Japanese Toilets for Dummies

While some developed nations focus on building bigger TVs or more energy-efficient vehicles, Japan has taken great strides in developing something that is useful to everyone: Toilets. Japan will forever hold a special place in my heart because it is the one country where I have seen a clean gas station toilet. That being said, Japan is a country where foreigners would benefit from toilet training.


For those who read Japanese, these modern toilets (or washlets as they call them) are incredibly efficient. However, if you don’t read Japanese, you will either view them as frustrating or entertaining. It is advisable not to travel to Japan with someone who views them as entertaining or you may find yourself waiting for your friend outside a public toilet for 20 minutes. Or even worse, your friend may want to visit the washlet store instead of visiting world heritage sites.


Most tourists will begin their trip at a Japanese airport where toilet instructions will be available in English. In fact, you may even find detailed instructions telling you how to lock the door and that you should not stand on the toilet seat. Bear in mind that this is the last time you will see instructions in English for a long time. The smart tourist will take a picture of these instructions for later use. The smart tourist may also feel outsmarted when they find themselves next to a set of buttons far more extensive than the set they saw at the airport.


One of the most interesting buttons you will find is the ‘noise’ button. In order to overcome a shy bladder, you can press this button so that nobody in the vicinity hears your bodily functions. Some washlets are so technologically advanced that they will play a noise the moment you enter the stall. The downside of this technology is that is has resulted in a generation of Japanese children who are unable to use the toilet without the noise function. Do not be alarmed if you hear whistling from the neighbouring stalls. It is most likely a parent whistling in order to help their child use a technologically inferior toilet.

Then there is the seat warming button. This may be great for winter evenings but it is certainly not pleasant for tourists who unknowingly switch it on and return the next morning and discover that burned buttocks are far from a pleasant encounter. Fortunately there are ample buttons for jets of water which will allow you to cool your buttocks with your preferred amount of water pressure.

While less adventurous tourists may prefer to steer shy of these buttons, they will still need to flush. In most cases you will be lucky and be able to flush a washlet in the same way as a Western toilet in any other country. If you are not so fortunate, you will have to press a button with Japanese writing in order to flush. A typical tourist will not be lucky enough to locate the right button on their first try, and will consequently have the opportunity to learn about the other functions in their quest to flush.


Despite their quest to make excrement a semi-pleasurable activity, the Japanese have not neglected the technologically-challenged. Individuals who find Japanese toilets complicated may want to give washlets a miss and opt for traditional squatting toilets.