Flushed with praise

Sign at Ladies room in
Universal Studios Osaka, Japan
One of the things I miss most about leaving Japan must be their well-equipped, ultra-clean Western-style toilets that come with bidets or what they call, washlets.  I’m so impressed that the public toilets in train stations, tourist sites and the malls are so well maintained that I will not hesitate to take a toilet break whenever our group made a stop in our tour.  Tourists who have experienced the Japanese hi-tech toilets will agree with me that they are the ultimate of toilet sophistication. 

The Japanese, who are fastidious about personal cleanliness, have created additional features to the Western toilet to provide a range of services at the touch of a button.  This control panel is attached to the side of the toilet seat or on a wireless control panel mounted to the wall.  

Foreign tourists may not be familiar with these hi-tech toilets but don’t worry because the features with instructions are indicated in English and Japanese as well as by Braille for the visually impaired!

A right-hand control panel attached to a Western-style
toilet in the Ladies room
While some sophisticated toilets may have special features like automatic lid opening, blow dryer and massage options, the standard features are water jet adjustments and automatic flushing.  

I did however, get a shock the first time I sat on a warmed seat because it felt almost scalding when I least expected the seat to be warm.  Now I find the seat heating feature very comforting especially on a cold winter’s day when I come into the toilet from sub-zero temperature!

A wireless control panel is mounted to the wall
of the toilet cubicle
For the first time in my visit to a public toilet, I was in no hurry to leave because the use of a Japanese hi-tech toilet usually runs automatically in a step-by-step function.  Many toilets feature pressure sensitive seats that automatically start water running for a few seconds before it stops and the bidet function can be activated.  I must also confess that I spent longer time in the toilet because I was taking photos and reading all the notices to get better acquainted with the many interesting features of the hi-tech Japanese toilet.

A device that emits the sound of
running water!
In my visit to another public toilet, I was at first quite alarmed to hear the artificial sound of running water in the privacy of my cubicle but soon realised that the sound was from a device mounted on the wall.  

The sound went on and on until I was done and I followed the instruction on that device which read, “In order to flush, please cover the window below with your hand.”  There was no button-pressing or lever-pumping to flush but when I placed my hand over the window with a tiny blinking light, the toilet flushed and the artificial sound of running water ceased. 

Amused by this experience, I did not hesitate to ask Hiro-san, (our Japanese guide who was always patiently waiting for me to leave the comfort of the public toilet!) about that strange sound of running water in the toilet.  He smiled and explained it very simply with, “Japanese people, very embarrassed” and I understood that this artificial sound is the Japanese way to disguise any embarrassing noises in bodily functions and stop others from hearing it!

Four toilet-roll holders that are consistently refilled
ensure that toilet users never run out of toilet paper!
Tourists who have used Japanese public toilets will agree with me that they are spick and span – looks, smells and feels clean – the epitome of toilet sophistication that reflects a refined society.  

There is much to learn from Japanese toilet etiquette both as users as well as for those who design and maintain the equipment and the environment for public use.  I can’t say that I’ve ever been anywhere that I enjoyed visiting their toilets as much as I did of the entire tour experience!

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 19 June 2014

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