Understanding Japanese Toilets – New Standardized Symbols In Time For The Tokyo 2020 Olympics

  • The 2020 Summer Olympics event is fast approaching in Japan, and a huge influx of foreigners is expected as the event draws near. Some major problems that visitors may face (and are already facing) in visiting the country include the language barrier and cultural differences. Believe it or not, there are both of those barriers when using toilets in Japan!

    Toilets in Japan are generally more elaborate than in other countries. Some places still use the old style squat toilet, in which you have to squat to use it, but they are rare and far in between. These are quite different from the modern type toilets, where you have to be familiar with the control elements. Since most foreigners have a hard time understanding the Japanese symbols and Japanese words for all the buttons on the ultra-modern Japanese toilets, a new set of standardized symbols has been created.

    Traditional “Eastern-Style” Toilets

    The “squat toilet” or “eastern-style toilet” as some call it in Japan is the most traditional type of toilet. This is not only common in Japan, but all around the world too. This type is also used in areas where a large proportion of people are Muslims or Hindus, who also practice anal cleansing with water. As suggested by the name itself, this toilet is used by squatting rather than sitting down. Most of these squat toilets are made of porcelain, although stainless steel is also used on trains for instance. In short, these toilets are old style, as a simple hole in the ground was probably some of the first human toilets.

    This type of toilet may either use a water seal and therefore be a flushable toilet, or it may be without one and be a dry toilet. The waste is collected by a shallow trough instead of a large, water-filled bowl. The flushing mechanism, water tank, and piping may be identical to a western toilet, where the flush is operated in the same manner. Some have pull handles while others have pedals instead. The waste material is pushed by flushing from the trough to a collecting reservoir, which is carried into the sewer system. Two types of flushes can be used in this kind of toilet – a small flush and a big flush. This is very easy to clean, appears to be less expensive, and consumes less water per flush. Though the waterless trough prevents the splash-back of water, it produces a stronger odor.

    Again, please note that these toilets are very rare nowadays in Tokyo, but there is a higher chance to encounter them in the countryside of Japan and in old ryokan-style Japanese hotels.

    Modern “Super” Toilets

    washlet toilet

    A “super toilet” is the modern form of toilet currently used in Japan. This is one of the most advanced types of toilets worldwide. It;s much more than just a seat, as it features sophisticated functions, which might seem a little bizarre for first-timers. These advanced toilets make normal trips to the restroom a new experience in itself and have become well-known among netizens even if they haven’t visited Japan.

    Some of these toilets’ features include heated seats, warm water jets, blow drying, automatic lid opening, massage options and flushing at the touch of a button or automatic flushing. Additional features include a wireless control panel, masking noises, room heating, and air-conditioning. The first model was introduced in 1997, and by 2002, half of all the private households in Japan had one.

    The basic feature of this modern toilet is the integrated bidet. This is the nozzle which comes out from underneath the toilet seat and squirts water. Most models allow users to adjust the temperature and pressure of the bidet’s water jet. Some upmarket varieties feature a swiveling nozzle as well as pulsating spray intended to gently massage delicate areas. It has two settings: one for washing the back area and another for the bidet.

    Seat heating is very important during winter when the temperature drops and the surrounding atmosphere is freezing cold. High-tech toilets allow the control of water temperature and pressure. Advanced washlets combine water and soap for better cleaning. The idea is that it can eventually replace the use of toilet paper.

    Some of these toilets have advanced features, such as playing gentle music to relax the user’s body. Others can flush automatically and deodorize the air. To prevent the lid slamming onto the seat, a soft close feature slows it down. Recent advancement includes antibacterial, grime-resistant, self-cleaning nozzles and jet sprays that are angled to minimize splash-back. This modern toilet has proven itself to be the perfect match for Japanese cleanliness. Since its inception, it has become a standard fixture in the majority of homes and has been a well-loved culture by many tourists and visitors.

    The New Standardized Toilet Symbols for Easy Use

    Sometimes, the first-time experiences of foreign people in a Japanese bathroom can be embarrassing. To prevent confusion and to ease travelers’ bathroom experiences, Madoka Kitamura (喜多村円), head of Japan Sanitary Equipment Industry Association (日本レストルーム工業会), unveiled a new set of moreuniversally understandable symbols which will be featured on all new spray toilets.

    This decision came from a survey conducted in 2014, wherein only a quarter of 600 respondents were able to understand the images which appeared on the buttons of the high-tech toilet. The new symbols will include the toilet lid to open and close, a large flush and a small flush. Together with nine forms, Kitamura is expecting that the new symbols will hopefully make the life of foreigners easier when using Japanese spray toilets. As the president of a Japanese toilet manufacturer (TOTO LTd.), Kitamura also hopes that this will increase the popularity of modern toilets around the world. It was in 2015 when TOTO Ltd. introduced the pleasures of electronic toilets to foreign people. The toilets were placed in ten rooms in Narita Airport (成田国際空港), allowing visitors to experience the latest models of these high-tech commodes. From then on, its popularity spread like wildfire.

    Overseas fans of electronic commodes continue to grow as more foreign people visit Japan. The new standardized symbols will be able to assist foreign visitors, especially in the upcoming Olympics, where a great number of people are expected to attend. Are you ready for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?