In Praise of Japanese Toilets

As a teenager, I recall staying up late on a Sunday night to watch the Australian author and journalist Clive James on ITV. A significant part of his show was madcap clips from Japanese TV which showed bizarre game shows, such as “Endurance”. Oh, how we laughed, not knowing that a nation would tune in 30 years later to watch a D-list celebrity eat kangaroo gonads.

When I arrived in Japan I was approaching toilets with a similar degree of trepidation as those game show contestants would have approached their challenges all those years ago.

However having spent almost three weeks there, I am a convert (as are the rest of the family). The Japanese approach to toilets and public conveniences, in general, is a revelation.

At first glance, the toilets appear to be over-engineered, needlessly high tech. Everything has a function though and gets used. Coming home on the plane, we watched Bryan Cranston and James Franco’s Christmas father meets new potential son-in-law romcom (yeah, I know) which features a running gag about complicated toilets.

As we spent time using them, realised that there are some practical features. All of the toilets feature a heated toilet seat, which in a country that often doesn’t have central heating. The received wisdom is that this due to the risk associated with having gas supplies in an earthquake zone and therefore central heating is not commonplace. The crazy quid pro quo is that instead portable kerosene heaters are used instead – in wooden and paper buildings!

Anyway I digress, the warmth of the seat is welcome when out and about on chilly early spring days. We particularly found this to be the case in our unheated Ryokan near Mount Fuji.

Behold – The power that warms the seat. The silver knob is the flush button.

The flush buttons (big flush/small flush) have an environmental benefit. The inbuilt wash hand basin that often crops up in the cistern again allows water to be recycled flushing and gets your hands clean before leaving the lavatory. This means that you don’t have to touch anything else in the bathroom after you’ve done your doings.

Okay: Top row (left to right) – the orange off/on button for the spray, the gentle bum spray, the fiercer bum spray, the spray for the ladies. The vertical buttons (from the top): The pressure adjustment for the spray (high/low) and the temperature adjustment for the spray (warmer/cooler)

The other buttons relate to cleaning with adjustable pressure and temperature settings and specific sprays for the female anatomy and the general one that covers all genders.

In short, they work – everything is fresher and cleaner.

Which extends into the realms of public toilets too. A combination of a well-ordered society, money being spent on the upkeep of public facilities and a move towards an environmentally friendly paperless toilet meant that with only a couple of exceptions (which tellingly were at tourist spots), the public toilets we encountered in Japan were immaculate.

Anyway, let’s just leave it here. Japanese toilets are increasingly available in the UK and if our numbers ever come up, we’re getting one.

In the meantime, here’s a cute video telling you what else you need to know.

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