When a Japanese toilet backs up, make sure the bathtub plug is open!

If you have one of those ubiquitous modular bathrooms, that is.

Today, I had to deal with a little situation that I think I caused the night before—having used too much toilet paper.

When I went to go about the day, I discovered that brushing my teeth was sending water up through the floor drain in the bathroom. (This is a 1 K, so you can imagine that the bathroom is just beating out an old-style phone booth for size.)

Well, I concluded that the sink was backed up. So it never occurred to me that when I flushed the toilet, that the modular bathroom has a common drain!

I’ve dealt with one of these for years. So I might sound silly that it never occurred to me, but I figured the toilet was on a separate line. Nope.

So this left we with a predicament. No drainage out of the bathroom. No shave. No shower.

Clueless as to where to find a plunger. Not even sure if it would be “pu-raa-n-jyaa” in katakana eigo (transliterated English Japanese). Turns out it’s pi-su-ton from “piston”. Same idea.

So nothing was going to happen today without a pi-su-ton. Which left me a little pi- ssed.

Out I went in search of one.

The local health and housecleaning supply store didn’t have anything to help. Then, I thought of “Tokyuu Hands” in Shibuya, the store that sells darn near everything and exists to solve whatever DIY problem you can conceive of in Tokyo living.

I went to Section B1C, which was Bathroom Items or something like that, only to be directed to Section 3C (on the third floor), which also contained a bathroom section. With the help of staff who pointed me the way, I became the proud owner of a Tokyuu Hands plunger! (1396 yen).

In an oversized bag, I take the thing home and give it its inaugural mission: unclog whatever part of the bathroom is backed up.

My father is a plumber by trade, although he stopped doing residential or construction plumbing years ago. So it was not going to be me to call a plumber (suidouya) for something like this. It’s not so much proving my macho or anything—it’s a more practical form of honor. The son of a plumber should know how to fix a clogged toilet, stop one from running, etc.

The problem was, I couldn’t get the plunger to develop suction in the toilet. So I tried the tub (which was stupid because the drain is really small). And then I tried the floor drain, which was equally stupid.

Finally, I decided to let more water in to fill the bowl and try to create suction while the bowl filled up. Since the rising water was more pressure resisting the pull of the suction cup up, and more pressure on the down move.

That did the trick—at the risk of a bit of a flood if the jammed toilet paper and other “effluent” didn’t move.

So the tub water, the floor drain water and toilet all cleared together. Man, one line out. I bet the kitchen sink and washer are on the same line. Hopefully each 1K has its own line to street level! (I guess I’d know by now.)

Hey, blogging community, this point bothered me: nobody in Japan appears to have written, eigo de, about modular bathrooms and these sorts of situations. And DIY. So I’ve done my part.

I appreciate you guys who read my posts all the time. But I realize that most of what I’ve put up over the last 6 1/2 years gets read months or years later. For whatever “impact” a post might have, it’s more like a message in a bottle.

So you reader of the year 2013, note this point: make sure the toilet can back up into the tub before you send more water in!

One comment

  1. chuckers · November 4, 2009

    Re: pi-su-ton

    I wouldn’t rely on that name. A few years back, this quiz show I used to like a lot (“Akappaji-Aoppaji”) did a sort of behind the scenes special about how they come up with their “Common Sense” questions. They had planned to take a plunger and ask various people what the name of it was (the studio panelists bet points on which person was most likely to get the answer correct.)

    Before asking the question, though, the programme needed to know the answer themselves. After a bit of research, they found out that there wasn’t a well defined name for it! No-one was going to get the right answer because there really wasn’t a “right” answer.

    They then followed up with with some minor Nihonron tangent saying plungers weren’t all that common in Japan like they are in the US because “Japanese toilets are different” and they didn’t really fit. The reason for that was that since Japanese eat far more vegetable matter, the amount of waste produced means that a larger toilet drain was required than in Western toilets. I think he was actually implying that the Japanese are full of sh!t.

    I recently picked up a plumber’s helper at our local OK Store (basically, the Walmart of Japan) but forget what the actual name of it was. Or, at least, what name they were calling it at the store.

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