Lady’s Restrooms in Japan: What’s the Music For?

It’s not easy to put you finger on it, but there is definitely something disturbing about the Otohime (Princess Sound) toilet accessories, by TotoâÂ?¢. These innocent-looking devices-recognizable as a small panel positioned next to toilets in ladies’ lavatories-are proliferating across Japanese public restrooms at an astonishing rate. They may soon appear in apartments and already claim school restrooms, K-12.

Princess Sound activates when a hand passes over a light sensor found on the 8×20 cm wall panels, whereupon a tinny recording of running water garbles its way into your bathroom stall. This water may be intended to flow along an imaginary streambed, but it would take a hard-working imagination to furnish such an unconvincing recording with natural scenery. The white noise persists for 25 seconds once activated, provided Princess Sound’s batteries are not running low. Fortunately, the panels have a light that blinks to warn you when the sound is about to perish and you can keep the recording active as long as needed.

Why do we need them? These noisemakers might serve one of two purposes. One, Princess Sound would be a lifesaver for the constipated customer with an imagination vivid enough to make a relaxing atmosphere of running water from the recording. However, unless everyone in the restroom is constipated every time I’m there (and only women become constipated, as these devices are not installed in men’s restrooms) Princess Sound must serve another purpose-to protect the modesty of millions of women daily forced to expose their natural noises in the restroom.

We all have to go, and we all know it. There was a time in our life when we didn’t mind pooping in our trousers. When did waste disposal become a blushing point? Embarrassment may be warranted in the event of great flatulence; but if we remove the privilege to pee in peace, what puritanical fetter will come next? Though utilizing Princess Sound is a voluntary choice, the social pressure to do so may already be too great to overthrow.

Imagine for a moment that you are finally easing down to the pot with a bladder as bursting as an overripe tomato, when you become aware of Princess Sound hushing and tisking in the stall next to yours. Your own Princess Sound panel is next to you, above your knee. Its simple presence makes you that much more aware of the splash your own urination is about to make.
The neighbor’s water recording comes to an abrupt and deafening halt. She shifts her pants or skirt to create a soft rustle. Then silence builds.

The entire restroom is now listening. If you start going without Princess Sound’s protection, what will happen? Will the whole place split with derisive laughter? Will the other ladies be appalled by your lack of consideration, your uncouth display of peeing noises? It’s too easy to give into Princess Sound and all her schemes. The moment those little panels appeared in the stalls, there was suddenly a sense that we’re supposed to use them. We eat the apple only to see nakedness. There’s something disturbing about Princess Sound because she is asking us to be ashamed.

We can refuse to be ashamed, though, especially of our natural functions. We can embrace our humanness. That said, who but a human could have conceived of something as inane as Princess Sound? I must concede that the invention of Princess Sound could not have been mothered by necessity so much as by human absurdity. Supposing I was to be generous, I would admit that this thought is amusing enough to forgive Princess Sound-but only if we have the good grace to laugh at ourselves.

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