How to use Japanese Squat Toilets: Avoid Accidents and Go Like a Pro

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, as well as other budget-friendly destinations.  Sometimes, they’re your only option, so it’s good to know how to use them. This post is mostly for the ladies (and those without convenient anatomy), but others who have never camped without posh amenities might learn something, too.

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

A sign on the inside of a bathroom stall, with diagrams indicating how to use a squat toilet | BIG tiny World Travel

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 Japanese water closet, with a western-style toilet equipped with a bidet, and a tiny sink for washing hands | BIG tiny World Travel

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 dirtier 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 porcelain squat toilet set into the floor | BIG tiny World Travel

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 finally figure out 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!).

A stretch of toilet paper with an illustrated advertisement printed on it | BIG tiny World Travel
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 handle with kanji characters indicating "small" for a downward flush and "large" for an upwards flush | BIG tiny World Travel
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!

Squat toilets across Asia

This style of toilet is common in other countries near Japan as well, especially Southeast Asia. If you’re like us, this budget-friendly region of the world is quite attractive, so chances are you’ll become quite familiar with them. You’ll find them in the Philippines, China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore, among others.

Be aware that in some areas, the “toilet” might be nothing more than a hole in the ground. Being comfortable with a squat toilet will thus help you better enjoy your trip.

Options for those who can’t squat

A rustic toilet base in an outdoor outhouse, with a roll of toilet paper on a metal wall | BIG tiny World Travel

There are many reasons squatting might not sound too appealing. Perhaps you have weak knees or hips. Or perhaps you’re recovering from an injury or the position is just painful.

If you can, do some exercises to to strengthen your muscles and improve your flexibility before your trip. Having the option to squat will simply give you more options on your trip.

If this isn’t an option, you can look for a handicapped stall that has horizontal bars for you to hold onto. Or you can bring portable equipment with you to either help support your knees, blocks to hold onto, or a foldable chair that resembles a toilet seat.

If you only need to pee while you’re out and about, and you lack certain anatomy, I highly recommend bringing a clever small device that enables you to pee standing up. There are many options out there, but I prefer the pStyle for its rigidity and sleek design. Just make sure you practice in the shower at home before trying it out in the field, to make sure you’re comfortable with how to position and hold it without spills.

Now you’re ready!

Whether you’re stretching your dollars in Southeast Asia, or you’re splurging on a luxury tour throughout Japan, chances are you’ll find yourself looking down at a squat toilet. And now you can use it with confidence!

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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