きれい kirei means pretty or beautiful in Japanese, but it also means clean or pure. In Japan clean equals beautiful. I think this one word says a lot about the importance of cleanliness in Japanese culture. It’s common to see hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrance of bars and restaurants, and there are individually wrapped wet paper towels for me to take when I buy a piece of pastry at a bakery. Street marketing teams hand out small tissues and every single Japanese person I know carries a handkerchief. I see considerate Tokyoites wearing masks to prevent others from getting sick. Recently I had a cold sore on my lip and I felt almost too embarrassed to go out in public without completely covering myself. At times I feel as if half of Tokyo is hiding behind “Michael Jackson masks.”
Scenes like this is common on the Tokyo subway.
Two years ago when I visited Seoul I marveled at how clean and modern some of the public bathrooms were there (no way I’d tell anyone to use a public toilet at any of the subway stations in Manhattan!). But I think Korea can’t hold a candle next to what the clean freak Japanese do with their bathrooms. Having spent many months in India and other third world countries I can most definitely appreciate the sanitary conditions here. I guess it’s not surprising that the Japanese have the most sophisticated high-tech toilets in the world and Japanese bathrooms are, to a foreigner like me, so fascinating. When I told my girlfriend J about my being in Tokyo she told me to pay attention to how Japanese toilet technology has improved. I know that sounds funny but J visits Japan once a year and has recently renovated her bathrooms in Manhattan so I’m sure she’s looked at countless TOTO toilets.
It’s not to say that all Japanese toilets are modernized- there are still these “squat” toilets found in older buildings and subway stations. Most Japanese now prefer the “western” toilets and don’t mind waiting for those to free up rather than using the older/squat toilets.
Most of the private homes and apartments built in the last few decades are equipped with what we’d consider high-tech toilets. Some of my friends’ apartments in Tokyo have more advanced models, but even the basic ones found in shopping malls or regular restaurants have a control panel with multiple options.
The toilet pictured above has the control panel built into the toilet itself. The toilet seat is usually heated and you can turn on some music or ambient noise to block out any potentially embarrassing sounds (ha ha ha). These toilets are also called “washlets” because of the built-in bidet and wash functions. On these you can only change the water pressure but the newer models allow you to adjust the temperature of the water as well as specific positioning of the nozzle. A friend told me that some of them have hot air “dryers,” too. I’ve seen toilets with a sensor around it so that when a person gets closer the lid opens automatically and when you’re finished the lid comes down to close.
You wave your hand over the sensor to activate the flush- you don’t have to touch anything that might be dirty!
Of course you don’t want to touch the rubbish bin. It also opens and closes automatically.
This bathroom has the control panel on the wall next to the toilet. Thank goodness there are pictograms and English signage… In case you were wondering, Japanese bathrooms do have toilet paper.
High-tech toilets? OK. How about this changing board in the bathroom? This board was attached to the wall of a bathroom stall. I’ve changed shoes and/or clothes in the bathroom and I understand that you don’t want to step on the dirty bathroom floor. I have to say, it’s very thoughtful of you Japan.
What about the Moms that have little babies with them? Well, you put the baby in this child seat (also inside the bathroom stall) while you go about your business. The accompanying instruction says that you should keep your eye on the child, do not leave your child (really?), and don’t let the child play. Do you think there is one of these in the men’s room, too? Doubtful…
Just in case you didn’t know how to queue or if you need guidance as to how much space you should have between you and the person standing in front of you– there are helpful markers for where you should place yourself while waiting for a free toilet. I think this was a “wink, wink, nod, nod” joke but maybe not.
Honestly, oh. so. Japanese!