Probably the most angst-ridden experience you may have in Japan is using a public washroom. No, I don’t mean you will have an unpleasant experience. I mean you may have a “unique” experience.
Squat vs. Western
In many public facilities visitors will have a choice between using a Western toilet (“yoshiki”) or a “squat toilet” (“washiki”). Many squat toilets can be found at local railway stations, temples, schools, and other public places. The squat toilet is slowly disappearing but sometimes you may find yourself stuck and be forced to use one. Hopefully, you will have a choice and can use the alternate Western toilet located beside the squat toilet. If not and you are forced to use a squat toilet, well, it isn’t that tough – especially if you are like me and was born and raised in rural Canada and had to “go outside” once in a while – ha, ha! There is usually a sticker inside the squat toilet showing the visitor how to use it. It is a very simple process; just squat and do your thing. The only difficulty is the balancing act since many Canadians are not used to squatting. The trick is to hold on to the pipe in front of you to give yourself some balance. Hey, you wanted to experience the “real Japan,” well now is your chance!
Kidding aside, the squat toilets are not tough to use but the only thing you have to be aware of is to pack some tissue paper with you. The squat toilets rarely come with toilet paper so you have to bring your own. Tissue packets are handed out everywhere and it is a very good idea to grab one or two just in case you get stuck. Yes, just like the Boy Scouts, when using a squat toilet is important to always “be prepared!”
Another good idea is to always carry a handkerchief. While there are sinks and faucets in public washrooms, most facilities do not have any paper or blow dryers to dry your hands. Many Japanese carry handkerchiefs to dry their hands and this is a good idea. Remember, use your handkerchiefs to dry your hands and keep them clean and dry as possible.
Today the toilets have gone high tech and the only discomfort you will face is how to use them. Japanese love comfort, especially bodily comfort, and the washroom facilities are simply astounding at times. Built in to the toilets are a variety of buttons which will provide some of the most pleasant toilet experiences of your life – I kid you not! The high tech Japanese toilets are called “washlets” (in English, “bidets”) and in 2010 they were reported to be installed in approximately 72% of Japanese homes. The washlets are also found in most hotels and department stores, and these places are the best place to go to the washroom when you are shopping or sightseeing. The washlets look just like a Western toilet except they have a number of buttons such as blow dryer, seat heating, massage options, water jet adjustments, automatic lid opening, automatic flushing, wireless control panel, room heating and air conditioning for the room—included either as part of the toilet or in the seat. I will shortly include a diagram to show you which buttons to press for which feature.