On a Japanese Toilet

My friends and I have a running joke that every novel I write ends up in the latrine. Sooner or later, my characters always seem to end up in a potty somewhere. It’s not intentional (not consciously, anyway) but it happens nonetheless.

In light of this, it seems only fitting that my first set of photographs in Japan were taken…in a toilet.

I’d like to defend this by pointing out that Japanese toilets are somewhat different than the ones we’re used to in the States. The Japanese adopted the western-style toilet quickly, and then improved upon it in ways that almost have to be seen to be believed.

This is a typical toilet in Japan. (Many Japanese bathrooms offer both Western-style  and traditional Japanese squat toilet options. I used both during my time there, though I didn’t photograph the “squatty potty.”)

0606 Japanese toilet

The warning sign behind the toilet informs the user (in Japanese, and sometimes also in Chinese and Korean) that it’s not appropriate to stand or squat on the toilet seat. A helpful diagram and instructions also explain ‘How to Use the Toilet’ properly.

While this might seem unnecessary to those familiar with the use of the Western toilet, bear in mind that not everyone grew up with the porcelain throne most of us know and love.

This is the control panel for a typical toilet in Japan:

0606 Japanese toilet controls

In addition to ‘flush,’ most Japanese toilets also include a bidet, a ‘bottom washing’ feature (separate and different from the bidet), and an option to play ‘music’ (actually, the sound of running water) to prevent other people from hearing you tinkle.

The upgraded models also include “deodorant” buttons, which spray deodorant into the bowl and room. If you can’t figure out what this is for, you probably poop roses.

Some toilets also include a built-in sink above the toilet tank, which activates automatically when you flush, allowing you to wash your hands. Others, like the one in the Tokyo airport, have a separate sink inside the stall.

0606 Bathroom sink

Along with a warning and request that you not use the sink for showering.

Please do not shower in the toilet.

Many public toilets have the sinks outside the stalls, like we have in the States. However, most public restrooms in Japan do not have paper towel dispensers. Instead, they have either an air-dryer (usually motion-activated) or nothing at all to dry your hands. 

Many Japanese women carry a small washcloth in their purses to use to dry their hands after using the restroom. I adopted this custom a few days into the trip, and purchased a pair of washcloths–one for me, and one for my mother, who went with me to Japan. As it turns out, it’s nice to have a clean, soft cloth to dry my hands on, and I’m going to continue carrying it at home.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be blogging extensively about my trip to Japan, along with Japanese history, customs and culture, in celebration of July’s release of the third Shinobi Mystery, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER. I hope you’ll stick around and travel with me!

Have you ever used a Japanese toilet–Western or traditional style? If not, what’s the most unusual toilet you’ve ever seen?

2 thoughts on “On a Japanese Toilet

  • June 22, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    So excited to hear more about your experiences in Japan.

    For me, I don’t pay much attention to the toilets. However, I DO like to collect unique toilet paper from places I’ve visited.

    For example, I have this puffy blue toilet paper I picked up in the Frankfurt, Germany airport a few years ago.

    • June 22, 2015 at 5:55 pm

      That’s a cool idea — bringing back unique toilet paper. The Japanese toilet paper is pretty close to what we have in the U.S., except that it’s all one-ply because they are much more aware of paper use there (small island, less resources…)

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