitors,” explained Mamiko Fujii, a spokeswoman for the museum. “They found that visitors, especially children, laugh and show interest when they hear the word ‘poop.’ So, we are using poop as a doorway to the world of science.”

And oh what a door they’ve opened.

Created by Japan’s Science and Technology Agency, Miraikan is flush with innovation, featuring science and technology exhibits year round. In this one, visitors can see, smell, touch and experience the toilet – and what keeps it in business – like never before.

The exhibit is divided into eight areas with different toilet- and poop-related themes for all ages. For example, there is an area where you can survey the feces of different species. Another, allows you to get a better feel for the process by molding your own stool out of clay.

One highlight even allows children to don a “poop hat” and descend down a slide inside a giant toilet to experience firsthand how human excrement travels from the toilet and through the sewer system. This is likely to be the exhibit’s No. 1 hit with any youngster. If not, it will surely be No. 2.

Those looking for less juvenile takes on the best seat in the house can admire an artistically ornate ceramic ‘throne’ that a well-heeled shogun might have used during the Edo Period (1603-1867). Other displays fast forward you to temporary toilets used in the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. There’s even a cosmic commode designed for future use in outer space.

Various other displays showcase sewerage issues such as wastewater recycling, sewage systems and the challenges countries without developed sewage systems face. Some 2.5 billion people in the world today are unable to use toilets, the display notes, and many children lose their lives due to lack of proper sanitation.

The exhibit also underscores some social challenges peculiar to potty-trained countries like Japan. For example, it addresses the great burden excretion can pose for caretakers as well as schoolhouse stigmas in Japan that can impede or prohibit embarrassed adolescents from using the toilet at school.

Whether socially sacrosanct and profane, the exhibit swirls a variety of topics, angles and issues in a vortex around its central theme for one specific purpose: To get visitors to “actively discuss the relationship between toilets, human waste and the earth,” according to its curator.

“The idea of Miraikan holding a toilet exhibition may perplex you,” said Mamoru Mohri, who is also Miraikan’s executive director. “However, toilets are the best way of teaching us that our daily lives are connected to the entire earth.”

It’s a crapshoot that appears to have paid off.

Both informative and fun – if not funny at times in a prepubescent way – the three-month “Toilet!? Human Waste” exhibit has been drawing spectators like flies. So far, 150,000 visitors have dropped in to see it – the most that any special exhibit at Miraikan has ever attracted, according to Fujii.

“It’s fun, but also there is a lot of good information,” said Brian Guillaudeu, a U.S. tourist who recently sat in on the exhibit. “It was cool to see the old Edo era toilets when the toilets were ceramic with lots of colors – but also the modern electronic toilets with heated seats. It’s a combination of the old and new. Now, we are looking forward to seeing ASIMO (Miraikan’s humanoid robot).”

It takes about an hour to tour the entire exhibit and another two hours to see all Miraikan has to offer. All the exhibits come with tourist-friendly explanations in English. In all, the museum makes for an interesting and fun-filled day trip that won’t leave you feeling wiped out in the end.

What am I supposed to do in that!?

When you go to bathroom at convenience store or in a public park, especially in the countryside, you may encounter a toilet that’s little more than a glorified whole in the ground and think: “Are you kidding me?

Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it looks.

But first, what exactly is that thing, anyway?

These old-style commodes are also called Asian squat toilets, and can be found throughout Asia. Some people say they are more sanitary than Western-style toilets because your skin doesn’t touch a toilet seat.

Although 90 percent of the toilets in Japan are modern Western-style commodes, according to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation’s Mamiko Fujii, there are still plenty of these old-style toilets to be found – mainly in parks, shrines and temples, and old houses.

OK. Here’s how it works:

You walk in, and close the door. Then turn to face the flusher or the covering and squat. Yes, you need to use your legs to support yourself and also keep the balance in the right position. When you are locked on, you are set.

I am sure you will feel very strange for the first time, but “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” You will get used to it after couple times. After you are finished flushing, stand up – slowly. Your legs may be asleep depending on how long you were down there.

Next time you encounter one of these squat toilets give it a try. I’m sure everything will come out just fine.

Museum merges fun, science, technology

In the bustling shopping district of Tokyo’s Odaiba, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation offers an educational experience not only for children but adults as well.

More commonly known as Miraikan, you can enjoy a variety exhibits on such topics as robotics, medical technology, life science and space exploration at this museum. Most exhibits feature English- and Japanese-language explanations. But this is more than a mere museum, scientist actually do labratory work on site.

As you enter the museum, a giant globe, or “Geo Cosmos,” can be seen hanging in the main hall of museum. It is the world’s first “globe-like display” that uses organic LED panels to show how the earth looks like from outer space.

One of the highlights at Miraikan is its big 3-D Dome Theater GAIA, which shows dynamic images of planets and outer space. Programs vary and are scheduled monthly. The seating is limited. You need to pick up a numbered ticket on the sixth floor to make reservations. 

On fifth floor, there is a life-size model of the Shinkai 6500 Submarine that can reach depths of 21,325 feet. Space exploration is also featured with models of satellites and a full-size model of a section of the International Space Station that you can walk through. There are also some virtual-reality rides where you can learn more about space.

Overall, this place is not just for kids but offers insights – and fun activities – about science and technology for all ages. 

nakahara.tetsuo@stripes.com

Miraikan
Hours: 10 a.m. -5 p.m. (closed Tuesdays)
Admission: Adults 1,200 yen ($12); 18 years and under 600 yen.
Directions: Five-minute walk from Telecom Center Station, Yurikamome Line.
WEBSITE: www.miraikan.jst.go.jp/en
 

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