Everything you need to know about bathrooms in Japan

Before visiting Japan, I thought the United States was a first world country. After seeing the kind of technology on display in Japan, I realized that the US is about a decade behind the Japanese. I’m not talking about massive light displays and robotics, though that too, but I’m talking about something much more basic: the bathroom. The bathrooms, and especially the toilets, in Japan are state-of-the-art machines with all kinds of functionalities you never knew you needed in a bathroom.

Japanese culture is very dichotomous, simultaneously traditional and ancient while also ultra-modern and high-tech. As such, in some public places, you’ll encounter the antithesis of the super toilets I’ll be referring to: the squat toilets. These are common in temples, parks, and some train stations. Many bathrooms have both squat toilets and high-tech toilets. Obviously, the toilets I’m referring to here fall into the latter category. You’ll be able to find these electronic toilets in your hotel, restaurants, malls, train stations, and other public areas. The electronic toilet has a sort of remote control, either attached to the seat or mounted on the all within reach with various buttons and lights on them. But don’t let that overwhelm you; everything has its proper function.

For starters, you’ll find the toilet seat is heated. This is a function that is controlled by a button that you can switch on and off, but why would you want to? Think about how unpleasant it is to sit on a freezing cold toilet seat in the middle of the night.  The warmed toilet seat prevents that; it gently warms you while you take care of business. On some toilets, you can also control the temperature, to make it warmer or cooler.

If your business is louder than usual or you’re a bashful individual, you can turn on the sound function while you use the bathroom. This is especially useful in public toilets where you can create your own sound screen so you can poop and fart in peace. The sounds vary, though the most common is the sound of flushing or rushing water. It’s truly a gift, both to the people who use them, and the innocent bystanders who don’t have to listen to those people use the bathroom.

Another one of the amazing features of these high-tech toilets is that they eliminate odors, as well. I don’t mean like Febreze “eliminates” odors where it masks it with a flowery smell that mixes with whatever you’re trying to cover and becomes even more gross. I mean it simply eradicates them. Though this feature has varying degrees of success across different bathrooms, I find it pretty amazing that it exists at all in any bathroom. This feature activates as you sit on the seat creating a kind of barrier so no unpleasant odors waft up out of the toilet. The person using the bathroom after you will thank you, and you will be amazed by your sudden inability to smell your own farts.

Remember going to your rich aunt and uncle’s house when you were young to find not one but two toilets? This separate bidet feature has largely gone out of style, no doubt due to the fact that no one wants to crab walk over to another porcelain throne after using the bathroom to get soaked by a crude spray. The Japanese have solved that problem, because their bidet functions are built-in. At the touch of a button, a pen-like attachment emerges from the back of the toilet seat. You can select whether you want your front or backside sprayed or both, and you can also select the intensity. To avoid shock or discomfort, ease your way into it. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll feel like a caveman wiping only with paper after you use the bathroom.

But there are other useful features in Japanese bathrooms aside from the toilets. For one, the tubs are huge. You know when you try to be romantic at home and you light some candles and you cram into your standard-issue American tub, just to flood your bathroom when you make any sudden movements while the top half of your body freezes to death? The Japanese have thought of that, too. Their bathtubs are like a small pool where you can comfortably sit and be fully submerged with another person in the tub without being a world-class contortionist. Despite the fact that their bathrooms in general are kind of small, they spare the inches in width and height for these comfortable tubs.

Once you’re done soaking, you’ll notice that your mirror has been automatically un-fogged for you. Yet another small but impressive detail in Japanese bathrooms. These are all the things you never knew you needed in your life but for some reason lack. I’m not sure why these features have not caught on like wildfire in the US, but it’s a sad disappointment. When I came back home from my trip to Japan, I felt like my bathroom was dingy and rudimentary by comparison. Of all the amazing things I saw and experienced there, the bathrooms are what I miss most.