Friday, December 4, 2009

Toilet technology

In honor of this month's Japan Blog Matsuri, hosted by Dumb Otaku, I've decided to revisit a topic that Shadow wrote a little bit about and that I explored back in my vlogging days: toilets.

Interestingly, Japan's toilet population is probably fairly representative of Japanese technology as a whole - they got it all, from cutting edge to simple Simon. I mean, the disparity can be pretty shocking.

First off, this is your basic hole in the ground. And trust me, it's exactly what it looks like. These babies are known here as 和式 (washiki; Japanese style). If the range of toilets in Japan were a Taco Bell (as apt an analogy as it is), this wouldn't even be a menu item. It would be one of those packets of free hot sauce.

When you have to go to the bathroom, these things are scary, especially your first time. I still remember mine vividly. Which way do you face? Is there going to be any...splashage? Is this possible while wearing these pants? When presented with a squatter toilet, these are all valid questions. In fact, your first time using one you may experience a degree of panic. I did. I mean, I had never had to aim to, uh, do that kind of business before. And there's not much time to plan your approach, either - if you didn't really have to go, you wouldn't be using one of these things. Don't even get me started on having to use one while wearing a suit. For now, let's go to the tape. Here's a scene from the 1992 movie Mr. Baseball, in which Tom Selleck demonstrates a perfectly understandable reaction to the squatter:

Once last year I had some students ask me what kind of things surprised me when I came to Japan. I told them that actually not too many things were that shocking to me, but that I couldn't understand why such an advanced country still has so many squatter toilets. One of the boys grinned and told me that these toilets are one reason why Japanese athletes have such strong knees. Kids do say the stupidest darndest things. I suspect they're still being made because of their cleanliness, but I think that's overrated. After all, I've never heard of anyone catching any toilet-borne diseases.

Anyway, I suppose we've dwelt long enough on the squatter. Next, you have your basic toilets as we in West would recognize them - 洋式 (yōshiki; Western style). Bowl, seat, lid, and tank. These are our basic menu items - tacos and burritos. They come in a variety of "flavors," but they do usually have one common water-saving feature. On these models, the pipe that refills the tank doesn't connect to the lower part of the tank, but rather releases water from above, into a little hole, that then flows inside the tank. The point of this is to allow you to rinse your hands with the water that's going to be dirtied anyway. I usually wash my hands afterwards at the sink with soap, anyway, but it's still a thoughtful feature. These models can be found in a variety of places. I have one in my apartment.

Last, we have the top tier; the Mexican Pizzas and Nachos Bell Grande. These bad boys come decked out with all sorts of dials and buttons. Common features include heated seats, sounds to drown out any noise you might make, and nozzles that will squirt you in all the right places. Sometimes you can find thrones with adjustable water pressure and temperature, too. These are usually found in places like hotels and celebrities' houses.

And there you have it. Not all toilets are created equal. It really is interesting, though. Thanks to the inexplicable fact that squatter toilets are still being made (dug?), it's quite easy to observe the evolution of toilet technology in Japan. What's next, you wonder? Crapping into waste cans, perhaps.

Do you have any stories about your own experiences with the thrones or run-ins with the squatters? If so, please share them in the comments section!


  1. One time I was sitting on one of the deluxe models and I accidentally pushed one of the buttons. Boy did I get a wet surprise.

  2. The public toilets in Himeji were of the deluxe variety. I remember being quite surprised to encounter a heated seat... In the first photo you displayed, notice the little red silouette of a mother on the toilet facing a child in a chair. Yeah- some ladies room toilets have a little chair to safely strap in your kid while you're, um, busy. Cool.

  3. there goes one of my matsuri post ideas ^^ no worries I got 3 left!

    awesome detailed post by the way, I am really looking forward to an encounter with one of the advanced toilets when I eventually make it to Japan.

  4. @ Tornadoes - Yeah, I did that once, too. The curiosity of an unknown button can lead to many an interesting experience.

    @Egg - Heh heh...have yet to see one of those. =) There are some family restrooms here and there, but never been inside one.

    @Jamai - Ah, sorry to steal your thunder, man. Looking forward to seeing what you have to say on technology, though.

  5. Hey, wait a minute!

    Taco Bell hot sauce rules.

  6. Haha...don't get me wrong - I like a good hot sauce from time to time. But you can't make a meal of it.

  7. you would compare TBell to toilets... normally i would be a little offput to eat at the bell so soon, but... hey I'm a Schuble

  8. It could be just that some people are used to squatter toilets and choose to continue using them despite other toilet types being available.

  9. Haha, hysterical.

    I have never heard of the safety strap before.

    The first toilet I used when I visited Japan was in the airport. They had both western and traditional styles. Of course, I saw the signs on the door and had to check it out. Then, of course, I grabbed my mom and showed her. Then, we both told my granddad, so none of us were caught unawares since we found the sight such a novelty. We all had the opportunity to think about how we would tackle the situation if we had to use one of those toilets.

    The next time I went to the bathroom, I encountered a fancy edition. We were at a restaurant, and I went busting up in the bathroom with a very full bladder. I ran to a stall, opened the door, then froze. My mom caught up with me by then. I do not know why, but I had this notion that the toilet would squirt me without warning. My mom had no such worries. We figured there was a bidet function, and she was in the next stall pressing every button she could find. I was kind of cowering in the corner when I flushed the toilet thinking it might get me then. Later, I calmed down about it and tried them out.

    I just remember thinking will there be some adventure every time I go to the bathroom. The third time I brought back up. I did not want to go alone.

    1. Haha, yes, it's funny how everyone who's been to Japan has at least one toilet story. =)