You’d be surprised to find TOTO toilets in wooden shacks. TOTO toilets are swanky Japanese toilets complete with customisable bidet functions and most appreciated of all — the perennially warm seat. Waarmnesss…

The wooden shacks ain’t just any ordinary wooden shacks either. They were out in the boonies in Japan at a Vipassana meditation camp. Naked incandescent light bulbs lit each wooden stall. For 10 days, men and women stay at the camp to learn and practice Vipassana meditation.

The Considerati

The Japanese are culturally courteous and considerate. I remember removing my shoes before entering the chado (Tea ceremony) mizuya (tea prep area) and upon exiting found my shoes and those of others mysteriously arranged right way up for those leaving to put on their shoes more easily. It felt very attentive and welcoming. (細心 — heart into the details)

At the Vipassana camp, I noticed mystery triangles surfacing in the wooden shacks every now and again. The place out in the boonies hadvolunteers help make meals and manage the upkeep of the space. From the minute I arrived, I felt how well we were taken care of. Nothing fancy, but we had everything we needed. From the basket of amenities in the bedroom — facial tissues, sweeper paper for cleaning the floor, to the extra alarm clocks or change of beddings one might need — were all in place for anyone who needed them.

Since the place was run by volunteers, the mystery triangles appearing in the toilet stalls — the type of folded triangles you see in hotels seemed improbable. The small folded triangle at the end of the roll is saying, “This toilet has been cleaned and taken care of for you. Please enjoy!” Did the volunteers do that? Out in the boonies at a meditation camp? Strange — those mystery triangles.

Solving the Mystery

Since we do not speak or make eye-contact with one another during the camp, aside from speaking with the assistant teacher or the mens/women’s manager, I waited.

On the last day when silence lifted, everyone was in a happy mood as we all completed the full ten days practice. I went up to the lady and asked, “Was it you? Those triangles?” She smiles — a bit cheekily and nods. In my broken Japanese and a mix of gestures and English, she told me that yes, it was her! Because she wanted to leave the next person using the stall feel that it has been taken care of.

Energy of a place

Shigeru Ban, architect. Pritzker Prize winner 2014. “With Paper Tubes, Building Social Change” — New York Times
Shigeru Ban, architect. Pritzker Prize winner 2014. “With Paper Tubes, Building Social Change” — New York Times
Yana Paskova for The New York Times

The Vipassana camp is not a fancy place. However the camp is well-designed. When something is well-designed and well taken care of, its character builds like well-loved leather. Although the main buildings at the camp were built at least 20 years ago, the space felt in flow and in harmony with the foothills and fields amongst which it sits. And most of all, those wood shack toilet stalls — well-loved.

I had often shared this New York Times article with my students on Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. The 2014 Pritzker Prize winner designs buildings using materials sourced locally. He also builds with paper tubes. His paper tube structures — mind you — are not one-off; His buildings are built to last.

“A concrete-and-steel building can be temporary. It can be taken down or destroyed by an earthquake. But paper can last. It’s a question of love. If a building is loved, it becomes permanent.”

Shigeru Ban

A question of energy

Brown’s Field, Chiba Japan. A Festival.
Brown’s Field, Chiba Japan. A Festival.
© Brown’s Field. A Matsuri.

On the day we said our goodbyes at the camp, some of us chanced upon a Harvest Festival. At the end of the day, we were at a bus & train station getting ready to head back into the city. I noticed distinctly the sterile washroom stalls at the mall — spotless and functional, seemed lifeless compared to the simple wooden shacks.

The Chinese say, “Use your heart.” “Do it with your heart.” As a child, my teacher would tell me, “Use your heart” be it copying Chinese characters or listening to the teacher speak. There is no saying, “Use your brain” except in a derogatory way.

When comes from the heart, it’s different from when done without. Even with cleaning and tidying up. (Or in this case the cleaning of washrooms). I reckon it’s not a coincidence that Marie Kondo asks people to thank and communicate with their belongings when tidying up.

Everything is energy. We are and emit energy

“Do you want someone with loving energy make you breakfast in the morning, or someone with grumpy energy?” the Pranic Healing instructor asked. Obviously the former coz the loving energy goes into the food that is made. Lovingly prepared home-cooked meals have a different vibe to them, don’t they? (Vibe…vibrations = energy) In Japanese tea ceremony, after we receive the prepared tea or food we are to consume, we will say grace, we say “Thank you, for the blessing.”


Food for thought

  • When someone has been considerate with you, how do you feel? Do you likewise ripple on being considerate?

Originally published at on February 4, 2020.

Writer + Host: Filmaholic/ Orchestrii Orchestrator-in-Chief / Design-lover /World explorer. Written for Zolima City Mag, Culture Trip.