Translated by Verity Lane
10 Things You Need to Know About Japanese Toilets
Written by Keisuke Yamada
This article covers the features of Japanese toilets, including how to read and use the buttons, and cleaning with bidet washlets. Be sure to know what these features are so you can be as comfortable as possible when using the restroom in Japan.
Toilets in Japan
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 well maintained and kept spotlessly 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 with 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,” like "otearai" and "toire." Some are direct and some are 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 keshoshitsu ("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"
・keshoshitsu "powder room"
3. Types of Toilets
In Japan, toilets are classified into three large categories. These are: washiki toire (traditional Japanese toilet), yoshiki toire (Western-style toilet), and a takino-toire (multifunction toilet).
Depending on the place, you may find traditional Japanese toilets in older sightseeing spots and buildings. However nowadays, many places use Western-style toilets ones.
The Traditional Japanese Toilet - Squat to Use
Traditional Japanese toilets involve squatting over the urinal. They are very uncommon in modern homes. As previously mentioned, you will find them mainly in public toilets, tourist destinations, and old buildings.
The Western-Style Toilet
This variety of toilet is the most commonly found in Japan. It is Western-style and useable in the same way you would in the United States, Singapore, Australia, or most other developed countries.
Sometimes, the toilet will have a small sink-like area at the top. This is recycled, clean water you can use to wash your hands with.
The Multi-function 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 prioritized for the types of people listed above.
4. Toilet Facilities Found in Hotels and Lodgings
The toilet and the bath are typically separated into two different rooms.
The toilet and bathtub are located in the same area in a unit bath.
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 or hovering your hand over a sensor.
Modern toilets flush automatically as soon as you get off of the toilet seat.
6. Japanese Toilet Paper
Toilet paper is used in Japan, even by those who own toilets with bidets and washlet functions (see below).
In Japan, toilet paper is thrown directly into the toilet after use. However, please be sure to put just the toilet paper provided in the toilet. Everything else should be placed into the small trashcan located within the cubicle.
Please check the area around the toilet for anything you may have dropped, and don't forget to flush it so that it can be used by the next person.
7. How to Use Washlets and Bidets on Toilets
One thing you should definitely try out when using Japanese toilets is the washlet bidet function. Although not available with all toilets, these functions are common in Japan. Toto is the most famous brand offering washlet and bidet technology.
They allow you to wash in warm water, and also keeps the toilet seat heated. A power-saving function is also included. It instantly heats up the seat when in use and makes the water warmer only when the toilet is in use.
8. How to Read the Washlet Buttons
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 "yobidashi" and will alert someone, so please be sure not to use this function except in the case of an emergency.