Everything you never wanted to know about Japanese toilets

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

When nature calls in Japan, you needn't look too far for a free, decent public restroom. When you find a toilet, you can expect one of two situations: a simple, but sanitary, hole-in-the-ground "squatty potty," or the most high tech toilet seat/washlet you can imagine, possibly made by your cell phone company. Being from America, one of the few developed countries not to embrace the bidet, the toilets in Japan look like something from a science fiction movie. From the moment you open the stall door -- and the toilet seat automatically opens for you -- to the moment you select one of two or three flushing options -- and the seat sanitizes itself and the lid automatically closes -- the entire experience is foreign in more ways than one.

The different washlets vary in what features they offer, but as a minimum you can generally expect a heated seat and a few spray options, with control settings for strength of the spray, direction (do you need your front or backside cleaned?), and temperature of the water (don't worry, it's not sourced from the toilet bowl). Is there a reason we do not have these in every hospital and nursing home in America? Is there a nurses' union? A post-partum-moms-against-spray-bottles union? We should lobby for these, America.

Besides cleaning features you will also find sound effects (water falls, music, white noise), air driers, in-bowl lights (perhaps to help men aim in the dark?), air fresheners, and sanitizing spray. I've also used a toilet with a massage feature and seen a few that played music. There is usually a prominent "off" button, too, which is fortunate for those times when your toddler turns on the bidet at full strength and sprays the ceiling of your hotel bathroom.

On some models, you will find the controls on a small handle, much like the remote control for your TV, mounted beside the seat. On pricier seats, however, there are detachable control panels that can be mounted on the wall. 

Yes, that is $760. Not for the toilet. Just the seat.
 In addition to the fancy toilet seats themselves, bathroom stalls often come with other electronic accessories. Most common is the sound-machine. This came about not too many years ago as a solution for the unspeakable amount of water that was being wasted each year by shy ladies embarrassed by the sounds of their tinkle. Rather than have anyone hear them going about their business, they would continually flush the toilet for the entire time they were in the bathroom stall. Not being the most earth-friendly strategy, companies have since rolled out speakers for bathrooms that play some sort of  flushing-like white noise. There is now a market for portable ones that you can clip to your cell phone or keep in your purse, just in case you find yourself in a public restroom without a flush-noise feature and you are reluctant to waste water. There are also portable bidets, which are kind of like glorified, battery-operated squirt bottles.

Flush sound generator
Speaking of saving water (and space), some toilets also have a sink built into the water tank on the back. 

There is more to the amazing Japanese bathroom stall than just fancy toilet technology. I may have mentioned this already, but raising babies/toddlers in Japan is just the best. The bathroom stalls in Japan -- whether at a restaurant, gas station, or department store- are the cleanest bathrooms I've ever seen anywhere in the world. They are with a doubt all cleaner than my kitchen floor -- possibly cleaner than my kitchen counter. They also have toddler seats. Not the nasty ones like in America, but cute, clean ones that Avery begs to sit in. And a fold-down, extra-clean platform that you can stand on if you need to change clothes/take off your shoes and don't want to stand on the (pristine) floor. There is also sanitizing spray on the walls, so you can wipe down anything from the toilet seat to the toddler chair to the door handle or possibly your toddler herself if you feel the need. If that's not enough, most places that have frequent child-sized visitors also have toddler-sized toilet seats nested into the lid that fold down over the regular seat. How awesome is that? Some places even offer bathroom slippers (usually off-brand Crocs) so you don't have to wear your own shoes into the (again, pristine) bathroom. Just make sure you nevereverevereverevereverevereverEVER wear them outside of the bathroom.

AND the toilet paper is cute, abundant, and never tissue-paper thin. If there were an international award for best bathroom experience, Japan wins.


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