“Smart” Japanese Bathrooms

I can’t resist writing a post about the bathrooms in Japan, which are pretty unique. Without further ado, here are my top 12 reasons why bathrooms in Japan are “smart:”

1) Lots of options! Want a heated seat? That’s often one of the many choices on these fancy electronic toilets. In addition, the toilet can act as a bidet (pronounced bee-day), which basically means you can choose to have a little water spray clean your bum. The French invented the bidet back in the late 17th century, but the Japanese figured out how to put it into a toilet.


2) You can choose whether you want to flush a lot or a little. This saves a lot of energy, right? Why do a big flush for just a little liquid? The Japanese aren’t very wasteful, and most public restrooms don’t have paper towels either. Most people carry little towels on them, which they can use to dry their hands, or even to use as a napkin when out at lunch.

Flush A lot or a little

3) Hate that foggy mirror? At my hotel, they figured out how to treat a small rectangle of the mirror so that it won’t fog up after the shower. Here I tried to show the before and after shower pictures of the mirror.

Mirror Comparison

4) Don’t want to get dirty sitting on a gross seat? Use a squatter, where nothing touches the toilet area except the bottom of your feet. Most public restrooms that I visited had a choice of a seat or a squatter. In the case of a seat toilet, there was often a little dispenser to grab a squirt of seat sanitizer to put on some toilet paper and wipe down the seat.


5) Don’t want people to hear you going to the bathroom? Apparently, Japanese people don’t want others to have to listen to them go, because most Japanese toilets offer a courtesy sound. Often, it’s motion activated, so that as soon as you approach the toilet, the flush sound starts and runs for a few minutes. Someone told me that the Japanese created this because people were flushing before they used the bathroom as well as after, and it was wasting a lot of water. This way, no need to flush beforehand as a way to block out the sound!  In this little video I filmed, you can hear the noise and then hear the real flush when I use another motion sensor to actually make the water run.

6) Why use clean water to flush? I saw a bunch of these toilets where there’s a sink on top, so that you can wash your hands, and then the water that runs off your hands is used to flush the toilet. What a great way to save water!


7) I wish I could always have toilet shoes. In Japan, many bathrooms are equipped with special slippers to put on before you go into the bathroom. Maybe this is because people often take their shoes off inside, but either way, it seems pretty smart to keep socks and clean shoes out of the toilet area.

Toilet Room

8) A lot of bathrooms had silly or serious signs to remind people to save energy — they tell people to save toilet paper, don’t use the heated seats unless needed, etc. Some of them were pretty funny, when I could understand them.

9) Many hotels seemed to put a lot of thought into how to help the environment. One hotel we stayed in even offered you 500 yen ($5) a night if you elected not to have your sheets changed daily. I also liked how they didn’t throw out partially used toilet paper rolls, and the shampoo was in refillable containers rather than little disposable ones. Of course, they had disposable products too — I didn’t need a new toothbrush every day, but if I had wanted one, my fancy hotel in Tokyo could have provided me with that.

10) I already wrote about this when I talked about my homestay, but it’s worth mentioning again. The word “bathroom” isn’t used in Japan to describe the toilet. That’s because many Japanese homes have separate spaces for bathing and, in the case of the home I visited, even another space for a big sink. And traditionally, people soap up and rinse outside of the bath (see the little seat and bowl so you can sit in front of the mirror and move the shower head around your body). Then, the whole family uses the same bath water for their final soak (not all at the same time, of course).


11) There were a few bathrooms that were just plain too fancy not to laugh about. Here’s a photo of some teachers from my group enjoying a public restroom:


12) And finally, how adorable is this family restroom?


Me at the OnsenOverall, we saw LOTS of different types of toilets in Japan, and many were interesting to my American eye. I never thought that a bathroom could make me feel so pampered AND make me think so much about environmental sustainability. The best bathroom-type experience was definitely at the onsen, or hot springs, as I wrote about in my post on Lake Akan. We got to put on these special spa outfits and head down to the tubs for some true relaxation. We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the hot tub area, but I grabbed a few photos off the internet so that you can get a sense of how amazing it was.

Now, don’t you think American bathrooms are very boring?

They even sell specialty toilet paper!

They even sell specialty toilet paper!

Categories: Japan

25 replies »

  1. I thought that the idea of the person washing their hands and then having the dirty water clean the toilet was very smart.

  2. Wow I never knew Bathrooms could be so fancy and futuristic. I wish we had stuff like this in Massachusetts. I would probably sleep in the bathroom for the rest of my life.

  3. >My mom said that the toilets in South Korea are just like the toilets in Japan,
    I don’t think this comment is not true. Toilets in Korea cannot even flush toilet paper.

    Google korea toilet paper flush

  4. I just don’t get it. Why is it that a plethora of airports, stadiums, concert halls and other large venues inevitably have those so-called “smart toilets” installed that supposedly make our lives so easy by doing our flushing for us? What is this obsession with these gadgets that allegedly know when we’ve completed our business?

    Apparently, technological progress has its bounds. Let’s face it, these commodes are completely lacking in toilet intelligence.

    Here’s what happens to me time and time again: I dash to the ladies room, I place toilet paper or cover paper on the toilet seat (my mom taught me to always do that for sanitary seasons), and, presto, the toilet goes crazy. If you were there with me in the stall, you’d see me frantically try to cover the seat softly enough or quickly enough or craftily enough so that the toilet wouldn’t recognize my presence. Mission unsuccessful. That darn machine just won’t let me hang out incognito. It hollers to the world with those loud flushes that I’m around. What the toilet doesn’t realize is that I haven’t even sat down yet. By this time, there’s water all over the seat. So I wipe off the water and repeat the same process. Again, I fail. Generally, I give up after take two. So, there I am quietly trying to do my humanly thing, and yet again the commode gets completely confused. And I thought I had problems remembering people’s names. Finally, I’m just about finished, but I make the egregious error of adjusting my derriere. Again, water splashes and splatters everywhere. I come out aggravated. This happened to me recently in the ladies’ room at a large botanical garden. It occurred last week at Newark Airport. All too often, I experience toilet-use frustration.

    So far, I haven’t needed therapy because of this situation. Spouting off on paper permits me to address the problem head on. Even so, recognizing the depth of my frustration still doesn’t solve my toilet dilemma.

    I daresay that I’m in good company. A few friends whom I consulted also bemoan the fact that these toilets are ubiquitous and that the toilets themselves just weren’t properly potty trained.

    Just think. We often decry the fact that lines for ladies’ rooms are always preposterously long. Could it be that women inside, like me, are engaging in a hopeless battle of wits with their toilets? Remember, we’re supposed to be conserving water these days. If a toilet is flushing willy-nilly whether we’re done or not, that translates into politically incorrect water over-use, right?

    Now, at least hand faucets are a lot more coherent. They generally know their function. I slip my hands under them, and usually after a try or two, they greet me with a rush of water.

    I really don’t mean to be un-American in spouting off about fickle, mentally deficient toilets. But it’s time for some resolution.

    In an ideal world, the hand faucets would share some of their smarts with the toilets, and the toilets would wise up as to when we’re on and when we’re not. But the reality is that engineers have been reneging their toilet-education and fine-tuning duties. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a staunch technology advocate. I have three computers in two cities. I have four remote-controlled CD players, four TVs, four VCRs and four answering machines. I have an electric can opener, two blenders, a food processor, a coffee maker, a juicer and even an electric pencil sharpener. And, I’m thinking of buying this gadget that emits imitative sounds, including a foghorn noise that elicits memories of growing up near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

    But I detest alleged cutting-edge toilets that flush at all the wrong times. Please, you purchasers of airport and coliseum commodes, bring back the good old-fashioned manually pushed toilets.

  5. When I was in Japan I bought a Japanese bidet seat to bring home. 🙂 You can get them at duty-free shops and they’re quite compact to pack. It was really easy installing too because I just had to replace my existing seat, hook it up to the water supply and plug it in. Mine’s now a few years old and is holding up well (a Toto) but there are probably newer models these days with better features.

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