If you want to be a happy crapper, use a Japanese toilet

There is nothing more gratifying than a top notch toilet. And when it comes to fancy toilets it is fairly common knowledge that Japan leads the pack. Their toilets have features most Westerners have never dreamed of, including background noise to cover any sounds that the user may make, a warm cleansing spray, self-warming seat, built-in water-saving sink, and other innovative features. Their proper name are bidets, although many locals refer to them as washlets.

At first glance these washlets can be a little much for foreigners to take in. For example, in America if you sit on a warm toilet seat it means some other warm posterier just vacated that spot mere seconds before. Not the most appealing sensation, to say the least. I've even moved one stall over, just for a cold seat! (Like that one was any more sanitary.) Yet warm toilet seats are preferred in Japan, especially during the colder months. For many Westerners this definitely takes some getting used to, but they will grow on you if you spend long enough there. Trust me ;).

Of course the surprises do not stop there. Another aspect is that every model is slightly different, so there can be a bit of a learning curve. Luckily most of the important bidet functions have icons.

Bidet Control Panels

Yes...Hands-Free Cleansing!

What, the toilets have control panels? How complicated can they be? As you can see below, some are fairly self-explanatory while others can be a bit tricky. The control panel is most often built into what Westerners would view as an armrest on the right-hand side. However some bidets, particularly in private households, have more customized models which often feature a remote control panel built into the nearby wall instead.

Japanese bidet instructions were sometimes a bit confusing...or just downright hilarious. Thankfully this one came with an English translation.
Thankfully this one came with the translation

What, the toilets have control panels? How complicated can they be? As you can see below, some are fairly self-explanatory while others can be a bit tricky. The control panel is most often built into what Westerners would view as an armrest on the right-hand side. However some bidets, particularly in private households, have more customized models which often feature a remote control panel built into the nearby wall instead.

A collage of Japanese toilet control panels

These control panels are what transforms the mere toilet into a sophisticated bidet, which is the technical term of a fixture intended for cleaning the genitalia. Using the appropriate buttons a warm sanitizing spray will gently clean all your important areas, one for the males and another for the ladies. Many inside flats and private residences include the ability to adjust the temperature of this cleansing spray. Some even feature a strategically positioned blow dryer to be used afterwards! Have no fear if not, all it takes is a single square of paper to dry off and you're set.

The Toilet Paper Holder

The amazing Japanese toilet paper roll holder

These things are awesome! They have a lightweight flap that overhangs the toilet paper roll and has a downward curve along its front side that features perforated teeth. Thanks to gravity and a slight upwards tug this handy little device tears off individual t.p. square for you.

But the fancy features don't stop there. Rather than have a cylindrical mount that runs through the toilet paper tube and requires 5+ seconds to reload, Japanese toilet paper holders feature one-inch plastic prongs that flip out on either side to hold the roll in place and can be changed in literally one second. (Some Westerners will recognize these as being very similar to the paper towel holders which some people have in their kitchen.)

To remove an empty roll you simply flip up the overhanging flap and lift the old tube straight up. New rolls are loaded from the bottom, it's pure genius! It is simple yet effective innovations like that which make visiting Japan an unforgettable experience. Ask anyone who has ever visited.

The amazing Japanese toilet paper roll holder

  HoliDaze Tip   These one-of-a-kind toilet paper holders can be purchased individually at department stores throughout Japan. They make amazing gifts for friends back home because they are 1) useful on a daily basis; 2) unquestionably unique; and 3) great conversation starters.

The amazing Japanese toilet paper roll holder

Bathroom Noises

We've all been there, whether a culprit or the audience. Admit it. After all, sounds have a tendency to be audible to those in the adjoining room thanks to thin walls and doors without insulation. But many of these Japanese bidets combat this by featuring a type of audio masking that is designed to cover any sounds generated by the user. Some are triggered by a button or hand-operated motion sensor, others simply by exerting pressure on the toilet seat, but they all sound exactly the same: like flushing water.

Otohime, the Sound Princess, muffles any noises you make while on the toilet
Motion activated "Sound Princess" muffles any noises you make while on the toilet (found in a public restroom)

After making a comment about this to Mayu I learned that apparently this feature is referred to as Otohime, the Sound Princess. Custom models even have the ability to play bowel-relaxing music instead of the flushing water sound, to help you "loosen up" -- if you so desire. When it comes to Japanese toilets the only limitation is your imagination!

Flushing

This varies greatly between models. Often it is a button without an icon. Other times it is a push-button built into the basin itself. Sometimes it is even a traditional Western-style one-directional knob -- although the vast majority of the time the knob rotates both directions, one for small flushes (小) and another for larger passes (大).

Toilet Slippers

At the entrance of every residence there is a front landing that is used for removing shoes, as well as any outwear or umbrellas. However inside each bathroom there is a separate set of toilet slippers that never leaves the confines of that space. Bathroom visitors slip them on as they enter the room and remove them on their way out. These keep everyone's feet and socks clean.

The Bathroom Sink

When traveling around Japan you will notice that many of the washlets in flats and private residences have the sink built into the wash basin. The logic behind this is fairly simple: after each flush the washbin has to refill with water to prepare for the next flush, so why not first use that water to wash your hands. Besides the obvious water-saving factor, another upside is that you are filling up the washbin with water which has a slight soapy residue to it. This helps to keep the toilet clean.

The water runs for about twenty seconds, a perfect length of time for washing your hands. Plus there is no need for hot or cold knobs as the water is already the perfect temperature.

Toilets with built-in sinks found in apartments and restaurants throughout Tokyo

Back when I had a home (in my pre-nomad days) I tried so hard to have one of those fancy Japanese toilets installed. I don't care about the bidet functions but I really do like the built-in sinks. Of course that has not been an easy task. They just don't sell them in the States. The only current option is to buy a bidet toilet seat and swap out the seats on your Western toilet.

However not all Japanese toilets have this built-in sink. Many look like the one below and feature a separate, traditional sink. These are common in public, high traffic areas such as airports, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.


Hotel room toilet

 

Can't Forget The Squat Toilets!

No article on Japanese toilets would be complete without mentioning squat toilets. Although these are not a Japanese invention, they can be found throughout Japan. As such it is best to familiarize yourself with them.

The first experience can be a little strange but some people argue that this method is actually healthier and more efficient. To read more on that debate, I was recently surprised to find that Wikipedia even has a page on Human Defecation Postures.

 

  Have you seen any interesting Japanese bathrooms? Did I leave anything out?

Published in Japan

Having the opportunity, freedom and desire to travel has created endless opportunities for me to visit countries outside of my own, explore different cultures and meet a variety of diverse and interesting characters. I've lost count of the lessons I've learned along the way, but here are my most memorable:

The Top 5 Things I've Learnt from Travelling

  1. Freedom is the greatest gift in life
  2. Every child has a right to a childhood
  3. There's a difference between being poor and living in poverty
  4. The most memorable moments happen when things don't go according to plan
  5. The greatest enabler of change is education

On a lighter note, the Top 20 Things I've Learnt Whilst ‘On The Road’

  1. There is always one annoying person in each group and if you don't know who it is – it's you
  2. It's impossible to stay dry or clean during a Cambodian or Laotian new year celebration
  3. Ice in beer or red wine is not only acceptable in Southeast Asia, but essential
  4. There's nothing like the topic of “volunteering in developing countries” to start a heated debate with fellow travellers
  5. Burger King after a month of Burmese food will make you sick. McDonald's after two months of African camp food will make you sick. KFC after two weeks on a motorbike in the Vietnamese Central Highlands will make you sick.
  6. The Spanish word for "flea" is "pulga" and the only cure for more than five hundred infected bites is antibiotics
  7. An elderly woman dressed in traditional Tibetan clothing, stopping traffic in the middle of a road in Shangri La to chant whilst pointing a crooked stick at you...is not a friendly local greeting
  8. Sometimes ‘no toilet’ is more hygienic than the toilet provided
  9. It's not easy standing on the back of an elephant whilst washing him in the Mekong River, but it sure is fun
  10. Paying $1 for a meal cooked by locals on a street stall and sitting on a 'too small' plastic stool to eat with them in Myanmar is better than any 5 star restaurant in the world
  11. Spiders and insects cooked in garlic in Cambodia simply taste like garlic
  12. The definition of international stardom is having a 76-year-old blind Malawian village chief break the news of your death to foreign travellers.   RIP Michael Jackson
  13. Karaoke is only taken seriously in Japan and Los Angeles.
  14. It's impossible to walk past Victoria Falls in Africa without getting soaked through
  15. "The bus is full" is not part of the Southeast Asian vocabulary
  16. There has never been a more accurate saying than the Burmese quote of “why use ten words when you can use ten thousand”
  17. Be prepared to lose weight in Bhutan if you don't like spicy food
  18. You can get your hair washed, scalp massaged and hair dried in Monywa, Myanmar for less than $5
  19. If the month of Spanish lessons you took in Bolivia doesn't help you understand your co-workers at a village day care centre, it's possible they are speaking their own indigenous dialect of Quecha
  20. Altitude sickness doesn't always prey on the weak and reward the fit.

And the greatest lesson of all?

There's no greater education than the one taught outside the classroom

Published in Miscellany Articles

Negotiation Stage of Culture Shock. 

You’ve spent two weeks in a new country and the honeymoon phase is over! You start to realize there is more to this place than the pretty scenery.  You are a little home-sick and cultural nuances are creating some questions and confusion – this is the Negotiation Stage of Culture Shock. This can make or break your extended holiday or your transition toward a new life in a new country. Normally this stage lasts about six months, but I have encountered people who never adapt.

How for example, could you have possibly known that citizens of a certain culture are possessive once you befriend them? That due to your friendly, carefree, touristy personality, especially if you are Canadian – you are now under surveillance. Your actions, comings and goings, are being monitored and scrutinized by your new friends’  friends, whom you’ve never met. That whispers about you and, “How you carry yourself“, are circumventing Barbados, the script of a soap opera and you are the lead actor?

And what’s up with the seemingly cranky merchant who doesn’t make eye contact in Asia? How would you know this is actually a respectful gesture in their culture? How could you know that in some countries such as Bermuda, they rely heavily on lineage to determine a person’s likability or trustworthiness? And that, if you choose to associate with a person who is not ‘link-able’ (has no ‘place’ in the cultural interpretation of the social scale) according to your Bermudian host, you may find your luggage outside on the step and the door locked when you try to return to your accommodations. You may find, such as I did, you will be sleeping in the back yard on a lawn chair teaming with curious lizards and other night creatures, bags emptied, wearing all of your clothes on your body to keep warm; wondering what the hell you did to end up in such a way …

Has culture shock ever interfered with your travel or relocation experience?

Published in Miscellany Articles

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