As a father, I love spending time with my family. As a writer, however, I also appreciate solitude. It doesn’t have to be monkish solitude (in fact it better be not); I delight in being alone in a crowd. In the last few weeks, I have been untypically mobile, visiting places in and around Tokyo for my next book. Doing this on my own felt a bit like the old days, when I was traveling Japan solo, guided only by my very own curiosities, not bothering whether this restaurant has a kids’ menu, or what my wife might think of me for visiting that store (is it just me, or does the weird stuff in Akihabara keep getting weirder and weirder?). While I mostly enjoyed my temporary freedom, there was one outing where being alone felt wrong. One experience that had me realize: This can’t be just for you; this is something a father should share with his child. I am talking, of course, about the poo museum in Yokohama.
So, I asked my daughter Hana, who had just turned 5, the entirely rhetorical question: “Where would you rather go: A train museum or a poo museum?”
And off we went to Yokohama.
In the time since our visit to the Unko Museum, as it is officially called after the Japanese expression for poo, the museum has closed its doors in our lovely neighbor city and re-opened them in the capital’s own Odaiba. We opted not to wait for the relocation since the crowds will certainly be crazy after the opening, and Yokohama is always worth a trip. I used to say I want to live in Tokyo when I grow up. Now that I do live in Tokyo, I yearn to live in Yokohama when I grow up.
Not that we could altogether avoid the crowds there. On the first trip on my own, I breezed through the event without reservation; they were happy to have me. The second time around, however, I somehow hadn’t considered that if Hana is on preschool vacation, other kids might also be out of school. Having bought time-specific tickets a day earlier didn’t mean we were allowed to enter at the time given on them. It just meant we were allowed to start queuing at that time. Not much fun if you are the only party without one of those electric hand fans everyone is carrying these days.
Poo on a Stick
The first thing you get to do after entering the Unko Museum is sit down on a toilet bowl (pants up!) and pretend to do your business. By mechanical trickery, a colored plastic turd will be flushed into your bowl, for you to keep. You also get a stick to put it on. On my first visit, I was amused by a slightly concerned father whispering to his young son: “Just pretend! Don’t really do it!” Of course, just to be safe, I told Hana the same.
While she liked her poo on a stick, the rest of our visit was not the rousing success I had hoped for. I had been looking forward to bonding with my daughter over having our pictures taken sitting side by side on love-toilets or pretending to have poo-shaped pink cake. But she was tired of more waiting-in-line and ran straight for the games section – only to cover her ears in panic. She can be quite sensitive over any excessive noise not produced by herself. Unfortunately, the centerpiece of the Unko Museum is a game where you shout “UNKO!” at the top of your lungs to win points. I figured it would be fun for Hana if she just tried it once herself, but she fled while her father was shouting “Unko! Unko! Unko!” against other people’s children, like a madman.
She did like a game that let her step on projections of turds to virtually squash them, as well as the ball pool with hidden plastic turds and a shower of specimen made from Styrofoam raining down after a dramatic countdown (during which she covered her ears, of course).
More Poo, Please – We’re German
Another thing she enjoyed was the display of poo-related products from all over the world. It was well before I saw the ‘Do not touch’ sign that Hana had already worn every poo hat and sat in every poo chair on hand. I was surprised not to find any exhibits from our home country of Germany. I know we have a bit of a reputation of being unko-fixated. Many bewildered international linguists have written amusing articles about it. We appropriated and redefined the English expression ‘shitstorm’ for the social media age, and there is hardly any cussword in our language unrelated to the butt or its product (‘ass violin’ anyone?). Alas, no representation in the Japanese poo museum.
On the way back, Hana admitted that the whole affair hadn’t been quite as much fun as she had expected. Hours later, however, when we reunited with her mother for dinner, she couldn’t stop talking about it like it was the greatest thing she ever experienced, proudly presenting her poo on a stick (our household now has three). Fortunately, that dinner took place at a rather popular restaurant, so large parts of our neighborhood could also learn about our fabulous day at the poo museum and our impressive plastic poo collection.
By now, Hana has become somewhat critical about oversharing our experience, though. When I asked her earlier today to refresh my memory about a certain detail, she inquired: “Why do you want to know?”
“Because I want to write about it,” I replied.
“But, daddy, maybe some people will say: Ugh, we don’t like poo!”
“So, don’t write about it!”
But it’s too late. I had it in me for too long, it just had to get out.