How to Use a Japanese Squat Toilet

Ok, this post is mostly for the ladies (and those without convenient anatomy), but others might learn something, too.

For those used to western-style, sit-down toilets, something that resembles an elongated sink in the floor might be met with trepidation and confusion.  These are squat toilets, and they’re quite common in Japan.  Sometimes, they’re your only option, so it’s good to know how to use them.

For those too embarrassed to ask, here’s a quick guide.

A sign depicting how to use a squat toilet in Japan

Western-Style Toilets

Japan has western-style toilets (y’know, just sit and do your business), but these usually come with a built-in bidet and a host of electronic options to rinse your bum or even play music or ambient noise to disguise less pleasant sounds. The controls can be a bit confusing at first, but they aren’t mandatory. These toilets are considerably easier to figure out, and it’s one of the luxuries we miss about Japan.

A western-style toilet in a ryokan in Kyoto, Japan

If you don’t want to mess with the bells and whistles, feel free to skip them. But we certainly recommend you give them a try for the true Japanese experience. The built-in mini bidet is often hooked up to warm water so as to not give you too much of a shock, but be prepared that it could be quite cold.

And if you’re in a private home or hotel, don’t forget to swap out your slippers for the less-clean bathroom floor.

Squat Toilets

I struggled with the squat toilets when we went to Japan.  Fortunately, the bathrooms I visited had diagrams right in the stall to show me how to use them.  I also thought they were meant to be used only as a squatting urinal, but I quickly figured it out.

Sadly, others also had trouble with how to use them, as evidenced by the smell that exceeded that of the men’s room.

A squat toilet in Japan

I avoided squat toilets as long as I could.. then I came to a bathroom that had no other option. Once I actually used one, I found I actually kind of preferred them!  They’re efficient, and you don’t have to touch anything.  Besides, it’s an ergonomic position for doing your business.

It also helps that I camp a lot in the backwoods where there aren’t even outhouses.  It was this that prompted me to google how to “pee in the woods,” as I had previously been forced to practically undress to not soil my dropped drawers (men can’t possibly understand our struggles!).

Toilet paper with ad print in Japan
What an efficient use of toilet paper!

How to use a Squat Toilet (Properly)

As I have seen others question how to do this without falling over, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned.  Here’s how to do it properly:

  1. Stand over the toilet, straddling the porcelain in the floor, facing the dome and flushing handle (this is the front of the toilet).
  2. Drop your pants to your knees (not your ankles.. you don’t want your pants draped on the toilet – gross!).
  3. Squat straight down over your feet, keeping balanced (carefully).  I usually brace my elbows on my knees.
  4. Here’s the secret step!  Grab your pants at the crotch and pull them out of the way (toward the front of the toilet).
  5. Other secret step!  Pivot your hips so you’re aiming downward – below your raised garments (yes, you can aim).
  6. Do your business, wipe, carefully stand back up, and redress (don’t forget to flush!).

It might help to practice with a skirt or stretchy pants before graduating to jeans.  You might also consider brushing up on your squatting techniques prior to departure.

A toilet flush handle
Dual flush! 大 means “big;” 小 means “small” 🙂

It’s really not as scary as it may seem, and in no time, you’ll be a pro! You might even come to prefer it!

What is the most unusual toilet you’ve ever used?

Psst… do you love reading about how people around the world do things differently?  You might also enjoy these:

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Confused as to how to actually use that sink in the ground?  Here's a no-embarrassment guide on how to use squat toilets in Japan and all around the world! | BIG tiny World Travel | #bigtinyworld #japan #squattoilet #toiletsaroundtheworld #howto

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