Toilets in Japan
Nowhere in the world do people get as excited about toilets as in Japan. There is a good reason for that excitement though, as nowhere in the world are toilets as advanced as in Japan! First-time foreign visitors often go a little crazy when they see Japan’s ultra-modern multifunctional toilets with their heated seats and control panel with many mysterious buttons. What types of toilets exist in Japan? And how should you use very modern ones without spraying water all over the place?
Old and Modern Japanese Toilets
Although many think that old-fashioned toilets can’t be found anymore in Japan, this is not the case. While they are being phased out, there are still regular western-style toilets to be found in no-frills apartments and older hotels, and in parks as well. If you are really (un)lucky, you will even find an old-style squatting toilet in old, traditional restaurants that are not high-end and in some parks. Are they all-bad? Many beg to differ, and some people even prefer this type of toilet because they don’t have to sit on a dirty seat. Japanese people tend to be a bit germophobic, so cleanliness is very important. It is also supposed to be good training for your legs if you squat every day, and it might be one of the reasons why Japanese Judoka tend to have particularly strong lower bodies.
Slowly but surely though, there are more and more multifunctional toilets that come with the infamous many buttons. Nowadays, newly built public toilets even have see-through windows when unlocked that turn opaque once you lock the door. This way, scary people can’t hide inside to ambush unsuspecting toilet goers.
The reason why squat toilets are being phased out is the change of lifestyles in Japan. People used to live in Japanese-style houses with tatami or straw mats and sleep on futon bedding spread on the floor. Nowadays, living arrangements have become more westernized in many households. They sit on chairs instead of on the tatami floor, and with this move to higher heights, people started preferring western-style multifunctional toilets in their houses. Because of this, many children have never learned how to use squatting toilets, changing the needs for public restrooms.
Another reason why western-style toilets are increasingly common in public places is that the number of foreign tourists had been increasing. Many Western people have never used squat toilets, so it is difficult for them to use them. If they feel difficulties to use toilets while enjoying sightseeing, they may not recommend others to go there. So, having western toilets is one way to promote tourism.
The most famous maker of the multifunctional toilet is the Japanese company TOTO. Not to be confused with the American band, who when they came to Japan said that they were very surprised to find their band’s name all over Japan’s toilets.
TOTO started to produce the new type of western toilets equipped with a fountain to clean your bottom with warm water in 1980. By 2011, the total sales surpassed 30 million units. This type of toilet is called a ‘washlet’. It was actually not their own invention; it was a company in the United States who invented this kind of toilet that was to be used in hospitals and welfare facilities. TOTO at first imported these toilets from the US, but they soon decided to develop their own products to be sold to consumers in Japan.
The development of the washlet toilet hasn’t stopped, and TOTO has improved the toilet and its functionalities year on year. These days, you can adjust the temperature and pressure of the water, there is a built-in dryer, you can choose the angle of the water, and the nozzle, as well as the toilet bowl, have a self-cleaning function. Some toilets are even able to deodorize the bowl. And as a piece de resistance, the seat can be softly heated by electricity which is so comfortable on those cold winter days in chilly apartments.
Some high-tech toilets open up the cover of the toilet opens automatically when someone enters the room. If you think about it, this is a very sanitary function of the high-tech toilet. It means that you don’t need to touch the lid anymore, reducing the amount of germs you will get on your hands. Handy!
Flushing Small (小) and Big (大)
So with this many buttons, which ones should you look out for if you just want to flush the toilet? There is nothing quite as frustrating as not being able to find the flush button after you went to the toilet in a restaurant. There is not one spot where you can find the right buttons, so you might have to look for them a bit. Sometimes the flush button is on the toilet itself. It will have a flush lever which you can move to both sides. One says small (小) and the other says big (大), meaning the amount of water it will use to flush. The idea behind it is to save the water if possible.
If the lever is not on the toilet itself, it is likely on a button panel. You either have to look at the front of the panel, or at the top of the panel. Find the Chinese characters that are mentioned above, and you will push the right button.
I explained several different aspects of Japanese toilets, but anyway, Japanese people appreciate nice toilets. Provably the toilet room is the one space where they feel they can escape from their busy lives and truly relax.
Why Music in the Japanese Toilet?
This is the one I love the most personally. Quite often, public toilets have a button with a musical note on it. So what happens when you press it? You would expect music to come out, but it is actually the sound of a flushing toilet or streaming water. What is the purpose of this seemingly useless sound? You might be surprised to learn that many Japanese people, and ladies in particular, are very shy about producing any kind of sound when they are in the toilet, no matter how normal it is.
In the past, this meant that some people started flushing the toilet as soon as they sat down, and just kept flushing it until they were done. This obviously costs a lot of water and is wasteful of such a precious resource. A brilliant person then came with the idea to simulate the sound of a flushing toilet with a button, and the sound button sometimes called ‘angel sound’ was born. Quite resourceful, don’t you think?
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