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Potty Talk (for Grandpa)

Posted by Shaun

My grandpa mentioned wanting to know a little bit more about the famous technologically advanced Japanese toilets.

It's a somewhat interesting topic, so here we go.

There's two main kinds of toilets in Japan. The Western-style seated toilet and the Asian-style squat toilet. You can check out the Wikipedia article on Toilets in Japan for a description on how to use one of those, if you're not sure. The squat toilet is most common in train stations and in older places, and it's usually pretty bare-bones. I used a pretty disgusting one last Friday at the Kanda JR train station. Either the flush splashes out on the sides or women miss. A lot.

[I'm watching TV, and an Aflac commercial was just on. This one features a young man tenderly ties a scarf around the Aflac duck's neck, and reads him a story (that I can't understand). At the end the Aflac duck sneezes "A-Aflac!" and the young man holds open the side of his sweater and wraps the duck in it. Would this commercial be successful in the US? Why is our Aflac duck so annoying? Something to think about.]

Aflac commercials aside, the interesting thing is the Western-style toilets. They're notorious for being very technologically advanced, with built-in bidets and butt-washers. Some of them even have a jet of air that's supposed to dry so you don't need toilet paper. You can change the temperature and water pressure with a button. My host family's toilet doesn't even have the buttons on the side of the toilet, like in the picture above. They're on a panel on the wall, and the panel wirelessly sends a signal to the toilet. Pretty sweet, right?

These toilets also frequently have the option of a heated seat. Usually in the US, that's usally gross. I know in elementary and middle school, no one ever wanted to use a toilet that was warm because it meant someone had just been sitting on it. But surprisingly, I've grown to like the heated toilet seat a lot. If you've been walking all day sightseeing, as I was on Japan Term last year, and one of your only breaks is when you sit down on the toilet, a heated seat can feel awesome on your sore glutes. And if it's freezing cold (remember, Japanese houses don't have central heating), and the place your study abroad program is staying in Karuizawa, Nagano, which is further north and much colder than Tokyo, has the choice of either a squat toilet or a Western toilet with a heated seat, it's a no-brainer.

Another strange feature of Japanese (women's) restrooms is the Oto-hime (Sound Princess). Apparently Japanese women are embarrassed by the sound of their own functions, so they used to waste a lot of water by repeatedly flushing the toilet. Toilet manufactures decided to include, either in the toilet control panel itself or in a separate wall unit if the toilet isn't that technologically advanced, a device that makes a flushing sound. It's kind-of annoying because many of them are activated by a hand-wave so it's really easy to turn them on by accident as you're leaving the stall. As much as I think they're generally unnecessary, I do sort-of wish we had one in my dorm at Knox last year.

Other things I think are pretty cool: toilet seat disinfectant you can spray on a piece of toilet paper and use, instead of those weird paper toilet seat covers or the rotating plastic they have at some airports which always makes me feel like the toilet is more dirty than if it weren't covered, and pad/tampon disposal bins you can open and close with a hand wave.

Of course, not all Japanese toilets have these features. Some are just normal. And they make up for some of their technology by occasionally not having soap. Having a fancy toilet can be a good litmus test as to whether a bathroom will have soap, but it's not always correct. The good thing is, you can buy little packets of single-use soap. I've only seen them in one store, but it was such a cool concept that I'll have to come back and buy some. They come in a packet sort of like those listerine breath strips, and you just pull out one little sheet of soap and use it to wash your hands when you have to use the train station bathroom.

3 Responses so far.

  1. Laurie says:

    Awesome information. I must tell you that Grandma gave me a little booklet of those soap "sheets" years ago. She is always so ahead of her time! I appreciate your insights! Love, Mom

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hey, sister, Grandma gave me a packet of those soap sheets too. I came across them a while ago and they still work! Quite a wonderful invention. These toilets are a far cry from when I was in Spain...there the challenge with the toilets was figuring out how to flush them... sometimes pull chains from the ceiling, sometimes buttons on the wall, or regular flushing...and very, very cold...they didn't have central heat either. Heated seats would have been heavenly!! I love all the pictures and links you add to the articles. This is really interesting.
    Hugs and kisses from Aunt Jody

  3. I gotta get me some of those soap sheets.

    Also I have never ever seen automatic-opening feminine hygiene product disposal bins. Jealous.

    There's a bathroom in one of the Nanzan buildings that always has the windows open, all the time, unless it's pouring down rain, and let me tell you, never have I wanted a heated toilet seat more. ._.; SO COLD!!!

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