Finding your feet in a Japanese toilet

Japanese toilets - a very basic control panel

A very basic control panel

“Just press the button and see what happens. You’re not going to blow anything up”. That’s the rather cavalier advice I typically offer to my wife when she asks me computer related questions. It is a philosophy that has served me well throughout my life. Until that is, I encountered the Japanese toilet.

Still a simple control panel

Still a relatively simple control panel

I had heard much about these hi-tech contraptions before our arrival in the country and had wrongly assumed them to be found exclusively in upmarket hotels and fancy restaurants. This assumption was proved to be false in our first hotel and as we have travelled the length of Japan we have had to tackle some of the most complex bathroom technology imaginable.


Instruction sheet- good lavatory reading material

Instruction sheet- good lavatory reading material

My reluctance to press any button stems from an early incident when I did just that, finding a row of identical silver buttons next to the toilet paper, each bearing an indecipherable label. One press and a gush of air came from down below, followed by a gurgling sound and the threat of an imminent upward jet of water. I shot up, slammed the lid down and breathed a sigh of relief that no harm hade been done to anything other than my dignity.

Which one would you press?

Which one would you press?


One from the train - simple!

One from the train - simple!

The variety of gadgetry in a typical Japanese loo is mind-boggling. Water, air, heat and music are the most common options available for what is, after all, an unavoidable part of our daily lives. You can switch on sounds of trickling streams or gentle music that mask the ones you create yourself and you can even adjust the seat temperature to be exactly as you want it. There is a pre-flush function that kicks into action as soon as the device senses a backside has made contact with the seat, while the flush when you arise from the throne is automatic.


Music selection panel on Japanese toilet

Masking sound selection panel on Japanese toilet

The more advanced models even have a remote control, presumably so that you or anyone else can operate the buttons from anywhere within a few metres (imagine the mischief you could cause by wandering the corridors and activating other people’s loos). Some complex devices require detailed instructions and these are duly provided, often even in English although these can make quite uncomfortable reading.

This one looks really complicated - where do you start?

This one looks really complicated - where do you start?

When we return home I suspect we’ll find it strange for a while to have a loo where the seat temperature is constant, where no jets of water are expelled at random moments and where we have to make a physical effort to flush. But perhaps given the number of remote controls and user manuals I already struggle with, adding a toilet to our electronic menagerie is one luxury I’m happy to do without.

Instructions for the toilet remote control

Instructions for the toilet remote control

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

14 Responses to “Finding your feet in a Japanese toilet”

  1. AnneFG #

    Love it! I always found the heated seats quite disconcerting when I was there! 🙂

    September 15, 2011 at 9:22 am
  2. Some great pictures and information. I was lost the first time I sighted one of these cool high-tech toilets but soon got the hang of it 🙂

    September 15, 2011 at 9:22 am
  3. You know the funny thing was 20 years ago when I was working in Tokyo, Japan, I had already encountered toilets like these at a McDonalds in Shibuya! Talk about being advanced back then.

    September 15, 2011 at 1:28 pm
  4. Andy, you always deliver something original in your travel writing on this blog. Did you come across the washbasin / toilet combo where the water for hand washing is used for flushing the toilet?

    September 15, 2011 at 2:31 pm
  5. Haha the 2nd to last picture looks like they are being jettisoned off somewhere! Neat post and cant wait to travel in Japan.

    September 15, 2011 at 7:48 pm
  6. what a hoot! i never liked all this toilet folderol when i lived there, and would even choose squat toilets when there was the option. now that i am older, LOL, i’d definitely go for the technology!

    September 15, 2011 at 10:04 pm
  7. Andy,

    Thomas Crapper would turn in his grave; where’s the handle and chain? I simply never trust a loo that doesn’t have it’s own, distinct flush. Fifth picture from the end: the Apple iPoop(Pro) – Christ knows what happens when you put it on ‘shuffle’!

    September 16, 2011 at 1:38 am
  8. John, we did indeed have a cistern/wash-basin combo. Never actually noticed the basin element until the next morning! Sadly, neglected to take a photo of it…
    Mark, a handle and chain – now that would be a real novelty in a Japanese loo!
    Thanks to all for the comments and extra stories.

    September 17, 2011 at 1:47 am
  9. I had such a toilet experience in Hong Kong, but I just used the heating. I was too afraid of the other stuff. Hahaha

    September 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm
  10. Kae #

    LOL! I missed a certain photo shoot 26 years ago–walked past a tiny hardware store (maybe half size a single garage) that sat in a parking lot just as one crossed the tracks. In the display window was a Ben Franklin sort of cast iron stove, and next to it was the fanciest of electronic outfitted toilets of the time. In good ol US of A it would have been the opposite: Basic flushing toilet, and the latest & greates of A/C units. How I wish I’d had a camera that day….

    But, having lived in Japan 4 different times, I will say there are times I appreciated ALL the choices (I think I even experienced a Crabber with ball & chain somewhere). Being older now, the knees and hips don’t do the squat so easy, but there were times it was much preferred–you can go and not have to touch anything with your hands, and there were evident reasons why. Also, having lived there well before anything but kerosene heaters, one would truly appreciate the heated seat if taking a seat at home….the WC being unheated–and being able to conserve water AND wash one’s hands at flushing actually helped drill my kids to the neccessity of clean hands, and I’ve no objection to slighty soapy grey water flushing residuals. I’ve given up the dream, but for the longest time I’d hoped to bring a fully equipped TOTO “home”.

    September 18, 2011 at 8:45 pm
  11. Kyo from Japan #

    Haha, looked you were having fun with Japanese Toilets.

    Anyway, it’s a good experience to know other culture and life that are not familiar with!!

    September 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm
  12. Brilliant article, Andy! Great read! 🙂

    September 21, 2011 at 3:32 pm
  13. Never want to Japan, but there are years ago I heard about the toilet system.
    It’s awesome.
    I’m always asking myself the fundamental question: are we clean after that??

    October 20, 2011 at 5:40 am
  14. Its funny. You speak to anyone returning from travels in Japan and they will all mention toilet experiences. World heritage temples, beautiful mountains, hot spring baths, amazing food, cool cities, wonderful culture and people…..all that yes….but what about the toilets!! Always worthy of a blog post or two though and this is a goodun.
    I wonder if it will make people want to flush over….I mean rush over to Japan?

    July 22, 2012 at 10:15 am