Unusual and interesting toilets from all around the world.

Japanese Toilets

Toilets in Japan

Japanese toilets have been very different from those in North America or western Europe. Traditional Japanese toilets have been small, clean squat toilets with a distinctive design. Through the 1980s, Japan moved far ahead of the rest of the world in designing highly technical raised porcelain commodes with complicated controls for the built-in bidet function, with the addition of air-drying. Now those once futuristic Japanese-style toilets are being sold in North America and Europe.

This sign points the way to the public toilets in Ueno Park in Tokyo.

Japanese toilet sign for the public toilets or lavatory in Ueno Park in Tokyo, Japan.

Ueno Park, or Ueno Kōen, is the former site of the Kan'ei-ji, the temple of the Tokugawa shōguns who guarded the north-east approach to Edo Castle. The park was established in 1924 by a land grant to the city of Tokyo from Emperor Taishō, the father of the Shōwa Emperor or Emperor Hirohito, who ruled Japan through World War II and until 1989.

Here we see the entrance to a public lavatory in Ueno Park.

There are stainless steel sinks, stainless steel mirrors (showing the Toilet Guru photographing the facilities!), and the standard silhouette outlines for the men and women. Plus, of course, the requisite paragraph of Japanese text.

Entrance to public Japanese toilet, in Ueno Park in central Tokyo.

English Romanji Katakana Hiragana Kanji
toilet toire トイレ といれ Kanji for 'toilet'.
male Kanji for 'male'.
female Kanji for 'female'.

Japanese Toilet Logistics

You remove your shoes when you enter a Japanese home, or a ryokan or traditional inn, changing to the provided slippers. But then you change from them to specialized bathroom slippers kept next to its door, so you don't track anything from the bathroom into the house.

To ask "Where is the toilet?", try this:

Toire wa doko desu ka?

If you pantomine "I really really have to go!", hopping about and looking desparate, realize that you may be misunderstood. Omorashi (or オモラシ in Katakana, おもらし in Hiragana) is one of the many fetish subcultures in Japan. Omorashi participants are sexually aroused by desperation caused by a pressing need to urinate. Some are sexually aroused by someone else exhibiting visible anxiety caused by an overly full bladder, others are aroused when they are the ones who have to go.

If you are especially interested in toilet signs, then you should also see:

How Do You Use a Japanese Toilet?

Here you can clearly see the toilet itself. It is the traditional Japanese style: a narrow squat toilet with a hemispherical shield or hood at the drain end.

Squat facing toward the hood, it's there to catch stray urine streams. This will almost always have you facing away from the door into the innermost toilet chamber.

In homes and ryokan or guesthouses, there will be special slippers just outside the toilet door. You are supposed to put those on when you go into the toilet and remove them when you come out. If you have Godzilla-sized feet like mine, good luck somehow shuffling through the door with some of your toes barely through the loop that is supposed to go around your entire foot.

You also see the white plastic rubbish bin in the corner. As discussed on the "Bowl or Bin?" page, Japan is well to the east of the Paper Curtain, the line dividing the world in terms of what one does with used toilet paper. Does it go into the bowl or into the bin?

As for the paper (which you put in the bin), you will encounter people handing out packets of tissue paper on the streets. It's a common form of advertising for the tere-kura or "telephone clubs", the phone-dating services frequently implicated in enjō-kosai or prostitution, often by school-age girls.

Japanese toilet, in Ueno Park in central Tokyo.

High-tech Japanese Toilets

Japan has been way ahead of European countries in toilet technology. The "no-touch" automatic flushing systems came out of Japan. They were common in Japan but unseen elsewhere, now at least in the U.S. they're very common in public.

Toto, a Japanese company now manufacturing and selling toilets in the U.S., introduced their Washlet model in 1980. This was their first toilet with an integrated bidet sprayer.

At left below is an electrically-powered toilet seat in a luxury hotel room in Tokyo.

I was in Japan on business, and the company had put me up at the Keio Plaza hotel in the Shinjūkū district. It wasn't the hotel in "Lost in Translation" but it might as well have been, right down to the bathroom. Stone tile floors, a nice bathroom vanity with a marble top, and dual toilet-paper dispensers!

The toilet had a couple of dials and some push buttons, and the inside of the seat had a multi-paragraph manual explaining its operation.

Unfortunately, the operating instructions were only in Japanese. The only English warned that you shouldn't break the toilet or urinate all over the seat. But that's always good advice!

A water sprayer providing bidet functionality is discretely located beneath the rear of the seat. Its flow and temperature are controlled by console.

At right and below are some better images of a similar high-tech Japanese toilet.

This one is in the Tokyu Haneda Hotel, including an image of the instruction manual. This one has at least a little English.

High-tech Japanese toilet in the luxury Keio Plaza Hotel.
High-tech Japanese toilet in a luxury hotel.
High-tech Japanese toilet in a luxury hotel.
High-tech Japanese toilet in a luxury hotel.
My Satis Android app tracking your bowel movements.

The "My Satis" Android app makes it easy to track your bowel movements, while turning over control of your toilet to anyone within Bluetooth range.

Japanese Toilets and Cybersecurity

Increasing complexity brings increasing risk, with toilets as with everything else.

The Japanese company Lixil developed the Satis line of luxury toilets. They feature automatic everything — flushing, bidet sprays and air drying, fragrance release, and music to cover the natural sounds of what's going on. The Satis line retails for US$ 2,385 to 4,657.

But wait, there's more.

The toilet can be controlled by an Android app called My Satis. The phone connects to the toilet via a Bluetooth connection, and you can then use your phone to raise and lower the lid, control the bidet and drying functions, stream music from your phone to the toilet's speakers for that essential covering function, and more. (I would suggest either Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries or Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.)

The app also allows you to easily record and track your bowel movements. I don't know if there are one-button "Post to Facebook" and "Report via Twitter" functions, but obviously they are needed.

The problem, as reported by the Trustwave information security company, is that the toilet has a hard-corded Bluetooth PIN of "0000", meaning that anyone within Bluetooth range can control any Satis toilet. It isn't that the toilet is "hackable", there is absolutely no security at all.

Someone could repeatedly flush your toilet, driving up water use and utility cost. Or for more fun, open and close the lid, activate the bidet and air-dry functions, release fragrance, and play music or other audio of their choice, "causing discomfort or distress to user" as the cybersecurity advisory phrases it.

Trustwave's advisory shows that they tried to contact Lixil three times over two months before finally publishing the advisory.

The advisory quickly made the news, reported in many cybersecurity mailing lists and also on BBC, NPR, Android enthusiast forums, and elsewhere.

The Sound Princess

There is a national pattern of Japanese women being highly embarrassed at the thought of others hearing them urinate. A device that simulates the sound of a continually flushing toilet was introduced in the 1980s, Toto's is called the Otohime or the Sound Princess, named after a legendary goddess.

Women's public toilets now routinely have one, either as a battery-powered device on the wall or as a feature of the washlet. See the above Satis line of luxury toilets and their sound capabilities.

If the electronic sound unit is used, up to 20 liters of water can be saved per use. However, there's a widespread belief that the Toilet Princess sounds artificial. Women stick with the old method of continuously flushing the toilet the entire time.