Translated by Verity Lane
10 Things You Need to Know About Japanese Toilets
This article covers the particular features of Japanese toilets. Be sure to know what these features are before travelling to Japan.
Written by Keisuke Yamada
Whether it be in your daily life or on your travels, there is one place you will surely visit several times a day, that is the bathroom.
Almost all toilets in Japan are maintained clean to ensure the utmost comfort for all travelers to Japan.
On the whole, toilets are free to use and toilet paper is always provided.
1. Places that offer Toilet Facilities
In Japan, most travel and sightseeing destinations have a public toilet.
It is by no means an exaggeration to say that in all places such as the airport, stations, lodgings, shopping centers, parks, tourist spots, and any places that visitors to Japan frequent, there will always be a public toilet.
There are public toilets even in convenience stores and supermarkets.
*In some of the facilities, depending on their type, it might be best to ask for permission to use the toilet, so please be sure to say something before use.
2. Toilet Signs
In Japan, there are many expressions used for the word “toilet”, some direct and some more polite.
For example, if you are in the middle of eating, you should refrain from using the word toire ("toilet”), which is too direct, and opt for more refined expressions such as keshōshitsu ("powder room") or otearai ("bathroom", literally "place to wash your hands"). To avoid getting lost on your way to the bathroom, here is a list of expressions that you should know.
Words that mean "toilet"
・お手洗い otearai "bathroom"
・お手洗 otearai "bathroom"
・御手洗 otearai "bathroom"
・洗面所 senmenjō "washroom"
・化粧室 keshōshitsu "powder room"
・トイレ toire "toilet"
・厠 kawaya "toilet"
3. Types of Toilets
In Japan, toilets are classified into three large catorgories. These are:
・和式トイレ washiki toire (traditional Japanese toilet)
・洋式トイレ yōshiki toire (Western style toilet)
・多機能トイレ takinō-toire (multifunction toilet)
Depending on the place, and there is a tendency to find traditional Japanese toilets frequently in tourist spots and old buildings. However nowadays, in many places the traditional Japanese toilets are being replaced by western ones.
The traditional Japanese Toilet
Traditional Japanese toilets involve squating over the urinal. These days, they are not used in the home anymore.
As previously mentioned, you will find them mainly in public toilets, tourist destinations and old buildings.
Read also: Public Restrooms in Japan: a How-To
The Western-style Toilet
This variety of toilet is the most commonly found in Japan.
The Multifunction Toilet
These toilets are set in a wider space than usual, so that they can be used by persons in wheelchairs or by persons accompanying babies and small children.
Of course, anybody can use these toilets, but their use is prioritised for the types of people listed above.
4. Toilet Facilities found in Hotels and Lodgings
The toilet and the bath are separate.
The toilet and wash basin/bathtub are located in the same area.
*Things to take note of when using the bathroom in hotels.
Hotel bathrooms are fitted with a shower, but it can only be used while in the bathtub. Also, leaving the bathroom door open while you take a shower may cause the fire alarm to go off, so please be sure to close the door.
It's probably a good idea to pull the shower curtain across when using the shower, to avoid showering the rest of the bathroom, including the toilet seat.
5. How to Flush
In Japan, there are different flushing methods depending on the type of toilet.
If it’s a tank type toilet, you can flush the toilet by using the handle to the side of the tank. In public facilities, traditional style Japanese toilets, or toilets that do not have a tank, you can flush the toilet by pulling the lever at the back of the toilet.
There are also models where the toilet can be flushed by pressing a button on the wall, touching a sensor by remote control.
Modern toilets flush automatically as soon as you get off of the toilet seat.
6. Japanese Toilet Paper
In Japan, toilet paper is thrown directly into the toilet after use.
However, please be sure to put just the toilet paper provided into the toilet. Everything else should be placed into the small trashcan located within the cubicle.
Please take care to check the area around the toilet, and don't forget to flush it, so that it can be used by the next person.
7. Washlets and Bidets
For those who come to Japan, one thing you should definitely try out is the washlet bidet function. This function allows you to wash your bits in warm water, and also keeps the toilet seat heated.
A power saving function is also included. It instantly heats up the seat and makes the water warmer only when the toilet is in use.
8. How to Use the Washlet
You can use the washlet by accessing the control buttons on the side of the toilet itself. If the control pad is not set on the toilet, you can use the remote control pad on the wall. The pictures below show the different functions of each button.
9. Flushing Water Sound Simulator
In Japan, in order to drown out the sound of you going about your business, there is a function that simulates the sound of flushing water.
Sometimes this sound automatically starts playing when it detects that somebody has entered the cubicle. Other times, you might have to push a button to start the sound simulator.
Although they might appear quite similar, this button is different from the flush button, so please take care not to confuse the two.
10. Emergency Call Button
Some toilets are provided with an emergency call button, which can be found next to the flush button.
It is intended to be used by people with disabilities, or if you suddenly become sick while on the toilet. It reads “呼出 (yobidashi)”, so please be sure not to use this function except in the case of an emergency.