Tuesday, June 15, 2010

O toire wa doko des ka?

This post is all about toilets, so if you're not into toilet humor... you've been warned!

So, being an Interstitial Cystitis patient, I experienced quite a few toilets in Japan. I would say it's about 50/50 mix of Japanese and "Western-style" toilets.

I don't have any pictures, but I will link to a few by people I don't know.

This is a Japanese toilet. The first time I used one? On a train. Fortunately, there was a nice steel handle on the wall to stay steady. I came out just fine. Some people seemed weirded out by the "squat" toilets, but I never really had a problem. It actually seems a little less gross because you don't have to sit on anything. Then again, the floors aren't always clean around them, but that's why you take your shoes off before you go into your home!

Anyway, I quickly learned what the two Kanji on the flushers meant. The one on the left means "big" and the one on the right means "small". You get to choose how much water you need depending on how much of a mess you made. I also learned that this "Toto" company seems to have the monopoly on all things related to Japanese bathroom hardware like toilets, sinks, and showers.

Western-style toilets aren't exactly what we're used to either. They have a different shape and a heck of a lot of buttons. I played it safe and avoided the "butt shower" and "bidet" buttons and opted for the flush button exclusively. By the way, these toilets almost always have a heated seat! I didn't know such a thing existed until we went to Japan.

On both types of toilets, when in public, there is almost always a button or a sensor you can activate to play a fake flushing noise if you're bladder shy. I know many people in the US would kill for that little fake flusher. I never purposely employed it in Japan, but there were many times when it went off accidentally or I mistook it for the flush button. Each time made me laugh.

I think the best toilet was probably our host family's. They had it remodeled only days before our arrival, and our host mother decorated the toilet room so it was adorable! The light in the room automatically turned on when you walk in, and then the lid on the toilet opens automatically. It also flushes automatically if you don't press the button first. Pictures of it are here, at our host mom's blog! yopi's room: New toilet

At home (or at school), unlike in public, you don't leave your shoes on when you go to the toilet. You change into special toilet slippers. (more photos that don't belong to me!)

Interestingly, toilet paper is not a given in Japan. You must carry a pack of tissues with you at all times or you might get caught in an unpleasant situation. Soap is rarely available at sinks, either, unless you're in a nice department store or grocery store. We carried santizing wipes for this reason. There aren't paper towels to dry your hands *anywhere*, but there are hand dryers about 50% of the time, so we also carried handkerchiefs just in case. When we got back to the US, it was kind of a relief to find bathrooms stocked with all of those things we're used to! However, the Japanese way of stocking bathrooms may lead to less paper waste- but is it sanitary? It's interesting to look at the pros and cons of each system.

A phrase I came to know very well before even leaving for Japan is, "O toire wa doko des ka," meaning "Where is the toilet?" I used it a lot. Thankfully, there was never a situation where there was no toilet available. With my condition, it was a very fortunate thing. So if you have IC and you're planning a trip to Japan- fear not! Toilets are EVERYWHERE! Even on the train!


  1. Very interesting differences and similarities.

  2. This might be my favorite post in this blog. It's the little cultural differences that are really interesting to me.