Travel to Japan: How to Use a Japanese Toilet

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Golden Pavilion, a Zen Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Golden Pavilion, a Zen Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Traveling to Japan? Be prepared on how to use a Japanese toilet and understand the etiquette of peeing in Japan.

Peeing should not be hard. It’s a natural function. But just like everything in Japan, there’s certain etiquette to follow. I spent a month in Japan and one of my biggest challenges was conquering the Japanese toilets to become queen of the throne.

A Japanese Toilet in a Home

A Japanese Toilet in a Home

I had done the research. Lonely Planet’s Japan guidebook has a bit about Japanese squat toilets, giving instructions to face opposite the door, straddle what looks to be an implanted urinal in the floor, squat and hold onto the contents of your pockets (gravity tends to pull things out and plop them in the hole). I also found an entertaining Web site with a computer animation on how to use a Japanese squat toilet.

Memories of a Japanese Squat Toilet
Ah! Memories of the first time with a Japanese squat toilet. Let me tell you, they really weren’t invented for leg nylon-wearing women. Straddling the hole and keeping the nylons out of the line of fire takes balance, I found new leg muscles. With the first run, I discovered a thing called splatter and learned from my mistakes thereafter.

But not all Japanese toilets are squat-style, some are Western-style (the ones commonly found in the United States).

A Japanese Squat Toilet

A Japanese Squat Toilet

Getting Techy with the Toilet
It’s common to hear the constant sound of running water from modest Japanese women flushing toilets. Apparently, they’re a bit shy to the sound of tinkling. Since water was being wasted, a noise box was invented to emulate the sound of flushing Japanese toilets and installed in most public areas. With the purpose being to hide the sound of nature’s call, I wonder why the inventor selected the sound of flushing water when it can be anything. Why not Japanese Muzak?

Tips for Using a Public Japanese Toilet
When using a public Japanese toilet, either squat or Western-style, bring tissues. Toilet paper is not very common. Packs of tissues are commonly given away at train stations as product samples. Be sure to grab some. Also carry a handkerchief to dry your hands after you have washed them. Paper towels and hand dryers are uncommon, too.

Tips for Using a Toilet in a Japanese Home
When staying in a hotel, you can use the bathroom at your leisure. But as a guest in a Japanese home, you’ll earn respect when following the culture’s customs.

Upon entering a Japanese home, (and most businesses, schools and museums) you need to take off your shoes. You will most likely receive a pair of house slippers to wear. When using vising the restroom, the special toilet slippers MUST be worn. The trick is to switch from the house slippers without the feet touching the floor while slipping on the toilet slippers. In theory, the toilet slippers must NEVER leave the toilet area and the house slippers must NEVER touch the bathroom floor. Being an American-gaijin (gaijin is the Japanese word for foreigner), it is okay to use the door frame for balance and place the house slippers outside the bathroom, facing outward.

If you accidentally wear the toilet slippers around the house, your hostess may seem a little hyper, begin speaking very quickly in Japanese then end up mopping your tracks. She reacts this way because the bathroom is considered to be germ-infested and your toilet slippers have just spread those germs throughout the house she so meticulously cleaned.

If You Don't Know What the Buttons Do, Don't Touch Them!

If You Don’t Know What the Buttons Do, Don’t Touch Them!

If You’re Unsure, Don’t Touch that Button
Despite it being fun to delve into the unknown, my most important piece of advice is not to press unfamiliar buttons on the Japanese toilet. Here in the United States, we believe in K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) but in Japan, they are the innovators of technology. A simple toilet seat has been converted into a technological masterpiece with almost all the bells and whistles.

It’s common for these porcelain thrones to have a heating button so behinds don’t wince at touching a cold seat, and admittedly, it’s a nice treat on those cold mornings. (Why didn’t someone from Buffalo, N.Y., invent that?). The magical Japanese toilets do other things, such as wash, rinse, dry and deodorize those private parts.

And what happens when you stand over the Japanese toilet and push a random button that looks like candy canes? Well, something like a black snake (it’s really a skinny black hose) rears its head from under the rim, the head rises and strikes with spitting water. Obviously, you should be sitting on the toilet during all this because when standing over the bowl watching, you and the bathroom (which is probably lined with a library of manga – Japanese comic books) will get soaked. This may also cause your hostess to appear a little hyper and speak quickly in Japanese.

Many Japanese toilets have a spigot above the tank. When the toilet is flushed, wash your hands with the cold water, which fills the toilet tank. It sounds gross, but the water’s clean, it’s not the water you just flushed out and it’s another way the Japanese are conserving resources.

Remembering Japanese customs, going with the flow and strengthening leg muscles will help you become master of the Japanese toilets on your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Note: This article was originally posted on Yahoo! Voices, which no longer exists, and was based on my Oct. 2004 month-long stay in Japan.

Author: Solo Travel Girl

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led Jennifer Huber, aka: Solo Travel Girl, to a career path in tourism. She has worked in the tourism industry for more than 20 years including 10 years with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley and Everglades National Park. She currently lives in Southwest Florida, and maintains this travel blog with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely.

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1 Comment

  1. Great post, Jennifer. I work for a company that sells Japanese toilet seats in America and we have them in the office. I can personally attest that it’s a bit hard to get used to the bidet function, but once you’re used to it, it’s awesome! The warm toilet seat is nice too.

    I had no idea about the slippers. Do you know if most Japanese use a new pair of slippers everyday (maybe they have 7 pairs and wash all but one on laundry day) or do they just have two pairs, one for the bathroom, one for everywhere else, that they just wash when they get to it? So interesting!

    And if you want an American-style bidet seat for yourself, check us out!
    http://www.nationalbuildersupply.com/bidet-seats/c360

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