18 April 2012

a post on Japanese toilets

Do you know how to say toilet in Japanese? Toi-re. So easy. Sometimes, when I ask people how to say words, or when I hear a Japanese person say something to me, I'll assume that they are adjusting their vocabulary, gaijin-ing it up if you will, making it intelligible for Western ears. This is what I assumed when I went into a coffee shop and was asked if I wanted hato kohee. Yes, yes I would like a hot coffee, arigato gozaimasu, but how do you say it in Japanese? Oh, just like that? Well, I'll be... 

Oft times, foreign words here are not changed; they are just given a Japanese pronunciation and adapted into the language. It goes back to the 3 alphabets I was supposed to be studying on Monday when I ended up writing a blog post. Glass is grasu, wine is wain, radio is rajio. I'd spell these out for you in katakana, the alphabet used for foreign words, but I've been a terrible student and only know 10 of the 40+ characters.

Where was I before this tangent? Oh, right, toire.

I try and stay away from judgements on culture while I'm here. I focus really hard not to compare everything to back home and rank the two (Japan does this better, America does this better, Japan is so dumb, America is so dumb. You get the picture). I know doing this would act like a filter, sifting out nuances and experiences before they really got to sink in. I just want to live here, to be here. I'm trying diligently to accept -- not question -- the way things are done and not make a value assessment on differences.

Now that I've said all that, I'm going to go and break my rule. Japanese toilets are better. 

Sorry America. Sorry other developed countries. Japan wins this one, hands down. In fact, their bathroom set-up on a whole is pretty great, but I'm sticking to the porcelain goddess today. The whiz palace, to quote Leslie Knope. The little girls room, to quote my Grandma. The WC, to quote the Brits.

I think most people were like us before we arrived in Japan. We had heard of Japanese toilets, and we had had a bit of fear around them. They were mysterious, confusing, complicated. What does one do with all those buttons? God, what if I press one I don't like?

It turns out that you can do just about anything with those buttons (and the STOP button is orange and large and easy to hit quickly). The seat can automatically open and shut, the flush can be automatic, you can increase the seat temperature, decrease the water pressure, deodorize a stinker, mask sounds with a fake flushing noise... and those are just the buttons I understand.

I'll jump to my favorite part. The heated seat. The HVAC systems in this country leave a bit to be desired (shoot, there I go again, making judgements). Bathrooms are usually not heated. Or cooled. At all. Japan, or at least Nagoya, has four distinct seasons, including a pretty cold winter and a brutal summer. Sitting down on a warm seat when the room is frigid... well, it's just, so, nice. Its gotten to the point, in my two short months here, that I don't so much notice when the seat is heated, but you bet your ass (sorry) that I do notice when it's not. I think it's barbaric. Yup. Barbaric. I know that's a big word. A fightin word. I've conferred with my tush, and we're sticking by it. A cold toilet seat is barbaric.

With Japanese toilets, you can deodorize, should the need arise. In public bathrooms (not in ours) you can even press a button that makes a flushing noise, if you need to toot. There is no reason to lose face in a Japanese bathroom due to flatulence. There's a low and high flush, for number 1 and number 2. (The Earth is also a fan of Japanese toilets.)

They, of course, have a bidet system, which I don't quite get. I think it's one of those things, like slurping to be polite (ahem, Japan) and standing very close to another person while speaking (ahem, Italy), that will never take root. The cultural divide is just too wide. But, from what I've heard, the bidets here are more precisely aimed then their European counterparts. In fact, they have three different bidet systems, and nozzles to adjust the water temperature and pressure. Oooh, la, la.

Are you sick of talking about water spurting up your booty? Because I'm sick of writing about it. Moving on.

We can adjust the seat to rise when we come in and lower when we walk out of our toire closet. (We don't because it it's a bit delayed. You end up waiting for the seat to open, which feels weird.) It can automatically flush when you get up. (We opted against this because I don't want us to get out of the habit of flushing. That would be bad when we return to regular US toilets.) The faucet is automatic; it is over the toilet basin, and the water fills up the tank post-flush. Waste not, want not! (Ug, sorry again). Speaking of washing your hands, one could, conceivably, never touch anything but the toilet paper while in the WC. In addition, your toothbrush is safely tucked away in the bathroom down the hall (bathroom sans toire, that is). Is your germaphobe side breathing a sigh of relief? Mine is. No poop particles on my toothbrush, and I am so okay with that.

One of the most practical reasons I like the toilet set-up (besides my clean toothbrush) is that it makes it so much easier to share one bathroom with two people. Our toilet is completely separate from our shower, and our shower is in a different room from our bathroom. It allows us to get ready at the same time so much easier... or it would if I got up to get ready at 6AM when Amos leaves for work, but to date, that hasn't happened yet. The Japanese set up makes the American "need" for as many bathrooms as people seem crazy and excessive and just... so... American. Sorry for the value judgments, and sorry, America (I really do love you). The Japanese won this round.

And there, ladies and gents, is a long post entirely on toilets. You're welcome.


  1. Haha, love it!

    There is actually a sushi restaurant in Ballard that has Japanese toilets in their restrooms. Needless to say, they're always voted "Best Bathroom" in the Stranger and Seattle Weekly Best Of contests.

    I love the idea of bidets. I've never actually used one, but it has always sounded so...er...refreshing? For lack of a better word. And much cleaner and more comfortable, too!

    1. I like the idea of bidets too! But then I use one... and it feels so weird. Perhaps its one of those things I WISHED I liked, like olives or a martini.

  2. I've been waiting for this toilet post. Man oh man, what I wouldn't give for heated seats. And let me tell you . . . after doing a bit of traveling and getting a bit of the dreaded 'traveler's tummy', the bidet has skyrocketed on my list of Good Things. The fact that there are bidet options? BIDET OPTIONS?!? Well. I'm impressed, to say the least.

    Carry on, dear Japanese-toilet-lover, carry on.

    1. Ha! Wait for it, I still have to show you the REST of the bathroom set up. It's almost as impressive (the 3 bidet options do take the cake). The only thing I wish was that the toilet was self-cleaning. Not including that on the remote control was a terrible oversight.

      Be warned though - there is another, more traditional Japanese toilet called a "squatter" that is much (much) less refined. The name alone gives one an idea....


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