There are a few problems ravaging the world at the moment; War. Famine. Ebola. In the mad scramble to acknowledge and justify our place in the world, we tend to forget the little things, like good intestinal health. No other country could really pull off an entire exhibition dedicated solely to defecation and the toilet without coming across as crass, but it’s in Japan’s nature to occasionally break free of its emotionally stunted shell and make a spectacle of itself, like an overly-controlled toddler taking off all its clothes in protest and raging against the parental machine.
We have bizarrely flavoured ice creams, black burgers, Vita games that require you to wail on your opponents until their clothes flutter to the ground like ash. Now an exhibition where you can flush yourself and your children down the toilet.
The exhibition in question ended last month at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. During it’s brief time in this world it did it’s very best to leave its mark; Children, parents, teenagers, boyfriends and girlfriends ( brilliant first date…) all having a whale of a time learning about what goes on inside their bodies, the importance of fibre in the diet and water in the privy. It’s primarily aimed at the younger audience, but that just makes it all the more fun, allowing some rather awkward subjects to be made accessible and even endearing.
While it’s enormously entertaining to watch your significant other play with plasticine (Blue in colour, brown would obviously be a step too far?) making a lumpy analogue of what they flushed away earlier in the day, the creators haven’t forgotten the goal; education. The information is smeared across the walls, explaining the history of sanitation (Medieval Japan had running water sewage systems while Europe literally threw it out of an open window), different animal excretions, an interesting insight into how perfume is constructed (the bass notes usually contain at least one unpleasant ‘bum note’ to act as contrast and add depth) and the various forms poo takes depending on how much culinary abuse you put your body through; featuring such classics as ‘Half-Baked’, ‘Crispy on the Outside, Soft in the Middle’ and ‘For the Love of God, Make it STOP’.
For those who haven’t yet mastered Kanji, there are English translations but their literal nature borders on the ridiculous. Simple questions like ‘What did your faeces look like today?’ or an explanation of a toilet roll mascot called ‘Wipey’ can crack a grin on even the most restrained of kindergarten teachers. There’s also a marvellous presentation of Toile-no-suke (‘Toilenosskay’ if you’re having trouble) a toilet who’s upset by people’s lack of knowledge about good sanitation and openly refuses to take any more shit until the matter is resolved. You can imagine the multitude of puns.
Towards the end of the journey, things get considerably more sincere as the audience is given statistics and some pretty powerful photographs of the billions of people doomed to die because of a serious lack of sanitation. It’s here that the translated questions lose their humorous nature, instead of taking on an innocent poignancy, reinforced by the fact that, like the sentence structure used, the answer is painfully simple. It’s informative and lets you leave a little wiser to some relatively easy-to-fix sources of death in the world if we were willing to spend a little more on education and a little less stoking the war-machine.
There’s a giant toilet slide afterwards though. Live the dream.