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. Japanese 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 posterior 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.) However 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, which means there can be a bit of a learning curve. Luckily most of the important bidet functions have icons.
Japanese Bidet Control Panels
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.
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
These things are amazing! 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.
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.
See More 14 Impressive Japanese Innovations
Japanese Toilets Even Conceal 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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
Don’t Forget The Squat Toilets
No article on Japanese toilets would be complete without mentioning the much-loved (and much-hated) squat toilets. Although these are not a Japanese invention, they can be found throughout Japan and most of Asia. As such it is best to familiarize yourself with them before traveling the region.
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.