Sunday, 28 October 2012

Squats, Squirts and Penguins

Yup, this is a post entirely about toilets. There is a some crass and tasteless picture, so don't proceed if squeamish.
Instructions in an Australian hotel room on how to use a western toilet, presumably aimed at Asian tourists
These instructions were in truck stop toilets on a stretch of highway between Nagoya and Tokyo

Japan’s high-tech toilets are world famous. Madonna has one. Steven Colbert has one. The pristine “washlet” senses when you enter the room and raises its lid invitingly. Its seat is warmed and a deodoriser engages. The sound of running water emerges, or, in some upscale department stores, piano concertos play. When you have finished you are washed with warm water (pressure, temperature and angle adjustable) and dried with warm air. A sensor tells the toilet to flush when you stand up. The whole process is hands-free, hygienic and soothing. Toilets are incorporated into cutting edge designs.
That’s the dream, the self-squirting toilet.
Then there are the squats. These vastly outnumber the squirts and are not internationally renowned. I can’t imagine a celebrity owning one. Squats are the most common public toilet. Train stations and parks are equipped with them. Perhaps because these are places where drunks congregate, or perhaps because daintier people avoid using public toilets in the first place, they tend to be filthy. Like this.

Why I don't use public toilets in Japan
The idea is that they are more hygienic, because no part of your body comes into contact with them. They aren’t. They require a degree of skill and aim. They are very challenging if you are wearing skinny jeans or multiple long layers. Or a coat. New houses are built with western-style toilets, and have been for many years. Only the oldest farmhouses still have squatters. However, public schools and kindergartens stubbornly cling to Japanese-style toilets. This has exacerbated the stress children experience when first attending school, as many of them have never used a squatter and have to tackle it for the first time solo. According to Maria, the ancient Japanese used sticks to clean themselves. I am very glad that practice fell by the wayside at least.

Unless you have a fairly fancy or recently renovated home, your toilet will probably look like this:

Home style Japanese toilet
Toilet in our current house
No fancy features except that when you flush, water flows into a basin above the cistern. Then, when you wash your hands the soapy water flows through and helps clean the bowl. Water conservation and hygiene all in one! There are any number of products available to increase the appeal of your cistern –sink. We’ve gone with the toilet penguin, seen here in action in our first apartment.
Coupled with Hello Kitty toilet paper and a Totoro hand towel, every trip to the bog becomes a kawaii adventure.
Is it wrong to do this to Hello Kitty?

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Sorry for the deletion, my computer is annoying...

      I have one of those penguin faucet covers, but the faucets are too big here :(

      Also, I've heard that the ninja potties are creating a market here because they give better alignment for evacuation...

    2. Don't know how I missed this when you first posted, sorry! Yes, I have heard all sorts of things about sqautters being good... but I still don't like them ;)
      About those squatty potty things, surely you could get the same effect with a family pack of toilet rolls?

  2. I loved Japanese toilets - and with a baby in a carrier, I especially miss the little fold down seats for babies in the Japanese public cubicles - to put baby in while Mom is busy. Oh! And the best family/disabled washrooms anywhere in the world, with fold down beds! Our 5 year old especially enjoyed to self-cleaning options with front and back spray.

    PS have you written about another neat Japanese reality: the lack of public garbage cans? And yet everything is tidy...

    1. There is much to love about (clean) public toilets here: the child seat, the mini urinals and sinks for kids and my personal favourite, the fold down platform to stand on if you need to change your clothes and don't want to stand on the floor in your socks!

      I haven't written about rubbish bins largely because This Japanese Life did such a great post about them:

  3. were did you get your penguin faucet cover? I've been looking for one for awhile! do you know who manufactures them, or where I can buy one!? many thanks for any help. & love your blog!!


    1. Hi, the penguin is from Daiso, a 100 yen chain store. thanks for your comment and good luck with the penguin hunt.

    2. hi there again! if you happen to come across another one, could you please let me know??
      btw, my name is Emilie & I collect penguins....have about 3000+, but alas, no penguin faucet cover!!:(

    3. Wow, I'd love to see a picture of your penguin collection! I assume you aren't in Japan then? Drop me an email (, otherwise I wont have any way to contact you ;)

    4. sophelia- got around to liking you on facebook:)/will email you soon...emilie


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