Bathrooms of Japan! A guest post by Philip.

Posted on
Jun 27, 2011

It is Monday morning, and do to some unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances, I find myself in rural New Jersey (note: being in Jersey itself isn’t actually that unfortunate, but why we are here is. More on that at a later date). As this trip was unplanned, I was actually struggling to find something appropriate to blog about, when I recalled that my friend Philip (Yes, Philip, I admitted it: we are friends.) sent me a guest post. About toilets, no less. Japanese ones.

Naturally, this brightened my day exponentially. I hope it does yours as well. I will be back tomorrow with lots of crazy stories about … I don’t know. Something. In the meantime, enjoy the work of one of my former co-workers, and marvel at how someone would be crazy enough to hire both of us.


Hi. My name is Philip. Geraldine and I used to work together once upon a time. On her second day in the office she baked brownies with peppermint patties in them. That was the day I knew I needed to be her friend. Fun fact you might not know about Geraldine: when we all got laid off, she was in Italy. Yes, the seeds of the Everywhereist were planted even then. The company actually had to lay her off a week later because she was on vacation. Well played. Anyway, in a move calculated to ensure that she never receives another accolade for blogging, Geraldine has allowed me to write a guest post.

My dear wife is from Tokyo and her whole family still lives there. We paid a visit recently and since I failed to write a guest-post the last time we were there (to my eternal shame) I was determined to get one in this time. It was our eighth trip there together in the 13 years we’ve been married, and the second with our now 4-year-old daughter. That being said, you’d think I’d have some unique insight or profound cultural observation to make. And you’d be wrong. For today, I present…

Bathrooms of Japan!

  1. My decision to blog about toilets (and their environs) started with this beauty:

    This is a public men’s room. In a park. Did it smell like human waste? No. Was the floor upsettingly damp? No. Was there some sketchy dude camped out in the corner? No. Did it have an adorable vase of wildflowers between the sinks? Yes. Yes, it did.
  2. Staying on the theme of sinks for the moment, I was — like some absurd country bumpkin — blown away by the simple genius of this contraption:

    All of your handwashing needs in one tidy unit. I think we’ve all been in that bathroom where you need to wash your hands again after you let yourself out. Not so here. Besides, the bathroom was immaculate.
  3. Astro-turf in your hand-dryer?

    Why the hell not? I actually rubbed it for a while (the astro-turf, you pig), so charmed was I by the notion. Most places don’t have towels or even hand dryers (which is why I now carry a handkerchief) but this joint went the extra mile.
  4. A friend of ours actually has one of these in her house, but this one is from a restaurant:

    Wash your hands while it fills the tank. Now that is eco-conscious. Note: I flushed twice so I could get this picture. Sorry, Japan.
  5. If you stay around Tokyo, you don’t face this problem very often. But when you get out into the country (as we did for a few days), you will be faced with the dreaded “slipper.”

    This is a traditional Japanese toilet. Very low. Squatting required. Having no practice with these I’ve always held out for more familiar apparatuses. I just don’t know how you use them without getting your pants wet. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of my confusion. Moving on…
  6. I guess nobody’s perfect. This was the one remarkably unpleasant bathroom I stumbled into on my nearly-three-week visit.

    Not only did it smell like the smoke from every cigarette in Tokyo was being pumped directly into this one bathroom, but if you need a sign to tell you this… what in hell is wrong with you?
  7. This place is an astounding monument to human digestion:

    The only thing more amazing than its high ceilings, abundant natural light and gleaming fixtures was the fact that this is a highway rest stop. Neither raccoon nor conservative legislator on the hustle in sight.
  8. A lot of things in Japan are written in English, which is very helpful for those of us who still don’t know much Japanese despite having every opportunity to learn. Sometimes, however, you are greeted by a bathroom door that provides very little useful information:

    This has happened to me more than once and despite my vow to at least learn the characters for “man” and “woman”, my brother-in-law had to rescue me on this one. FYI, that is “woman.” Learn it. Don’t be like me.
  9. If you’ve ever heard stories about modern Japanese toilets, they are all true. They are like carnival rides and best friends and time machines rolled into one. This is the control panel from the one in my in-laws house.

    I had to be shown where the “flush” button was. Though I am too scared to press the others, I am tempted by their seeming promise that a stream of water will lift you off the seat and to a brighter tomorrow.

That’s that. Thanks for reading. Now, go forth and do your business.

Leave a Comment

  • Absolutely LOVED this post. Thanks for taking one (er, a few) for the team, so that we can all have Japanese bathroom experiences from the comfort of our own homes!

  • Jen

    So which one IS the flush?

    • Not pictured. It’s on the top left. Above the red button. You can kind of see the side of it.

      • Jen

        Geez. Remind me to read the manual first.

  • Bwahahahahha! This was fantastic.

  • Awesome. A side-by-side comparison of toilets in Nepal would be interesting. Too bad I didn’t take any photos, while I was there.

    • We need to take over The Everywhereist and make it nothing but articles about international restrooms.

      • I think that’s a stellar idea. I’m quite interested in the experience of the street-side urinals in Amsterdam. I mean, we can all see what they are, and how they encourage discretion, but what on earth must it be like to use one, as an American? I suppose if I got ahold of one of those French cones, I’d be able to try it out for myself.

  • Ann

    What a fabulous and fascinating post. But hang on, I am left with questions! so if your handwashing water fills the toilet tank, it has soap and dirt in it, right? So wouldn’t you have to clean the tank a lot? Or does it have a filter, I wonder?

    • Holly

      WOW! The pair of you together…made my day! Perhaps you should start your own blog…Old Man Coffee Club…and Geraldine could have a guest spot?!

    • Cat

      Assuming the toilet is flushed regularly it shouldn’t be a problem, usually the opening at the bottom (into the toilet0 is fairly large, I just don’t see how it saves water seeing as (hopefully) you’ve already flushed and the tanks probably filled by the time you’ve adjusted your clothing and turned around.

  • Awesome post! Went to Japan last year and thought their “futuristic” toilets were cool. But what’s freaky and fascinating at the same time, was that one button you press to produce fake peeing noises to mask your own.

    • Everywhereist

      At the risk of revealing way, way too much information let me just say that our downstairs bathroom, which is located smack dab in the middle of our living room, offers absolutely no insulation. So every sound you make on either side of the door can be heard by all other parties. I’ve taken to running the sink to mask my peeing sounds.

      So now, should you ever visit my home, you will know why I often disappear into the bathroom and seem to be washing my hands for way too long.

      • You can sing loudly instead. But wait, belting out pop songs while you pee sounds way crazier.
        Okay, you need THAT magic button.

      • RiderWriter

        Ah, yes, the mystery of unthinking (probably male) architects. The one(s) who constructed my domicile also did not use their brains when locating the powder room; it shares a wall with the dining room. So when we are entertaining, and a guest needs to use the facilities, everyone else at the table is treated to the full panoply of sounds from the bathroom. So pleasant for all concerned! Maybe men simply do not care? I personally flee to the relative safety of the master bath, upstairs and at the other end of the house. Of course, there are hazards with that system as well. My mother used to make us children use her master bath instead of ours when she had people over, so the dining room occupants would not be subjected to the sound of water rushing down the walls.

        I guess it’s just hard to disguise the unpleasant facts of life no matter what you do. But being a shy person, I would LOVE IT if every public toilet had one of those buttons!

  • I was in Napa last summer and went into the ladies room and it was one of these Japanese marvels of nature. And I was all, “WHERE AM I? I stepped out of the restaurant in a quaint Tuscan inn in Wine Country and found myself in the heart of Asia.” It was confusing to put it mildly.

  • Sarah

    The sign for flushing the toilet paper was probably for Korean tourists . . . that’d be an interesting guest post!

    • Everywhereist

      I would very much like for you to elaborate on this.

    • Provocative! Yes, elaborate you must.

      • Sarah

        In Korea you have the exact opposite signs in toilet stalls and a very large trash can. Apparently the Korean Septic System (as a group . . . I assume?) can’t take a large quantity of toilet paper . . . for some unknown reason. Even Starbucks has a spiffy shiny trashcan for you to throw away your toilet paper in. At least that’s the way it is in Seoul . . . so I assume Tokyo probably has signs at tourist-y areas so the Koreans don’t go looking for a trashcan?

        • I had no idea. It might behoove them to hang a sign in Korean next time. Unless Koreans generally know enough Japanese or English to figure this one out.

          Anyway, thanks for the details.

        • Or Chinese… I think that sign is English and Chinese.

  • Ann

    The flushing of toilet paper thing reminds me of Mexico. Isn’t that where a lot of the plumbing pipes are a narrow diameter than ours in the US, so they have a trash can for the used paper to avoid clogs from flushing the paper?

  • This is strange, indeed…My post will appear Friday on Biddy Bytes, and it, too, is on those porcelain delights. “Let’s Talk Toilets” will feature The Everywhereist. Pure coincidence (well, considering the topic…maybe NOT that pure!)

    In any case, Geraldine, I wish to give you the heads-up (pun intended, for sure). Now, who says Celestine Prophecy isn’t alive and well in the blog world?

  • Yessssss. I love anything about Japanese toilets.

    Visited Kyoto in high school, and was way too excited by all the buttons on the fancy toilet. Stood in front of it and started pushing random buttons and got SOAKED. Highest powered bidet’s EVER. Hilarity ensued.

  • Absolutely the funniest post I have read in a while. Looks like you need a degree to run the toilet.

  • what an awesome post! you know, we could seriously use some of that innovative modern stuff they have there: like CLEAN PUBLIC LOOS ANYONE??
    also the all in one soap/wash/dry thing is so common sense.

    anyone thought of doing a post about bathrooms of the world? ie
    1) in india
    2) in malaysia
    3) in the UK
    4) in the states
    5) up on a mountain somewhere in Finland?

    (sans horrific images of whats inside the toiletbowls obviously)

    that would be so cool.

  • I haven’t laughed out loud at a blog post this much in a long time. Thank you for sharing your lavatory adventures.

  • And not a single Hello Miss Kitty reference, that’s some kind of record! At first glance I thought it looked like a water fountain on the back of the bowl in #4, so relieved I’m wrong. Another vote for more astroturf

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