Key Points:

As I was blasted with a stream of water directed at my navel I remembered. I had been alerted to Japanese toilets by friends after their first experience of skiing here on Japan's northern island, Hokkaido. He raved about the powder snow. She raved about the powder rooms.

I was brain dead after the 13 hours and two flights it took to arrive at New Chitose, the airport for Sapporo, Hokkaido's largest city. Luckily our group had to go no further than the Hotel Mitsu Urban, right in the terminal.

Too tired for dinner we stumbled to our rooms. Like most things Japanese, mine was small but perfectly formed and what looked like a commercial freezer door on one side was actually the door to the bathroom.

Ah, a bath before I crashed. I started running the water, dived out of my clothes and faced a toilet lined with buttons. I pressed the first I saw and got the aforementioned navel shower. I felt this was a time to read the instructions: "Don't press the bidet button unless seated." A tube-like protrusion slid out from under the end of the pan, swivelled up, then squirted. Ingenious!

The next day our group caught a local bus to our first destination, Furano Ski Area. The aim of this one-week familiarisation jaunt was to get a feel for the ski fields and accommodation so travel agents could advise their clients.

Our hosts, Ski Travel Specialists, were ensuring we travelled exactly as tourists on their own would.

After passing through lots of fairly deserted farmland, emerging from a long, snow-covered winter there was a 10-minute stop outside a village supermarket. Of course the women headed straight for the toilets. They looked comfortably familiar with a row of basins and a row of doors. There was nothing to prepare us for the keyhole-shaped squat toilets we were about to encounter.

"How does an arthritic old Japanese lady cope?" I asked one of my colleagues who'd found it hard enough with an old ski knee injury.

"There aren't any arthritic Japanese ladies," was her conclusion.

Next stop, the 12-storey New Prince Hotel at the foot of the Furano ski field. Japanese hotel rooms are generally smaller than we are used to. You'd need to be family or very friendly to fit three comfortably in a "triple".

I approached the toilet with excitement and trepidation. This time I did read the instructions thoroughly. I felt like a racing car driver with the controls at my fingertips. The only uncontrollable issue was the toilet flushing the minute I got close.

The next day, after a bright sunny morning of guided skiing on end-of-season empty runs, I found the restrooms at the bottom of the "ropeway"; a lost in translation understatement for the 101 person-capable gondolier that swoops up 569 vertical metres in five minutes. How will I cope with the basic facilities at Ruapehu after these marble walls, tiled floors, glistening hand basins and hot seats?

I was told that, by complete contrast, the cafe at the top of the lift had squat toilets.

There were normal - as we know them - toilets in Hokkaido. We found them at Club Med Sahoro which caters to an international clientele. It was almost a relief. After a beginner's snowboard lesson followed by an advanced ski session, my head would have been completely done in if I had had to take instructions from the toilet as well.

Liz French travelled to Japan compliments of Air New Zealand, Ski Travel Specialists and Club Med.