How To Use a Japanese Toilet (Washlet)

Traveling in Japan means exposure to many new aspects of the culture and ways of life, and one experience you are certain to encounter is going to the bathroom and trying to understand Japanese toilets. Japan is advanced in many ways, including, of course, its toilets. Nearly all of the toilets found in Japan are immaculately clean, well-maintained, and technologically advanced. It can be difficult at first but no need to feel flushed – once you understand the basics you’ll be flowing. Here is a guide to understanding how to use a Japanese toilet.

Types of Toilets in Japan

Squat Toilet

There are several types of squat toilets that you may encounter but they are ultimately all the same concept. A squat toilet is a bowl or toilet pan which is situated on the floor. While they are much less common nowadays, squat toilets can be found all over Japan in public bathrooms and sometimes near older historical sites like shrines or if you are staying in a traditional Ryokan. Often there will be images or instructions inside showing you the correct direction and position in which to squat over these bowls although it is usually quite self-explanatory.

Electronic Japanese Toilet

The more common toilet which is found in Japan is the electronic toilet which has many buttons and features. These toilets are designed to make the experience more pleasant and more sanitary. These electronic toilets are also referred to as washlets.

Proper Bathroom Etiquette – Japanese Toilet Slippers

Much of Japanese culture focuses on the separation of things are considered unclean and clean and this theme is very much carried through into bathroom etiquette and behavior. This can be seen specifically in toilet slippers which are a separate pair of slippers or footwear that are worn exclusively in the bathroom. The idea is to minimize the contact between clean and unclean by having slippers that will only ever be inside the bathroom and nowhere else. Japanese toilet slippers can be seen in private homes, hotels and sometimes even in public toilets. Pay close attention and remember to switch back to the non-bathroom slippers once you have finished your business in order not to contaminate the clean and the unclean.

Understanding the Japanese Toilet

  • Don’t be too overwhelmed by the many buttons and features of the toilet, they are designed to help you.
  • Sitting down – First things first, some toilets are so advanced that the toilet seat will open as you step foot into the bathroom and prepare for you. As you sit, some toilets will even have seat heating functions which will warm the seat
  • Do your business – This one is pretty straightforward
  • Washing Functions – Depending on the type of toilet, you may have a wide array of washing options. In general, you will see the bidet function which can be adjusted according to the gender of the person using the toilet and will slightly change the direction of the washing.
  • Toilet Paper – Toilet Paper is also provided if you want to use it, but make sure you only use the paper provided and do not put anything else other than toilet paper into the toilets
  • Flushing – unlike Western-style toilets the flush features on Japanese toilets are slightly different. Some toilets will have options for the size of flush (big or small) or may have automatic flushing built it
  • Other features – Many toilets include music or flushing sounds and deodorizers

Most features can all be found either on a side panel attached to the toilet or on the wall nearby. Although the writing will be in Japanese, sometimes the toilets will have English and most often will have small image icons that make it clear to understand what each button means.

Recognizing signs for the Bathroom/Toilet

There are different words for bathroom and toilet in Japanese which can be adapted based on the situation you are in. If you want to be polite you may want to refer to the toilet as the “powder room” keshoshitsu or the “bathroom” as in a place to wash your hands is referred to as otearai. A few other words to keep in mind, most importantly are toire meaning toilet and senmenjo meaning bathroom.

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