How To Use a Japanese Toilet – An Etiquette Guide

By Time Out Tokyo
January 19,2018
Time Out Tokyo

Time Out Tokyo is the Tokyo edition of Time Out, a London-based global media group covering 108 cities in 39 countries, from New York to Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur.

This article first appeared on Time Out Tokyo

Ah, the Japanese toilet, that most perfect of inventions. Stars of many a ‘should I?’ Instagram post, our high-tech washlets are a cut above. But that doesn’t mean doing your business is without its pitfalls – here is how to go when you have to go.


You’ve done your business, and you’re all ready to flush – except there’s no lever at the side or behind the toilet. What to do? Look out for a panel on the wall or on the side of the toilet seat. There should be two buttons, labelled 小 (small) and 大 (big), possibly at the top of the panel. We’ll let you decide which one you need, but simply press either of those to flush it all away.


That panel we mentioned? It usually comes with a whole list of extra functions that will make your nether end sparkle. Need a clean? Press おしり (oshiri, bum) for a jet stream of water right where it’s needed. Women, if you’d like the front cleaned, ビデ (bidet – they obviously missed out on the proper French use here) is the answer. やわらか (yawaraka) will give you a more ‘gentle’ cleanse.

More advanced toilets might offer the options 水勢 (suisei, water pressure) and 位置 (ichi, position). To adjust, just press the corresponding arrows, or make the light move towards either 低 / 弱 (low/weak) or 高 / 強 (high/strong). If you’ve finished washing or accidentally pressed the wrong button, hit abort with 止 (stop). Who knew you’d need a manual for a toilet?


Want to avoid the embarrassment of having others hear you answer the call of nature, but don’t want to waste water by flushing purely for cover? The 音 (oto, sound) button is for you. This beauty starts playing an artificial flushing sound while you do what you’ve got to do. If it gets annoying, either click the stop button or hold your hand over the panel to stop the noise.


A warm seat conjures up intense feelings of queasiness in many other countries, but it is one of the little pleasures of winter life in Japan. Don’t be surprised if your toilet seat is preheated, and to make things even better, you can blow warm air (乾燥, kanso) at the touch of a button to get everything dry in a flash.


Not all toilets in Japan are of the high-tech kind. In some stations, more rural areas, most schools and public parks, you’ll still encounter the good old squat toilet. In case you’re not a regular squatter, here’s the deal: squat facing away from the door, towards the toilet bowl, and for the love of hygiene, touch the flush with your foot if located near the floor. It’s not elegant, but it is good for your quad muscles.


Possibly the only cultural faux pas that might make a Japanese person scream in horror, those slippers located inside the bathroom are really only supposed to be worn there. Dare step foot outside with them and you’ve essentially opened a giant Pandora’s box of unhygienic-ness. Be nice and take them off; brownie points for turning them around so it’s easier for the next person to slip into them.

(Words By Kirsty Bouwers / Illustration by Foniks)

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