It is ironic to me that this western style toilet which also warms and washes your bottom became so very popular in Japan. I guess, as with many things, when they embrace something  western, they do not do so half heartedly.

washlet Japanese toilet

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I was happy to have spent a fair amount of time in the woods with my children, where they learned to “squat” without spraying pant legs or shoes on backpacking trips, expediting many a potty stop while traveling through Japan.

Japanese squat toilet

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I’ve heard stories of the introduction of western seat toilets in Japan. People did not know how to use them, and would stand on the seat to squat over the opening.

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Potty Talk: on Japanese Toilets

I had dinner at a friend’s fabulous new home the other day.  Along with the outstanding view, great recovered (recycled) wood floors, and sand fireplace, the women at the dinner party were most impressed with the toilet. This is the type I associate with Japan, equipped with a heated seat and built in bidet which can wash either the front or backside of your derriere with warmed water from its own built in water heater.  Also called a washlet, they have not really caught on here in the states, but are ubiquitous in Japan, from homes and hotel rooms to water closets in restaurants.

It is ironic to me that this western style toilet which also warms and washes your bottom became so very popular in Japan. I guess, as with many things, when they embrace something  western, they do not do so half heartedly. Their own traditional toilets are a ceramic trough in the ground over which one squats, rather than a pedestal seat one sits upon. They are still a toilet of choice in highway rest stops, parks, and other high use public places. I was happy to have spent a fair amount of time in the woods with my children, where they learned to “squat” without spraying pant legs or shoes on backpacking trips, expediting many a potty stop while traveling through Japan.

The girls and I call these trough toilets “squaties,” and I actually came to prefer them in many situations, because you don’t touch anything. Sitting on the toilet seat in a fueling station is always a bit unnerving, even with a paper butt gasket in place. Alternately, when the seat is so suspect that I try hovering instead of sitting, there is always the fear of losing balance and touching something which held up unknowable numbers of behinds. And, it goes without saying that most anything is better that the old fashioned outhouse.  Bathroom cleaning is also made simple, accomplished with a mop and hose.

I’ve heard stories of the introduction of western seat toilets in Japan. People did not know how to use them, and would stand on the seat to squat over the opening. This would leave footprints on the seat, creating a bother for the next user and whoever was to clean the restroom. Business owners who installed them would even place instructions for their use in the stalls. So, the fact that this place would move so quickly through our traditional western toilets and on to the high tech ones is curious to me. I guess because they were already looking at toilets in a new way, rethinking something normally taken for granted.

So I see, in my own friend’s house, that we have begun to catch up here at home. Will new construction and remodels include electricity to the toilet, or will we all settle for our own, traditional, porcelain thrones?  The giggles and reactions of my book club friends indicate that the former is possible. Personally, I'll probably stick with the latter.

Note about squatting: OK this is sort of random, but people seem to be coming to this page searching "how to use a squat toilet" and "how to go potty squatting in the woods." From our dude ranch days, I know there are a large number of American women who don't know how. It was a novel experience for those who did squat for the first time in the woods on rides at the ranch.

So, here goes: instructions on using a squat toilet (or the forest floor, same technique.) Stand with a foot on either side of the squatty. When you pull down your pants, pull them forward and into the backside of your knees and up between your knees as much as possible. If you don't, they'll be in the path of your pee, and you'll be stuck with a wet backside. You may have no idea the first time if your pee will go forward or straight down, we're all built a little differently. (I know this from peeing off cliffs in back country, different story...) If you are a forward pee-er you may need to lean forward a little to aim down. In the woods, be sure you are standing uphill from the expected landing point, or the pee will run downhill to your feet. Oh, and remember the old adage, "don't pee into the wind." Good Luck!

Image galleries of Japan:
Izu Oshima Island

Other stories in this series:
Tobu World Square in Nikko, Around the World in One Afternoon
Japanese Ryokan Meals
Hungry Wild Things in Japan

copyright© Eva Gill 2009 ~ Web design, photographs,text by Eva Gill, unless otherwise noted. Video by John Gill.