Also known as pit toilet or squat toilet. Pit toilets are not only found in Japan, or in Asia (I first used modern pit toilets in Senegal), but the modern pit toilet is often referred to a Japanese toilet even when found in America or Europe. I assume this is because more Americans travel to Japan on business than to Africa.

These are toilets that are set into the floor, so that the top of the toilet is at floor level. You squat over them, so that your bottom does not touch any part of the toilet. These are 'real' toilets; they flush, they are usually made from white ceramic, and all the other things one expects from a modern toilet.

You can go to this site for an animated example of how one works. It is interesting... I guess. It does not mention that wiping yourself can be awkward until you get used to the new positioning, but it does make a point of mentioning that keeping your balance can be hard. Westerners do not usually exercise the muscles one uses for squatting, and the first time you use one of these toilets, you should be prepared for cramps and/or stiffness in your legs. Be careful.

Japanese toilets are said to be more ergonomic and cleaner than western toilets. More ergonomic because humans evolved to poop squatting, not sitting, and cleaner because your butt does not touch the toilet seat, which is especially nice in public toilets. They are also slowly becoming extinct, as south-east Asia, and the rest of the world, Westernizes. They are still found in many countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and may occasionally be found in some European countries, including Spain and Greece.

A new type of toilet has become VERY popular, starting in the mid 90's called the washlet. The washlet is basically the opposite of the old "squatter" model, based on the western style toilet. However, there are several bells and whistles built into the seat and bowl including seat warmers, male and female bidets and pressure triggered fans to dry. Also, the tank of the toilet is generally filled through a tube outside the toilet that loops around from the back, instead of the western internal mechanism. These toilets are generally expensive, depending on the type of interface involved. The wall mounted control panel I believe is the most expensive, but for those on a budget, there are some with recliner-like arms to house the controls. There are also seats that only heat themselves available, if one decides to rely on toilet paper...and yes; I did use the bidet.

Out of all cultural obstacles that have ever existed between two peoples, this one is, for many people, the most difficult to overcome. Those from the west find the eastern way perplexing; those from the east find the western way horrific.

Yes, that's right; there exist to this day old-skool japanese style toilet purists who find the western toilet to be unsanitary and disgusting. They have a point: You are touching your bare ass (well, legs anyway) to a seat that thousands of anonymous people of indeterminate cleanliness have touched in the same way. You have no way of knowing how long it's been since this seat was last cleaned. Westerners allow themselves to become accustomed to this idea, sacrificing that peace of mind in the name of convenience, but someone who was not brought up expecting to make this trade-off tends to find the idea rather hard to accept. (Westerners faced with japanese toilets, meanwhile, have a much less psychological boundary to cross-- generally they're literally unable to figure out how to work the things without falling over, since they are unused to having to use their leg muscles and balance that way.)

In the early 70s (and this kind of thing may still continue today) there were cases of Japanese businessmen in the west who, upon being first confronted with The Western Toilet, would literally raise the seat and *stand on the rim*-- precariously balancing themselves into an awkward squat-- because they could not bring themselves to touch their bare undersides to that seat.

Unfortunately for these kinds of people-- as Tem42 notes-- they are on what appears to be the losing side of this cultural war. Pit toilets are virtually nonexistent outside Japan, but a westerner in Japan can always find a toilet that accommodates them. (Most places in japan-- for example, McDonalds-- now follow an equal-representation policy whereby each bathroom has at least one stall of each type..)

Another peculiarity is reportedly found in many Japanese public toilets (or those in restaurants, etc.) for women: the Sound Princess, a small electronic device that emits a flushing noise when a button is pressed.

Why, you ask? To save water. Apparently, many Japanese women find the thought of other people even hearing them urinate or defecate terribly embarassing and try to avoid it by flushing constantly throughout the whole affair...

Japan has a variety of interesting and exotic toilets that require some getting used to. First of all, we will explore an area that most foreigners will spend a lot of time in:

Public Places

If you are ever in a public place and need to know where the closest crapper is, here are some handy phrases:

Sumimasen! O-tearai wa doko desu ka?
Excuse me! Where is the washroom?

Chotto, toire wa doko ni aru no?
Um, where's the bathroom?

Oi, oi, unchi yaritai de!
Yo, I wanna take a fuckin' dump here already!

Once a friendly clerk or terrified bystander points you in the right direction, you will likely find that you are faced with a Japanese style public toilet. These have been described by none other than Dave Barry as "a hole in the ground that someone forgot to put a toilet on top of." They are shaped something like this:

  ___            ____     ___________
 /   |_____     /____\   |   |       |
|__________|    |____|   |___|_______|
    side        front         top
Now, the biggest potential stumbling block a gaijin might face in this situation is: where do I sit?!

The answer is: you don't. If you're female and/or need to go number two, you have to pop a squat. In the latter case, you squat down, aim your anus toward the flat uncovered part of the toilet, and apply pressure toward your sphincter until the desired amount of feces has fallen into the bowl. If you know how to shit in the woods, this shouldn't be rocket science, although it can get painful on those hamstrings.

If you're female and need to pee, you squat down, aiming your manko toward the curved bowl part of the toilet, so that the urine doesn't splatter everywhere. Some people not in the know try to pee facing the other way, and end up getting their shoes drenched, which isn't fun.

When you've finished your deed, you must flush. This can often be another source of confusion, because many toilets have a two-way flush knob, marked with these kanji:

大   小

The one on the left is the kanji for big, while the one on the right is the kanji for small. (As Dave would add here, I am not making this up.) In case the euphemism here isn't obvious, turning the lever toward "big" will generate a big, explosive flush to wash all the crap out of the toilet, while turning the lever toward "small" will cause the toilet to enter a less violent flush cycle more suitable for your everyday pee-pee.

At Somebody's House

So you're hanging out at your senpai's house, drinking can after can of Asahi Super Dry Beer and munching on wasabi nuts, when all of a sudden, you feel the colon gods calling upon you to make a pilgrimage to the Fountain of Eternal Relief.

Most modern houses in Japan have nice, Western-style commodes to sit on. However, most of these commodes are equipped with gadgetry worthy of the Space Shuttle, only a thousand times more difficult to operate because all the buttons are written in what may as well be Elvish, and pushing them at random may lead to a jet of water being shot up your rectum.

So, unless you know what you're doing, here is how to get out of the bathroom with your anal integrity intact and your turd down the drain:

  1. Sit on commode. You will probably trigger an automatic seat warmer and fan by doing so: do not be alarmed.
  2. Do business. Read a Power Japanese book, or something by James Clavell.
  3. When finished, look for a flush lever on the tank. Pushing any of the buttons connected to the seat will not flush the toilet. In fact, they will probably flush you.
  4. Once the toilet flushes, get the hell out.
If you really need to know, the basic functions are as follows:
  1. "O-shiri" (おしり), denoted by a single jet of water aimed at a vaguely butt-like object, will shoot a jet of water straight at your butthole.
  2. "Yawaraka" (やわらか), denoted by multiple jets of water aimed at aforementioned vaguely butt-like object, will run a leisurely stream of water up and down your crack.
  3. "Bidet" (ビデー), denoted by a pink button with a picture of a lady-like figure getting water shot up her fanny, will wash your, er, feminine regions. If you're male, pushing it will erase history as we know it.
And that's that. Many happy returns!


An only slightly related but still interesting anecdote:

I was on stage at Mass one Sunday, when they were doing a speaking in tongues kind of deal and wanted a Japanese speaker to round out their linguistic team. Afterward, this elderly gentleman, who turned out to be a veteran of the Korean War and had been stationed in Tokyo, waved me over and we began talking about our Japan experiences.

He happened to ask me, "Do they still have the honey pots over there?"

"What are those?" I asked.

"Well," he said, "they didn't have sewers, so they used to load up all of their shit into barrels, and drive it down the street to throw it out. You'd get stuck behind one of those things, and it'd stink to high heaven."

My eyes bugged out slightly. "Um, no, they have sewers now."

"Hmmm," the man said, "I always wondered about that..."

tongpoo adds: "From what I've heard, there used to be a door-to-door feces buyer who'd buy and then sell it as fertilizers. This helped spread barefoot-born parasites since the feces were not pasteurized."

Velox adds to that: "My grandfather remembers being in a jeep behind a sewage truck outside Tokyo in 1946; the lieutenant driving said something on the order of 'If we hit one of those things, I hope we're killed outright and not just injured.'"


Having never been to Japan nor China, I'm writing this as a completely anecdotal story told to me by a middle-aged Japanese masseuse whom I have been seeing recently. She and I were discussing the differences in Japanese and Chinese culture, a topic which came up based upon some movies I had seen recently. One I had seen for the first time, even though it was first produced in 1953, was Tokyo Story. This is a black and white movie directed by Yasujirō Ozu, and I found it to be one of the most moving things I had seen in years. She suggested that I should watch Departures, a 2008 Japanese drama by Yōjirō Takita. Again, I found this film to be one of the most moving things I'd seen in years. It centers on the bond of marital relations as opposed to "Tokyo Story" which is more about relationships in a fairly large family.

Then she shared with me an experience her father had had which I found very interesting. She began the story by telling me that she still felt uncomfortable in American public toilets because there was a space near the floor where you could see the feet of the person next to you and it was very easy to hear them doing their business. She said, in contradiction to some of the previous writeups, that Japanese toilets were very much private affairs.

So she said her father was in an executive position with some company in Japan which did a lot of business in China. At one point he and some other executives from Japan were invited to a weekend in China for some sort of seminar. When he arrived in China, he felt the need to visit the restroom. When he looked at the setup, which was just a row of holes at floor level, he decided that this was going to be impossible for him and he would just wait until a time when he could be alone in there. After everyone got settled in for the evening, he lay uncomfortably in bed until around midnight. Thinking everyone else would be asleep, he went back to the so-called bathroom. Much to his dismay, almost every one of the Japanese businessmen had exactly the same idea. So they all just decided to bite the bullet and adapt to the situation at the same time. A shit-in, so to speak.

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