Bog standard

One of the problems I have with being a full-time immigrant is that I have become blind to all the things that should surprise, shock or disturb me in my new home country. I am too occupied with my day to day survival that the weird, odd or comment worthy escapes my attention completely. So when friends of family come over to visit on short holidays it’s always interesting to gauge their reactions to things and pick up on what they think is exciting or mad. And if their reaction is anything to go by it would seem Japanese toilets are particularly of interest.

From my experiences there are three types of toilet in Japan: the traditional, the Western and the ridiculously technologically advanced. Western toilets can be skipped as I imagine they are too common a sight in, say, the west to warrant comment, apart from saying they are more based on the English toilets, deep pits with a layer of water at the bottom, than American ones, huge bowls with water to the brim.

Traditional toilets are an enigma to me. They are the hole-in-the-floor types, an oblong ceramic bowl in the middle of the floor with a protrusion at one end. One is suppose to squat over these to evacuate whatever needs evacuating. I have used these in extreme emergencies, but only to urinate as one can stand over the bowl upright and do one’s business that way. My balance is bad enough as it is so I dare not tempt Fate and jeopardise the cleanliness of my behind or trousers as I’m sure I’d fall backwards into the bowl or soil my garments as they are awkwardly bunched around my knees.
The way one is supposed to position oneself over one of these monstrosities is squatted down,with your personal front facing the protrusion and ideally as far forward as possible to avoid making a mess behind the toilet on the floor with any rear evacuations.

It’s the technologically marvelous toilets that get most interest. These are usually Western style bowls with a ridiculously large seat. That is to say the actual seat is normal-sized but off it hang any number of gadgets and controls. Amongst these you may find water sprays, bidets (a water spray specifically for the ladies), hot air blowers, noise drowners (a recording of a toilet flushing which sounds crap to the user but realistic to the eavesdropper and disguises any rude noises you may want disguising), heated seats, automatically raising and lowering seats often with special sensors to detect when it is appropriate, controls for the strength of the water and air sprays and the common “flush” button. These controls are either stuck to the side and back of the seat or come in separate loose consoles you can hang in a plastic grip on the wall. Using one of these toilets is often a truly magnificent experience leaving you with a sense of satisfaction and cleanliness. It can make the whole process take its sweet time but in the end it’s worth it.

The water spray technology revolves around small, snake-like tubes appearing out of nowhere in the front or back inside of the seat. There will probably even be controls for aiming though the seat holes usually aren’t big enough to spell disaster in this area. The only real problem is for the visiting foreigner who may spend a while guessing at which button means “flush” amongst all the kanji-labeled options. My advice is to lower the toilet cover before randomly trying out a few buttons as you don’t want to be sprayed in the face by the bidet.

These seats can be pricey at around 80,000 Yen (US$ 675, EUR 500) for the latest models. You’ll find that most recently built apartments will have an electrical outlet tucked discretely low on the wall next to the toilet specifically for these gadgets.

Another nice feature in most, though not all, toilets is the reservoir. Often rather than filling them with water from an unseen source, they are filled from a tap that hovers above a small sink, its plughole leading to the reservoir. That way you can wash your hands with the water that is to be used for the next flush. It’s such a simple and neat little water-saving trick and one that looks so odd when encountered for the first time a lot of tourists end up taking photographs just to show any disbelievers back home.

When it comes to office toilets you shouldn’t expect too much. Though I’m sure they exist somewhere most companies will have only Western style toilets and a few urinals; usually not quite enough to supply the whole company after a curry lunch. If there are special toilet seats they will usually be older models with just a spray,.

As for public toilets, well… luck of the draw I think describes it best. Obviously in expensive department stores you can expect something fancy, whereas at busy train stations expect the worst. I am not kidding about the latter! The one time I braved these toilets was on a drinking night and nature would not be put on hold. I stumbled to a stall and was confronted with a sight that will haunt me forever; it was everywhere! If there was any way to unsee what I saw then… ugh. Walking past these station toilets on Friday evenings can also give rise to the awful acrid smell of urine as you watch a line of salarymen await their turn. Heed my advice and try to avoid these as much as possible! For all their diets and fantastic, fresh foods the Japanese colon can produce something wicked.

I think that is all there really is to say on the subject, and I already feel I’ve said too much.

I had some frankly hilarious and disturbing images to attach to this post but Blogger is acting up and won't allow any picture uploads recently. My apologies.


  1. Don't forget the hand-dryers. The ones you stick your hands in are vastly superior to any I've seen in the West.

  2. A some what off-topic post from myself. Having had a broken router back home for the past few months I was cursing the prospect of paying out for a new one. Finally I faced facts and coughed up the cash- nice to see your blog still going! Many pages of rants for me to catch up on in my free time :)

    Also, happy new year!

  3. As long as there is British blood flowing through these veins I'll have stuff to bich about! :)

    Videogamesartist, are you talking about those little U-shaped buckets you put your hands in so they get blown at from both sides? Yeah, when it comes to drying they are a lot better than the regular ones, but still, very unhygenic. Paper towels are the very best, but very unfashionable these days.


    Bleh, you only really need the heated seat this time of year. The water jets and stuff are just niceties that make the whole experience of taking a dump that little bit more pleasureable. Our apartment has a heated seat, and right now I'm not sure I could cope without it, as I am very regular and have to sit on that thing at least once a day.

    Bah, who am I kidding? I wish there was a water jet too. I'm not paying 10man for a toilet seat though!

    As for the traditional style toilets, well, I have quite a hatred of them. I'm not sure if it's just my usage of them or how they are designed, but I am always left holding tightly onto some exposed bit of plumbing to avoid falling over, and am always SUPER careful with all my clothing when using them for no. 2. Last year I would go so far as to completely remove my bottom layer (aside from my shoes) and hang them on the hook on the door before I began so as to avoid anything that could potentially go wrong without the cover of a good porcelain bowl. I can't imagine what COULD happen if ones digestion system was malfunctioning slightly. Perhaps western toilets came over with the advent of curry?

    The very first time I came to Japan I had been drinking a lot of orange juice on the plane, which I was just discovering at the time gives me serious gas problems. Obviously not wanting to fill the plane with methane I had to use the scary plane toilet five or six times during the flight, and when I got to Japan again. The first station I got to after Kansai airport was Kyoto, where I had to go again. Since Kyoto station is so modern, I assumed that the toilets there would be Western style, but I obviously went into the wrong stall, because it was just a hole in the floor. I dragged my suitcase into the stall with me and assumed the position. Because of the orange juice I had consumed on the plane, I just let off an unsatisfying stream of farts, which were certainly loud enough for everyone outside of the stall (a lot of people) to hear. Because this squatting position was so new to me and I haven't grown up enough not to find farting funny I started to laugh quite loudly. After squatting there blowing gas from my arse and laughing about it, I emerged from the stall looking a little worse for wear and feeling embarrassed because of all the attention I must have drawn to myself (not to mention the foreigness). From that moment on I knew I would hate the Japanese style toilet, and do my best to avoid using them. However, sometimes you can't avoid it and have to venture back into the unknown.

    My mate actually has one in his apartment. I would have turned down the apartment on that basis alone.


  5. LOL, thanks for sharing! :)
    These days, in Tokyo at least, you'll have to go to pretty old izakayas or rent a pretty old apartment to still find these "toilets". I certainly wouldn't live in a place with only a squat toilet!