Learn to use Japanese toilets

This sort of information scares a few foreign travellers – “You need prior knowledge to work the toilets? Just how complicated are they?” By now, you’ve all heard about the high tech loos in Japan; the fancy buttons, the shooting water and the accidental dousing. This shouldn’t be a real problem for most, as they are fairly self explanatory.

Electronic toilet controls | via Shiki Book Japan

An example of Japanese toilet controls

Electronic toilet controls | via Shiki Book Japan

Japanese toilet control translations

I spent a fair bit of time trying to work out which was the flush button, only to realize there was a handle on the side like most American toilets (in Australia we have a button on the top).

Most ‘Westernized’ Japanese toilets are very similar to Australian and American loos – they don’t have the fancy buttons or touch screen panels. Those Westernized toilets are the most widespread. They are in the majority of hotels and public restrooms, along with the standard Japanese ‘squat’ toilet.

To help make your trip a little easier, learn the basic characters that will be on the buttons.

My advice for using the fancy, high tech Japanese loo’s are simple:

  1. Don’t press any of the buttons if you aren’t sure what they do. For instance, the seat heater. You’ll burn your butt… trust me. Or you may make a mess using the water stream. 

  2. Figure out the flush button / lever / cord before using the toilet. You don’t want to leave your business in there simply because you didn’t know how to get rid of it. Look for the word for flush, if unsure; either 流す ,  ながす, or the characters used in the above image, symbolizing a big or little flush.

  3. Always bring spare tissues with you, in case there’s no toilet paper available. 


Now, squat toilets! Here we go!

The squat toilet only accounts for about 10% of the toilets in Japan, so you might not encounter one at all. In a public restroom, there may be only one (or none) as opposed to the three regular ‘Western’ toilets available. If you’re in a standard hotel, you’re likely to only have the regular ones too.

squat toilet | via Shiki Book Japan

Squat toilet

A Western & squat toilet, side by side, in a public bathroom | via Shiki Book Japan

A Western & squat toilet, side by side, in a public bathroom

If you’re not comfortable using the squat toilet, don’t fret! You’re likely to go your entire trip without having to use one, as nearly everywhere has the standard Western toilet. It may only be if you travel to small country towns and use those public restrooms, that you will have no other choice. For example, on Miyajima Island, the public restrooms have no Western toilets. Though, depending on the length of your stay, you may be able to hold on until you get back to your hotel.

The squat toilet looks a bit simplistic, right? Easy to use, right? Simply squat and complete your, um, task. The way you probably intend to use it, by merely looking at the photos, is likely to be backwards compared to how you’re meant to use it.


How to use the squat toilet 

1 | Carry tissues of some kind with you at all times (I imagine an actual roll of toilet paper is hard to keep in your pocket or handbag). Some public toilets, such as ones at certain parks or outside of the ticket gate at a train station, don’t provide toilet paper, so carry it for the off chance you encounter an empty stall. Handily, the vending machines that are scattered on every street corner (and everywhere in between), may also stock toilet paper. 

2 | Get down low, and make sure you are facing the right way!

How to use a squat toilet | via Shiki Book Japan

3 | Squat with your heels flat on the ground. You might be used to squatting on the balls of your feet, with your feet close together, but this position is very unstable. You do not want to fall in. Squatting with your feet at hip-width or shoulder-width apart and with your feet flat is easier to hold for an extended period of time. You might notice people squatting like this while waiting in public. Plant your feet on either side of the toilet and squat all the way down.

how to squat for Japanese toilet | via Shiki Book Japan

4 | Once you’ve done your business, acknowledge the fact that you may not be able to flush toilet paper in this type of toilet. Most of the squat toilets will clog easily, and your best option is to put your used paper in a bag and throw it in the nearest bin.

5 | Do not flush until you are standing, lest it splash back up onto you. Like I said, this type of loo clogs easily. So you may need to flush multiple times.

How to use Japanese toilet | via Shiki Book Japan

Don’t fall in!


Other things to keep in mind:

  • If you’ve gone on a bender, some pubs and bars have a sink specially for vomiting in. They usually have a sign above them, such as a stick figure leaning over a sink (with some lovely black dots symbolizing puke), but be wary not to confuse these sinks with the regular ones to wash your hands in.
  • Some restrooms for men do not have walls or doors, in the belief that no one is interested in watching a man use the urinal.
  • You may find urinals in the women’s restrooms. These are meant for young boys who accompany their mothers to the toilet.
  • Along the same lines, you may find really tiny toilets for use. These are for kids!
  • Most public toilets have a vending machine outside the main entrance or inside near the sinks, offering sanitary products, toilet paper and stockings (tights/nylons).
  • Beware of “Engrish” and use your noodle to decipher the mistakes often made in Japanese to English translations.

Engrish | via Shiki Book Japan

Good luck!

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