This article originally appeared on VICE Asia.
Taking a dump in the wilderness is a combination of physical unfamiliarity and psychological discomfort that may prove a tough challenge for many. Anyone who has ever gone camping can probably attest to that.
But that's just another day for the professional fundoshi (literally "loincloth" but also "poop soil master"), 69-year-old Masana Izawa of Japan, who for nearly a half a century has been shunning the toilet in favour of more organic alternatives. Since the 1970s, he has been taking his bathroom duties outdoors, opting instead to relieve himself in obscure neighbourhood corners of the Greater Tokyo Area, where he resides. Finding a secluded enough location is tricky but he has found several good spots over the years, he told the Japan Times.
The decision to permanently avoid conventional toilets came after he got involved in a protest against the construction of a waste treatment plant. According to the Daily Mirror, he realised then that “no one was willing to take ownership of their waste,” a revelation that motivated him to reconsider his relationship with his excrement within the broader framework of eco-circularity.
The first open-air deuce that he dropped wasn’t nearly as traumatising as you would expect.
“Even though it was very different from the previous defecation in the toilet, it was not physically and mentally uncomfortable,” he said. In fact, the experience was cathartic for Izawa, who said that taking responsibility for his own fecal matter gave him “great joy.” Since 2000, he has only defecated indoors 14 times, a smattering compared to the 15,000 dumps he has taken outdoors.
A contemporary affliction in an era where toilets are considered a “basic necessity” is this: we’ve become alienated from our bodily waste. Some Japanese “smart toilets” even play noises to mask “embarrassing sounds” in the bathroom, showing just how much distance we’ve created between ourselves and our own excrement.
For Izawa, pooping outdoors is his way of answering nature’s call, in both a philosophical and poo-phemistic sense. He thinks that we as a society have become estranged from nature. And waste treatment is one aspect where humans take from the environment without giving back.
“Humans are so egocentric, they can’t see that ‘worthless and dirty’ poop is a treat for other living creatures,” he told the Japan Times. “To poop is a responsibility we need to be aware of. To poop outdoors is a way of giving back life.”
You can take the piss out of Izawa’s unusual habit all you want, but there’s something quite poetic about his philosophy towards defecation.
An enthusiastic advocate for outdoor defecation, he has been sharing his poo-losophy through talks across Japan. Put simply, he tells people to get their asses out of the house and actually soil on soil.
People may shit on his choice to take his bathroom business outdoors but after more than 40 years of doing it, Izawa has not encountered serious resistance to the movement.
“There are criticisms… but I have never been told not to do it,” he said.
Taking a shit outdoors isn’t as simple as it sounds. Just because you can do it anywhere doesn't mean you should. When scouting for a suitable spot, Izawa makes sure that he isn’t contaminating alpine zones and water sources, and avoids locations that could experience soil eutrophication. He also buries his poop when he’s done and wipes with leaves and water instead of non-biodegradable paper products.
The intricacies of the subject prompted Izawa to publish a guide to outdoor defecation in 2017, titled Let’s Start Outdoor-Defecating With Leaves, which even specifies the leaves most suited for wiping asses clean. According to him, “there are so many soft, absorbent leaves out there.”
Before he made a career looking for sequestered outdoor pooping spots and writing books about it, Izawa was an esteemed fungi and moss photographer.
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