Everyone’s favorite topic, right? Now first off, I’m sure most people’s image of toilets in Japan are of the magical gadgets that in addition to spraying water up and washing your butt, also have blow dryers, sound effects, video cameras, small firework displays, and many many other absurd things that we saw on the Simpsons and heard about at work around the water cooler from someone who knows a friend of a friend who once thought about visiting Japan. This image is only partially true. Maybe totally true in some of the richer parts of Tokyo.
Anyways. There are basically two types of toilets here: The squat toilet and the Western toilet.
The squat toilet
The first is the squat toilet, which is the traditional version.
As you might guess, you squat over this thing to do your business. To help older Japanese and foreigners with no balance, a metal bar is sometimes attached to the wall in front on the toilet to hold on to. As I understand it, many Japanese prefer this type as it is perceived to be cleaner since you never actually touch the toilet.
Many include signs to tell barbaric foreigners how to use them:
Let’s see, according to wikipedia they are also easier to clean, use less water, using them strengthens women’s pelvic muscles and everyone’s hips and helps maintain flexibility in the knees. Whew… guess we should all use these. They are still common. In the countryside, they may be the only kind you find, but in the city you will find both this type and the other which I will talk about next.
The Western toilet
The other type is the type we use in the West, but often with some additions.
Yeah, they wash your butt. This advanced wizardry comes from the seat and not the actual toilet, and these seats can get pretty expensive. But they are common enough. Usually even the low-end ones include the bidet, but not much else. The higher ones, however, include many more functions. Some other functions I’ve seen include seats that are heated in the winter, blow dryer, and massage settings. One of the strangest is the sound effects many include. For those that get easily embarrassed by toilet sounds, you can try to cover them up with some of the various sound effects. This silly feature was added because many Japanese women would flush the toilets constantly (wasting lots of water) to cover up their.. ahem, business sounds.
That’s not all, but many Western toilets also include a built in sink so you can wash your hands with the water that is filling the tank, saving water.
That’s the theory anyways. In practice few people seem to use these. Quite often I see things like plants or air fresheners in them.
I mentioned above that in the countryside quite often squat toilets are the only toilets. As a result, some people have no idea how to use a Western style toilet. So amusingly you will often see signs on the Western toilets instructing people not to stand and try to balance on the seat, but to sit down.
One more note. Men’s public bathrooms.
About the same in design as the West, only with the addition of squat toilets. The main difference however is in how public they are. Many make no attempt to hide the urinals from full view of the door so anyone passing by so inclined can look in and see everything. I’ve lost count of the number of bathrooms where the doorway faces a busy street, exposing everyone using the toilet to drivers. Some even forgo the walls.
The real awkward one is that old ladies (the bathroom cleaners are always old ladies) are constantly cleaning while people are using. You might be doing your business at a urinal and a old woman will come in and start cleaning the urinal right next to you!
Yicks! (note: who the hell takes a camera into the bathroom?? You find the strangest pics on google images. But then again, this could have been taken from the hallway outside given the lack of doors and partition walls)
Mostly these last two points some from a rather lax attitude towards gender segregation and nudity before the war. Japan is becoming more and more uptight like the USA, but you can still see signs of the looser former attitude. Sometimes in the countryside you can still find mixed public restrooms. I recently took a bus trip to takayama some hours away and one of the rest stops used a mixed public restroom. Imagine my surprise as women were washing their hands right next to the urinals the men were using.
If you’re interested in more, head to wikipedia for more than you ever wanted to know about Japanese toilets.
(pics from wikipedia and google images)