All About Japan

Investigation: Foreigners vs. Toilets in Japan

| Technology , Toilets

As necessary as toilets can be, Japan is sure to surprise those who visit and are used to traditional seated porcelain thrones. For the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Japanese government and the unofficial representative of toilet technology, Toto, conducted research to understand how to better accommodate future visitors.

Around 600 non-Japanese people living in Japan answered questions regarding their struggles with and impressions of different toilets. The survey inquired about two styles: the traditional Japanese model—a squat style—that often scares away the uninitiated, and the Washlet, the seated Western-style throne equipped with various functions, such as the bidet and warmed seat.

Although most had the impression of Japan as a very clean place, a significant number (22.6 percent) were surprised to see the older Japanese-style toilets were often unclean. On the other hand, people were highly impressed by Japan's Western-style toilets, and 32.1 percent even preferred to use the bidet function. Among the other reasons cited for this preference were that they were more accustomed to this style of toilet (60.5 percent), and that being able to sit was simply easier on their backs (49.5 percent).

Revealingly, only 8.8 percent said they used Western-style toilets because they didn't know how to use the squat style. However, with 25.7 percent expressing confusion about how to use the various Japanese buttons associated with more advanced Western-style toilets (pictographs notwithstanding), it may still be necessary to pick up a toilet dictionary for the trip over.

However, be sure to note that some train stations, especially in more rural areas, only provide the squat style—although construction and renovations are bringing with them the Western-style seats. And, to little surprise, even locals prefer to use the Western-style toilet, too.

Stuck waiting in line? It’s probably because some people avoid using the traditional style, so don’t worry about offending Japanese sensibilities if you aren't comfortable with it, either. And by 2020, perhaps the old Japanese toilet will be out of sight—and like dial-up internet and phones with cords, people who experienced it will have some interesting stories for those who never had the unique joy of using the old version.

Come and see for yourself before all they’re gone!