Japanese Toilets

Asian style toilet

Somehow, it's hard to imagine that toilets can be different in different countries.   Surely the way toilets are in my country is the way they must be everywhere?   Well, a quick trip overseas will soon disabuse you of that notion.   Even toilets in Western countries differ from New Zealand to America to Holland, so how much more so should Asian toilets differ from those in the West?

In fact, the toilet you're looking at here is the most widespread toilet in the world.   This is the style of toilet which is used from Turkey all the way East to Japan, and everywhere in between.

When you think about it, this is the most natural type of flush toilet, too.   Instead of sitting down, you squat, which is really how humans are designed to, um, you know...

I must admit, I never figured out what to do with my pants when faced with such a toilet, so I used to take them off.   But in Japan I learned that the thing to do is just to move them to your knees.   And while we're at it, when you squat, you face the plumbing.   In some toilets, there are even tiles of different color on either side of the toilet which mark where you should put your feet.

This toilet, at least, has toilet paper.   In Brunei, I saw one which had just a plastic water hose - sort of like a primitive bidet.

Throughout Asia, it's not assumed that you'll find toilet paper or even a water hose in a public toilet.   In Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, I had a hard time finding a toilet I could use - in the end I had to go to a store to buy a roll of toilet paper, which I then carried around with me for the rest of my trip.   I did later see one in a shopping mall, with a table outside and a lady selling toilet paper by the sheet!

In Japan you've got a couple of options.   In Kyoto people were handing out plastic-wrapped packets of toilet paper with advertising on it (I hear that the advertising is often pornographic).   And in Tokyo, at the very large and prominent Yasukuni-jinja shinto shrine, I came across this toilet paper vending machine.   Where else but outside a public toilet!

toilet paper vending machine at Yasukuni-jinja
ultra modern toilet

And now from the ridiculous to the sublime.

This type of ultra-modern toilet is popular in Japan; on the left hand side you can see four electronic buttons and a dial control.   I'd heard about these toilets some time ago, so I knew that at least one of the buttons must control a bidet, and another would be an air drier (no, really!).   But the instructions were all in Japanese, and so I didn't know which of the buttons flushed the toilet.   Nothing I could do but be systematic - I closed the toilet lid and tried the first button - whoops, bidet!   Second button - bidet!   Third button - bidet!   Fourth button - drier!   What?!!   Bidets and blowers are all very well, but there must be a flush button somewhere!   Two minutes later, I found an old-fashioned lever on the right hand side of the cistern.

Perhaps you notice the clever faucet and handbasin on top of the cistern, with a label "saving water" (I don't really expect you to notice the label, it's a bit small).   It's very clever, you wash your hands and the water flows into the cistern.

Here was another part of Japanese toilet culture I had a small problem with, and I don't just mean that the slippers were too small!

The Japanese are very tolerant of people making a cultural faux pas, but one area where they insist on correct behavior is shoes.   You definitely don't wear your street shoes inside, and when you go to the bathroom you change from house slippers to toilet slippers.   I forgot a couple of times, and even made the mistake of wearing the toilet slippers outside the bathroom.   Sacre bleu!

me in toilet slippers

No-one said that the Japanese had to be consistent.   Wearing toilet slippers in the house might be disgusting, but there's nothing wrong with watching a man using a urinal while you walk through a public park (in this case in the Hiroshima Peace Park).   In fact, Japanese men are known for being uninhibited about making comfort stops in public, so perhaps that's why this is seen as nothing unusual.

toilet block with visible urinals

If the last photo didn't freak you out, then perhaps this one might.   In Japan (and also, I hear from a work colleague, in Korea) you might come across a public unisex toilet, complete with urinals!   Women using the toilets are supposed to just ignore the men!   This one was at the Himeji train station.

sign pointing to combined male and female toilet