Japan is famous for so many things: Sumo. Sushi. Manga and Anime. And yes, fancy, high-tech toilets. My friend Kristi posed the question above over a year ago, so at long last–let’s talk toilets!
Tessa and I are heading on a girls’ road (rail?) trip to the Toto Toilet Museum in Kitakyushu this weekend, so I’ll save the history of how Japan achieved toilet supremacy after our visit there. For now, let’s look at the toilet situation as it stands today.
Like most Japanese homes, our bathrooms feature washlets, which are heated toilet seats that includes a nozzle for spraying warm water when you’re done with your business. Washlets are incredibly common, even in public restrooms; you’ll find them in train stations, restaurants, and pretty much everywhere.
Hands down, highway rest stops feature the most impressive public restrooms. My friend Sina snapped the following photo on a recent road trip.
My favorite part of this photo? Not the fancy status board, or the impressive floral arrangements. It’s the piece of red tape and shapes of feet to show you where to stand. It makes me laugh every time I look at this photo.
Here are a few more snaps from a rather typical highway rest stop stall, including directions on how to sit on a toilet.
The problem with these awesome toilets pretty much everywhere is that it sets a really, really high bar for future toilet use. Over the winter I was at the Navy base and popped in to use the restroom. It was a cold day, and the restroom had its door open to the outside with no heat inside–and no heated toilet seats. So I’m doing my business and I hear a mother negotiating with a young girl who is very irate to discover the unheated seat. “But I don’t want to sit on the American toilet! IT’S SO COOOOOOLD!!!! I want a Japanese toilet”. The mother desperately tried to shush the daughter while the rest of us in the bathroom burst out laughing. We assured the mother that the daughter was right. American toilets are so, so cold.
Another fun quirk of Japanese bathrooms is toilet slippers. You’ll find these at hotels and sometimes first floor bathrooms of private homes, and you’re supposed to surrender your indoor slippers at the bathroom door to use the communal toilet slippers instead. Perhaps you’re keeping toilet room germs from spreading over the rest of the house–but one would argue that proper toilet usage would keep said germs, you know, *in the toilet.*
All it takes is one visit to a bathroom with nothing but squat toilets to explain the toilet slippers phenomenon. Let’s just say that peoples’ aim is pretty poor, and toilet slippers suddenly make a whole lot of sense.
Even with all of the high-tech toilets across the land, squat toilets pop up more than you would expect. In the summer if I’m wearing a skirt, fine. I chalk up squat toilet usage as a Life Skill, albeit a stinky one. But in the winter with lots of layers or skinny jeans, forget it. Train station bathrooms often include one or two squat toilets in addition to the Western toilets. If I’m waiting in line and the squat stall comes open–and I’m not feeling particularly squatty that day–I’ll offer it to the person behind me. Once a Japanese woman grimaced, grabbed her nose, and waved her hand in front of her face using the international gesture for I’m Not Using That Stinky Toilet Either, I’ll Wait For the Next Western Toilet Thankyouverymuch. So now I don’t feel so bad for waiting for the Western toilet.
Coming soon: our report from the Toilet Museum this weekend. Stay tuned!