Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Japanese Toilets

Lights! Sounds! Action!Lights! Sounds! Action!

Japan, from the Western point of view, is a nation renowned for its preoccupations with cleanliness, efficiency and technology. To witness these three virtues working in combination, just ask to use a modern Japanese restroom. Yessiree bob, when it comes to toilets, Japan has dealt itself a royal flush. From simple but effective squat toilets to high tech marvels seemingly made for a mission to Mars, Japan's toilets take care of everybody's business like nobody's business. (image via TechChee.com )


What's this button do... Yikes!!

Let us spray...Let us spray...

There's a toilet to fit every budget, every bathroom size and everyone's particular plumbing - of both the metallic and the organic persuasion. The full-featured, futuristic "washlets" people love to talk about are just the latest expressions of the Japanese toilet's evolution, so let's go back to the beginning - when "thrones" were reserved for royalty. (image via fiery-foods.com)


You've GOT to be kidding...

Waste not, squat not...Waste not, squat not...

You say you don't know squat about Japanese toilets? Live and learn... the humble squat toilet, little changed from its pre-20th century origins, can still be found in some Japanese homes. Why? Because it works, and works well! The typical Japanese squat toilet looks somewhat like a urinal that fell off the wall, or a porcelain baby carriage half-buried in the floor. Westerners confronted by a squat toilet for the first time may experience an anxiety attack.. where do I sit?? Umm, you don't, you squat. Remember to face the hooded end, where the flush mechanism is, and you're halfway to success. (image via Keith Fenske)


It's NOT a horizontal urinal...

No sitting down on the job!No sitting down on the job!

Western style toilets were gradually introduced to Japanese restrooms and most users found them to be a step up - in that they could finally sit down. Even so, the same Japanese passion for re-engineering that has given us practical, reliable consumer products of almost any description has swung into action to meet local requirements. One notable change in design was one that allowed its use in very, VERY tiny restrooms by eliminating the stand-alone sink - at the cost of warm water hand-washing. (image via TravelBlog Archive)


OK, where would YOU put the sink??

Water Closet, Japanese styleWater Closet, Japanese style

I've mentioned these space-saving toilets in my article "Top Ten Ways Japanese Live Small", but they bear repeating as they are just so obvious, ingenious and, well, creepy. Yes, I know you're not washing your hands with "toilet water", but it's still a little too close for comfort in some folk's minds. Still, you have to admire the design: it saves space, it saves water, it saves installing a sink, and it saves you from touching the tap or taps with unwashed hands. Isn't that worth a little creepiness? (image via Design Japan)


You'll wash with cold water and LIKE it!

Not toilet water... yet!Not toilet water... yet!

Last and definitely not least, we have the toilet of the future, today! Many Westerners are still fascinated by the top of the line toilets, bidets and washlets popularized by Japanese toilet-maker Toto and currently featured at New York's Plaza Hotel. Although Toto (and rival INAX) manufactures a wide variety of these "cybertoilets", it's the upper end that gets most of the attention - and not always favorable, either. It seems certain washlets emitted smoke and in some cases actual flames when used... not very conducive to the freedom from worry most of us desire in a restroom experience. It's hoped that Toto will have gotten the bugs out before their washlets are installed in the new Boeing 787 Dreamliners due to fly the friendly Japanese skies early next year. "Smokin' in the boy's room", indeed! (image via Sinkpositive)


Open sesame... and let the music begin!

Toto... we're not in Kansas anymore!Toto... we're not in Kansas anymore!

The better Japanese toilets offer advanced features including warm water sprays for front and back in a range of temperature settings, cool or warm air drying, in-bowl night lights (how do you change the bulb??), a built-in deodorizer and even soothing sounds that mask other less musical tones, all controlled from either an armrest panel or a separate wall-mounted console. There are models that incorporate a proximity sensor that raises the lid when a prospective user gets within range; then lowers it again when they've concluded their visit. Forgetful husbands everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief! (image via Rajat Gupta)


Back to basics...

Was it all just a dream?Was it all just a dream?

Certainly no Japanese travel experience is complete without some mention of toilets, any toilets, and since you're likely to experience various types during an average stay, its good to know what to expect before you're caught with your pants down. Any questions? Yes, you may go to the washroom now... (image via F and Q)

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Steve Levenstein
Japanese Innovations Writer

Jul 25, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

They Must Have Good Aim

Don't they ever need splash guards?