A Study of Japanese Toilets  

By Lim Tai Wei
World Toilet Organization Volunteer


Japan is probably one of the most well-known countries in Asia, perhaps even the world, for their clean toilets and outstanding standard of hygiene. Japan is known for two different genre of loos.

The first type is what is known as the Asian toilet by some or the 'squat toilets' by others. This is basically a gap in the bottom base of the toilet with a porcelain bottom. This is the sort of toilets that can be found all over Asia and are the traditional forms of toilets that are favoured by Asians. Some argue that these toilets are only meant for passing motion and not for urinating.

This is a logical assumption as, when this form of toilet is used in many Asian countries for urinating, the floor area around the hole in the base of the toilet becomes dirty and soiled. Perhaps, this form of thinking can be exported to other Asian countries in order to allow the public to use cleaner forms of toilets. In many older parts of Asia, there is still no choice in terms of the type of toilet that one is able to use as the squat toilet is about the only one. However, this is slowly changing as the newer Asian cities now offers the sit-down Western-style toilets, including the public toilets. This is perceived to be much more cleaner than the squat toilets.

However, some argue that the squat down toilets have their own advantages. By squatting down, women can strengthen their muscles around the hindquarters and this is said to contribute to prevention of urinary incontinence. Thus, some argue that it is probably the reason why this problem is found in lesser incidences than Western women. This is likely to remain controversial and a subject of much debate.

Japanese sometimes use traditional clogs when they are using squat toilets. One common explanation is that the height of the clogs keeps the person urinating above the potential wet floor. Some even argue that men wearing yukata makes them easier to pee as there is no fly involved. Urinating would be easy as one can just lift up the yukata to one side. These are perhaps urban myths conjured up by tourists visiting Japan but they are not without their logic.

The Japanese toilet that draws the most attention is perhaps the electronic sitdown toilets. The seat rest has an installed heater, a welcomed feature during wintertime. There are also hydraulic jets that can spray water to clean either the female private part or the anus. The disadvantage though is that when a person does not know how to use it properly, she/he can end up very wet. The jet of water can be strong or weak. The strong mode can be upsetting for some first time users. The other ergonomic controversy is the fact that sometimes users, particularly foreigners who do not know how to use the electronic toilets is unable to stop the jet of water and may end up washing their face if they turn around to face the toilet bowl in an attempt to stop the water jet.

It will take a lot of public education and civic-consciousness before these toilets can be installed in other Asian countries without vandalism or other forms of misuse or abuse by members of the public. Besides the toilet seats itself, there are also features of Japanese toilet that indicate the coming of age of Japanese toilet usage. For example, in many of the shopping centres, particularly the big ones in the city, there are hairdryers located in the toilets for the convenience of the women. This is an extremely advanced features as such hairdryers may easily become the object of theft or vandalism in other Asian countries. In addition, some even had installed sofas. More important than such advanced gadgets and relatively expensive features, are the toilet seat covers. These are things that should be popularized in other Asian countries in the interest of public hygiene.

In conclusion, Japanese toilets could very well end up as models for other Asian countries in terms of development. It is certainly a model that is worthwhile to follow as more Asian economies progresses, particularly for the advanced developing countries of South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong SAR. These countries are slowly catching up with the Japanese standards of hygiene and may level Japan someday. For example, one can certainly find more electronic automatic flushing toilets in high-tech Singapore. This is probably an example of latecomer's advantage.


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