SYNOPSIS:  A few words about toilets, indeed a topic that needs to be discussed when it comes to Japan.  A toilet-culture of the highest complexity with some useful and some frivolous features.


Picture this:  I approach a toilet at the end of a sizable bathroom and as I am about 3 feet away the lid opens.  I was so startled, I turned around to see if there was anyone else in the room who might have pushed a button.   I did my business and left the lid open (which otherwise I’d never do), closed the door, walked away and peeked back 30 seconds later.  The lid was open.  Five minutes later I peeked again: lid closed.

Even though I no longer needed its services, I approached the toilet again and sure enough, it opened up for me!  I played this game one more time and decided it was high noon to write about toilets at my next opportunity — that is a day in transit and that is today:

No visitor to Japan can miss the amazing technology associated with toilets in this country.  You encounter it first thing at the airport and it follows you wherever you are to the last little budget backpacker guesthouse.  I wonder what the five-star hotels have to offer that tops this?  Perhaps someone can fill me in here.

The traditional Japanese toilet, used and perhaps even still preferred by most Japanese to this day is the squatter type, and those are quite low tech.  All the technology is associated with the Western-style toilets.  In public facilities, the stalls are well marked as to what to expect. In my two months in this country I only encountered one place — a temple — where there was no Western style available.

I have to admit that I was usually way too busy to figure out the elaborate menus, and play with all the available features and buttons of the high-end toilets.  But for starters, there are flushes of varying strengths coming at you in various places.  And you can choose from a number of noise features to drown out any noises you might produce on your own.  One part I would adopt instantly if I could: the heated seating pad.  Especially for cold Michigan winters and similarly cold climates, I could imagine this to be a real hit.  The automatic lid opener was news to me, but you can program these toilets to your heart’s content, and perhaps I had just missed this due to programming preferences rather than commonality.

Occasionally, when the number of toilets is limited, there are unisex toilets, designated for the use of mixed genders.  In some cases, urinals are installed outside the stalls and women are expected to pass by them as if they did not exist, and proceed to the closed stalls.  I wonder though what would happen if a man was actually using the urinal.  Is a woman supposed to pass by as if the man was not there or is she supposed to wait politely for the man to leave?  I did not have to opportunity to observe either scenario, so you have to decide for yourself what you would have done if faced with this dilemma.

Shoe etiquette in toilets may differ.  Public toilets will be used with your street shoes on.  But in private homes or hotels you may encounter a lower floor inside the toilets, indicating a lower rank of room.  If you already are in a no-shoe zone, toilet slippers will be provided for you to wear and you would commit quite a faux pas if you were to enter the toilet area in your bare feet or in socks (which I did when nobody was looking and the floors were dry).  If you are in your proper toilet slippers you need to be mindful not commit an even worse faux pas and to walk off with them up into the rest of the house!  It has been known to happen and you will hear about it…  In the really fancy places you might encounter color-coded toilet slippers for the sexes: red for women, blue for men.  But that is rare.

One non-frivolous feature I have not seen anywhere else in the world — and yet it makes so much sense — is the seat in the corner for a toilet customer with small children.  A kind of a high chair is mounted in the stall to drop off your child while you attend to your business.  Anyone with small children would attest to its usefulness, I am sure.  Why has that not caught on elsewhere, I don’t know.  Perhaps somebody should start a campaign for the improvement of public facilities in the US.  Go heated seat!  Go baby chair!

Good night.