Toire 101: A Breakdown Of The Modern Japanese Toilet

  • HOW TO
  • For most people outside of Japan, a visit to the restroom is quite simple: sit, “release,” wipe, and flush. But in Japan, toilets can be a bit of a challenge. Both the traditional squat type toilets and the ultra-modern water-squirting toilets are unlike what other parts of the world is used to. Here is a very basic guide on how Japan’s toilets are used.

    Traditional Squat Type Toilets (Japanese Style)

    The roots of contemporary squat type toilets found in Japan can be traced from centuries ago, when people began to manage human waste. These toilets share a common design with the traditional toilets found in neighboring Asian countries. Nowadays, these toilets are still widely used and are in two types: regular (floor level) type and elevated type.

    As the name implies, this type of toilet is for squatting and not for sitting. In squatting, the person must be facing the “hood” of the toilet.

    Usage instructions in three languages

    Important Note:
    Many foreigners tend to dismiss the traditional squat type toilets, thinking that all restrooms in Japan have a Western style option. Wrong! Although most Japanese restrooms nowadays primarily use the Western style toilets, plenty of households and public utilities still have the squat type, and there are cases when a person is left with absolutely no choice. Long story short: better know how to use the squat type toilets – for your own good.

    Modern Toilets (Western Style)

    A typical washlet control panel with Japanese braille

    Modern toilets in Japan would look more familiar to Westerners as these toilets are an innovation of the ones coming from the West. What makes Japan’s version so different is the presence of additional options such as seat-heating, adjustable water jets (for cleaning), automatic flushing, blow-drying, and even automated flush sounds on more recent models (to obscure any embarrassing sound). Toilets with these additional features are generally called “Washlet” in Japan, though the term is in fact a registered trademark of TOTO, Japan’s largest manufacturer of bathroom facilities.

    Toilet controls are usually placed at the side of the bowl or on the wall. These controls are labeled in Japanese writing but are occasionally provided with English translations. Below are some of the basic options that one must recognize:

    1. 流す(nagasu) – this means “flush.”
    2. おしり(oshiri) – this literally means a person’s behind, but pressing this button starts the water jet.
    3. ビデ(bide) – this means “bidet.”
    4. 水勢(suisei) – this means “water pressure.”
    5. 弱(yowa[i]) – this means “weak.”
    6. 強(tsuyo[i]) – this means “strong.”
    Note: 弱 and 強 will usually be found in graduations to adjust 水勢 (water pressure). Sometimes, these kanji are replaced by just arrows or plus-minus signs
    7. 止(to[maru]) – this means “stop” [the water jet].

    Controls placed on the wall. Notice the controls for flush sounds

    It’s good know that in case the meaning of the Japanese symbols are forgotten, the illustration on the buttons are usually indicative of the purpose.

    If you want to learn more about bidets, head on over to