The Perils and Perks of Potties in Japan

funny travel story japan toilets

I love funny travel stories, don’t you? So here’s a funny travel tale about my experiences with the toilets of Japan.

Apart from fine food, great scenery and strong culture, Japan is also famous for its loos.  One company called Toto makes nearly all the toilets in Japan, from a traditional squat line, right through to high tech luxury models which play music, puff out air-freshener and wash you. Yes, really. The toilets of Japan are funny and high functioning too.

Earlier this year I went on my very first press trip to Japan where I was interested to check out these toilets and their perks. We were a group of five Australian travel writers, the other four, also women, were freelance writers for print and press trip veterans.

I was looking forward to meeting my travel companions and knew it was going to be an interesting trip when I read stories about Japanese onsen or spa baths.

We planned to visit an onsen at the end of our first day in Japan. In case you haven’t visited Japan, onsen have separate areas for men and women. The tradition is that you strip naked, line up against the wall on plastic stools and wash yourself thoroughly before going in the hot baths. I nearly wrote “wash yourselves” there but that would be wrong, you wash yourself not each other.

I met some of my new travel companions in the queue to get on the plane at Sydney airport and the others at Narita airport. It was funny to think that we would soon be hanging out together naked at the onsen.

But that was the least of my worries.

When we arrived at the exquisite Suiboko Art Gallery in Toyama we were given a tour of the art and honoured with a tea ceremony performed by beautiful Japanese lady.

After that green tea I decided to use the ladies room before we left. I’d use the toilets at Narita airport which had some of the extras and perks I’d heard Japanese loos are fitted with but nothing very special.

As I sat down on the toilet in the Suiboko Art Gallery the noise of flowing water filled my ears, the scent of air freshener filled my nostrils and the toilet seat felt warm against my cheeks, generously heated in contrast to the cold and snow which lay around outside the building.

I noticed all kinds of buttons on an electronic panel next to the toilet. Each button had a different icon – one with gushing water, one with spraying water and several others which weren’t clear including some with Japanese writing I couldn’t understand.

Travel Stories japan toilet

You’d have thought that big orange button would mean stop wouldn’t you? And are the blue buttons for gents and the pink for ladies? I’m not sure.

When I finished up I decided to try some of the buttons which I guessed, from my preliminary research on travel in Japan, would wash and maybe even dry my nether regions.

The first button I pushed sent a strong gush of water up from the bowels of the toilet towards my derriere. This wasn’t a gentle sprinkling, it was as if a geyser had been unplugged. I immediately wanted to turn it off. But how? I tried pressing the button I’d already pressed thinking that might turn the water off too. It didn’t.

Slightly concerned I pressed some of the other buttons. Mostly the big orange button that surely meant stop. Nothing changed. The water continued to gush up.

I pictured the four other writers, the Art Gallery guide, our translator and the two smart men from the local tourism board waiting outside in the corridor for me.

I needed to stop that water spout and get out of there. But how?

When no buttons seem to work I had no choice but to stand up. By some lucky miracle I managed not to get water squirted all over the back of my jeans which would have been an embarrassing look and cold too.

My back against the wall I watched in horror as the water splashed out on to the floor quickly filling up the small cubicle. There were a good two inches on the floor when the water miraculously stopped flowing for no apparent reason.

funny travel story japanese toilets cubicle

The tiny cubicle before I started pressing buttons

There was nothing to mop the water up with so I had to leave it, hurrying out to join my travel companions and keeping very quiet about my perilous potty experience.

It took a while until I dared to experiment with the buttons on Japanese toilet again. There are varied opinions on what they do and how well they do it but everyone loves the warm toilet seats of Japan.

Japanese toilets sound like a potty idea but they are the height of luxury. Apparently Madonna has 16 of them installed in her various homes around the world.

So, if you’re ever looking for the perfect present for someone who has everything, consider gifting them a Toto toilet from Japan.

funny travel story japan toilets toto

Many toilets have a seat for you to pop your baby in and keep them off the toilet floor while you pee in peace

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  1. se7en August 6, 2012 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Oh funny!!! You do manage to get yourself in a pickle sometimes!!! Love that you blog about your adventures!!!

  2. Heather August 6, 2012 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    This is hilarious. I enjoyed reading your post and thank you for sharing this with your readers.

  3. QwkDrw August 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    “The toilets of Japan are funny and high functioning too.”

    The whole post is brilliant comedy in plain language. But the quoted sentence is one of the best


    • Annabel Candy August 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm - Reply

      Hi QekDrw,

      Aw, thank you:) I aim to please so it’s great when I do! Your feedback is lovely.

  4. Hev August 7, 2012 at 1:35 am - Reply

    Ha ha this was so funny thanks for sharing this with us all.
    I had a funny experience in Rhodes many years ago, where me and my father both went in seperate doors marked men and women,only to meet again on the other side of the wall faced by men and women(at eye height up some steps squatting over holes) needless to say I ended up going out and hiding behind some bushes on my own(the communal thing was not for me.
    Nice to know you had a good time though.many thanks again for the laughs

    • Annabel Candy August 7, 2012 at 8:46 am - Reply

      Hi Hev,

      Lol, that’s a strange one! Often peeing al fresco is so much better when traveling – as long as you can find a private spot;)

  5. Aldo August 7, 2012 at 11:06 am - Reply

    Lol. Talk about hi-tech. Indeed Japan is such advance in its technology that they even apply it to the simple toilet.

    • Annabel Candy August 7, 2012 at 11:23 am - Reply

      Hi Aldo,

      Yes, that’s true! They must find western loos rather primitive when they travel here.

  6. Veronica (Roni) August 8, 2012 at 6:05 pm - Reply

    Hey Annabel…thanks for sharing. Did you ever find out what the geyser thing was all about? I loved the toilets when I went to Japan….:)) well I thought they were fascinating anyway xx

    • Annabel Candy August 8, 2012 at 8:52 pm - Reply

      Hi Veronica,

      Not sure… I think it was for extremely messy situations! The heated loo seats are the height of luxury on a cold day:)

  7. jenny@atasteoftravel August 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm - Reply

    A great laugh thanks Annabel. I saw similar toilets in Paris this year but at least it was a bit easier to figure out what some of the buttons were for. Did you ever find out where the stop button was?

    • Annabel Candy August 10, 2012 at 11:02 am - Reply

      Hi Jenny,

      I think it’s different for every toilet. Maybe on this one it’s on a timer so stops automatically – wish I’d known that! And maybe best not to play around with these things when there are eight people waiting for you;)

  8. Kel Panther August 9, 2012 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    There are many weird/ funny inventions in Japan but all are useful. Thank you for making us laugh. I think I won’t be able to forget this one. :)

    • Annabel Candy August 10, 2012 at 11:03 am - Reply

      Hi Kel,

      Yes, accidents and upsets always make for happy or funny memories;)

  9. gabi klaf August 10, 2012 at 12:41 am - Reply

    omg i’m dying laughing. i also got so confused, wet, embarrassed, and scared using the toilet in Japan. I felt stupid too. I have a Master’s Degree, right? I’m intelligent, yes? I can figure these things out. OMG, no. I love it. Can’t wait to share it with the world…. your descriptions are hysterical!

    • Annabel Candy August 10, 2012 at 11:05 am - Reply

      Hi Gabi,

      You got wet? Ew, I have heard that happens to a few people. I was lucky there. I didn’t know you have a masters! Me too… but not in a useful topic like the vagaries of world plumbing….

  10. Toni August 10, 2012 at 12:54 am - Reply

    Annabel, I couldn’t stop smiling at this because I feel your pain. My first solo backpacking experience was to Tokyo and I walked into the toilet thinking I’d travelled to the future.
    I accidentally pressed a button in a cubicle which proceeded to suck on my butt so hard I had difficulty getting off the toilet…I have NO idea what the function of it was but I didn’t like it. From then on I tried desperately hard to only use the loo once I’d got ‘home’ in the evening before going out again for dinner haha

    • Annabel Candy August 10, 2012 at 11:07 am - Reply

      Hi Toni,

      Oh dear you have made me laugh. I think your story tops mine. A butt-sucking toilet! It’s like something out of a silly kids book. Poor you! It sounds quite traumatic;)

  11. Kaye August 10, 2012 at 10:04 am - Reply

    HA HA!! I can’t get enough of funny Japanese toilet stories. But if I encounter those holes you squat in, I’ll probably just hold it in. :P

    • Annabel Candy August 11, 2012 at 7:47 am - Reply

      Hi Kaye,

      I don’t mind those – you don’t have to touch anything!

  12. Gina August 11, 2012 at 4:24 am - Reply

    Oh my gosh, that is too funny! Glad the water eventually shut off. Those are some pretty high-tech sounding toilets!

    • Annabel Candy August 11, 2012 at 7:47 am - Reply

      Hi Gina,

      Indeed they are, you have to see them to believe them:)

  13. Bryan August 16, 2012 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    Perils and perks, indeed! This is a funny story. I’m laughing my heart out. :) Thank you for sharing it with us and I’m glad I read it.

  14. Ashley August 29, 2012 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    :D This brings me back to my first year in Japan, when I had major anxiety about accidentally pressing one of the bidet buttons instead of “flush”, even though on most of the toilets the flush button (or handle, or whatever it might be) isn’t even on or near these (although sometimes it is). And a couple times when the flush buttons were on it they were faded from being pressed so many times so I actually had to walk out and ask someone else which button I was supposed to press! (With my business still in the toilet, of course).

    Anyway, the orange button (?) does certainly mean stop, but not sure why it didn’t stop for you. Sometimes it takes a few seconds before it stops. lol, but I would have been panicking too if I kept pressing it and nothing was happening. Do you just abandon the water spraying toilet and run? :D

    The blue buttons (???) are to wash your behind and the pink button (??) is certainly for ladies, in that it’s a little more forward than the former. :) And the yellow button is for drying, although I don’t always see that option on the toilet seats.

    Anyway, funny story! Thanks for sharing. :)

  15. Barbara Hammond November 30, 2015 at 5:58 am - Reply

    Don’t know how I missed this one the first time around, but it made me laugh. I’ll have to keep it in mind if I ever make it to Japan.
    btw…you’re in my blog post today.

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