Look for these pictograms when you go out in Japan. Almost 100% of the time, these signs will lead you to restrooms. I took these pics in Koenji (located near Shinjuku) which is famous for the Awa Odori festival every summer. The two pics on both lower sides show a man and a woman dancing the traditional performance, Awa Odori. Japan’s restrooms sometimes show the distinctive features of each region like the pics above. They not only serve a function but are fun to see. Needless to say, restrooms are often super clean. The way I see it, we are able to take pride in Japan’s toilet culture.
First of all, I wondered which word I should choose for the restroom. English has various expressions for it and Japanese does as well. I ended up choosing “restroom” but please remember, the word “toilet” for the restroom is used most commonly in Japan.
Where can you use it? The restrooms that are available and I recommend using are at stations, department stores, convenience stores and parks.
As far as a convenience store goes, please make sure that you ask the cashier if you can use the restroom, which is an unspoken rule in Japan but the policy varies from owner to owner. When you use it there, should you buy something? There are pros and cons. I’d say it might be a good opportunity to experience Convini which is short for convenience store.
For your information about Convini: How to enjoy a Convini!
For parents who have babies, most restrooms don’t have a designated box for diapers, so you’d be better off taking it to your place. That’s a small matter and I take it for granted. I’ve seen a roll of plastic bags and a designated box in the restroom at a department store but I’m afraid it’s rare.
The multifunctional restrooms and the washlet have complicated control panels on the wall or on the toilets. Don’t make the mistake of pressing the wrong button. Back when I worked at a hostel, lots of guests from around the world accidentally used to press the SOS button next to the control panel instead of flushing. In addition, I heard someone sitting on the toilet in a different way which was not normal in Japan just like the pic below on the lower right. It was a kind of a culture shock.
Who do you think manages the public restrooms to keep them clean and comfortable at places like stations and parks and so on？Not only the facility staff but all users have to cooperate with each other and have a responsibility to keep it clean. I have no doubt that everyone in the world likes clean restrooms. When I encounter the neat, clean, and unique restrooms somewhere, it makes me feel room in my heart and relieved. In Japan, we’ve learned and practiced “Keep a place cleaner than when you came,” since we were kids. We don’t throw away trash in public places in most cases. We have to bring the trash back to our home for the people after us. This way of thinking has become part of Japanese culture that we can boast about and have to pass on to the next generation. We can apply the same thought in terms of restrooms as well.
We generally say, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Good culture-wise, however, we should say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”? I‘d like you to feel Japan’s spirit, that way I can see you enjoying and being comfortable with your stay in Japan. Why not try the squat toilet as pictured below if you come across one somewhere down the road? I don’t see many squat toilets these days. Times have changed.
At the end of this blog, I want to introduce a song called “The god of toilets(restrooms)”.
A singer’s memories with her grandmother are sung about in this song. Her grandma told her there was a goddess in the restroom and you were going to become a beautiful lady if you kept it clean. This seems to be a legend or tradition of a certain region. I also used to hear similar things from my mother as a kid. Give it a listen if you like. Thank you for reading, see you next time.
I live in Tokyo and am working at a pre-school. I’m a nature lover and enjoy experiencing the characteristics of each season. In addition, I like taking care of plants. My strength is improving myself and being able to think in a positive way.
One Comment on “How to use restrooms”
This is a great article! I also really love the song at the end, which is kind of hilarious, but also very sweet and somehow, really Japanese. Just as I’d expect – only in Japan would you have a song about keeping toilets clean – I love it!