Japanese lavatories (日本の便所)

Here, we explain about Japanese lavatories.

Japanese lavatories are broadly divided into three types. The oldest one, which people use by squatting down, is called washiki (Japanese style). After the Second World War, the one which people use by sitting on (called yoshiki (Western style)) and the urinal for males were imported from Western Europe and became common.

Also, these types are divided into the flushing type and the non-flushing type, and as for toilet basins, the flushing type is called suisen shiki benjo (water flush lavatory) and the non-flushing type rakka shiki benjo (non flush lavatory) (botton benjo). Kani suisen shiki benjo (lavatory having both functions of flushing with water and scooping up the waste) or tonneru shiki benjo (tunnel type lavatory) are the intermediate types between them, and the latter is a suisen shiki benjo but can be included in the category of a rakka shiki benjo (botton benjo) and the former is a vault toilet but can be included in a suisen shiki benjo.


It is not clear when Japanese began to use a lavatory, but in remains from long ago we can see the structures which can be seen as lavatories. In archaeology the coprolite has been researched and the feeding habits in various periods have become clear.

As a structure like a sewage line can be seen in remains from the Yayoi period, the lavatory is thought to have come into use during that period at the latest.

The noblemen during the Heian period used omaru (bedpan, chamber pot) called hibako. Books and so on from the Heian period picture scenes where people evacuate in the field; therefore, the commoners did not have lavatories. Later, the vault toilet, which is easy to make by digging a hole, became mainstream and remained so for a long time. As it was easy to visually confirm the health condition by viewing excrement, the lavatories for the imperial family or high-ranking samurais were pullout and those who monitored their health could check the excrement downstairs.

In rural areas during the Edo period, human waste came to be used as manure for growing agricultural crops and was traded at a high price. In congested areas such as Edo, Kyoto, Osaka, and so on, a cooperative dwelling called Nagaya (long house, row house, or terrace house) and so on had a communal latrine and those who collect the humane waste and do business appeared.

In rural areas, the configuration where the lavatory was built independently from the main housing which was a living space continued until the postwar era (as the main housing did not have a lavatory inside, they could not go to the lavatory without going out).

The lavatory basin in those days was a large bottle and was often used by putting a large wooden frame or board over it.

The lavatory was also set up over a small river (kawa), which is said to be the word origin for kawaya (lavatory).

In the Ryukyu Kingdom and so on, buta banjo existed, which had the same method of a lavatory as found in China, where shima buta (pigs in the Ryukyu Kingdom) were kept under the lavatory and fed directly by human excrement.

The application of human waste to agriculture lost its utility value and disappeared during the high economic growth period, because of the raw diet custom of salad and so on brought by American soldiers of the Allied Forces who occupied Japan, the prevention of parasitic infection such as roundworms and so on for hygienic reasons, and popularization of the other fertilizers such as chemical fertilizers. That was why collected human wastes were often dumped in the surrounding sea areas, but according to an international treaty the dumping of human wastes at sea was banned and the measures such as the improvement of bounty system for the maintenance of sewage lines or the installation of septic tanks have been promoted.

As for the sewage line, the oldest ones were built during the Yayoi period and they are thought to have played a role of draining water in the lavatory. During the Azuchi-Momoyama period a facility called Taiko Gesui (or called Sewari Gesui, sewari sewer, stone built sewer ditches) was built near Osaka castle by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and is used even now. In 1884 a facility which used bricks or earthenware was built in Kanda in Edo (currently, Tokyo prefecture), but was lost in the devastation of The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. Later, the maintenance of sewage lines was promoted across Japan and by 2000 it had spread among about sixty percent of Japanese population. Some areas which do not have sewage lines are subsidized for the installation of septic tanks.

Toilet paper

Nowadays after excretion people generally use the paper called toilet paper, but they once wiped directly with their hand or used plant leaves, seaweed, and so on and during the Nara period a thin wooden stick came to be used. After that, until the Edo period, the paper called "chirigami" (coarse toilet paper) came to be used and is also used now. As for chirigami itself, useless old paper or old newspaper was used by appropriately cutting until the Showa period, but recently the lavatory became a water flush one and accordingly water-soluble toilet paper came to be used. At present, most of the lavatories in Japan have a holder, where the roll-type paper is fixed, in private compartments.


Formerly in Japan, the lavatory was called 'habakari,' 'secchin,' 'kawaya,' 'chozu' and so on, but after the Showa period it was called 'otearai' or 'keshoshitsu' instead and came to be spelled 'toilet,' 'W.C,' 'lavatory' and so on, using foreign languages (or Japanese-English words). Today most public restrooms show only a pictogram which suggests man or woman.

Even today it is called various ways, but among them it is most often called 'toire' and the word can be widely used in many situations. The word "toire" is an abbreviation of the English word (toilet) and the meaning is 'keshoshitsu' (lavatory). The name 'keshoshitsu' used currently in Japanese is said to originate from this.

Washiki (Japanese style)

Washiki lavatory basins have existed in Japan from long ago. The lavatory made from earthenware looks like a slipper and the rounded and protruded head part is called kinkakushi (mantle or hood on a urinal, squat-toilet). The user puts the feet on both the right and left sides of the basin, squats down because of no lavatory seat, and evacuates. The old lavatories were generally vault toilets that had a hole and needed to be regularly collected by a septic tank truck, but they have decreased in number with the appearance of water flush lavatories.

In the case of vault toilets, they stink because filthy matters are in the tank below and sometimes as countermeasures a lid is put on the basin or an exhaust outlet is installed to fan the inner air out. They have been used in scary stories from long ago and according to well known stories, a human hand came out from the basin hole, or a person was hiding in the hole, and so on.

Usually the basin is installed directly on the floor, but in railroad stations and so on, it is sometimes installed on a platform which is about thirty centimeters high. The latter basin intends that men can urinate more easily.

As advantages of washiki compared with yoshiki (Western style), we can say that washiki is easy to clean and cheap to install, and that the basin tank where feces are primarily piled up is made shallow so the splashing during defecation is weak, and that the quantity of water needed for cleaning each time is small (however, nowadays, water-saving western style urinal which needs less water than washiki for cleaning is sold), and that there is no contact with a toilet seat, which gives a clean impression (however, see the corresponding point in yoshiki). Some say that squatting position develops the muscle in the pelvic floor and prevents elderly women in particular from leaking urine, and others say that it is easy to excrete feces from the rectum because of the posture of a straight back and washiki is good for anal fistula and hemorrhoids (so-called 'piles') (however, more people say that yoshiki is better).

As a disadvantage of washiki, the basin tank where feces are primarily piled up is made shallow so it stinks strongly (the smell can decrease to some degree by flushing the feces into a secondary tank soon using the lever for urine). And as the basin is completely buried, if the toilet is clogged and the clog can not be cleared, the basin must be broken down and removed, meanwhile the lavatory cannot be used and the repair costs a lot. Also, it easily gets filthy on the basin or around and gives an unclean impression. Also, it easily splashes when cleaning. It is also incompatible with onsui senjo benza (toilet seats which have a bidet function, washing user's bottom with warm water). It is said that squatting position develops the muscles of the feet, but the position is physically a heavy burden to disabled people or elderly people.

The following advice is for foreign travelers who are not used to it:
During defecation or when standing up after defecation, you are likely to be off-balance. If you are uncertain about your balance, you had better grip the attached handrail or the drainpipe like the one in the upper right picture (commonly called grunt bar, however, it must be strong enough).

You can easily balance if you take off all your clothes below the waist. Many public lavatories often have a hook on which we hang a coat or a baggage in the compartments and we can use it for hanging trousers and so on.

As for the stockings for women, the thigh-high ones are recommended. The waist-high ones, so-called panty stockings, are inconvenient for use.

Yoshiki (Western style)

Yoshiki (Western style) lavatory basin and the urinal for male appeared in Japan in the twentieth century and during the period when the General Headquarters (GHQ), which centered on Western nations such as the British army or American army and so on, occupied Japan, they dramatically spread across Japan. In 1977 yoshiki lavatory basins outsold washiki ones and TOTO LTD brought in lavatory basins with a bidet (douche) made in Switzerland or The United States, added advanced features to them, sold them in the brand name 'Washlet' and since then various companies came to produce them.

Most general households have yoshiki lavatory basins and recently onsui senjo benza has increased. On the other hand, many lavatories in public facilities or public lavatories have only washiki, although some have both washiki and yoshiki. This is because the washiki lavatory basin is easy to install, easy to clean, and low cost compared with yoshiki and in the case of yoshiki the skin must be directly in touch with a toilet seat and general public shares it, which gives a nasty feeling. So, antiseptic substance or seat-papers are sometimes prepared inside the lavatory. However, the toilet seat of yoshiki lavatory basin does not cause a sanitary problem in practice. If you forcedly push the toilet seat, it sometimes breaks (however, this can be avoided by improving the morals of users or the way of cleaning).

The advantage of yoshiki compared with washiki is that it is gentle to the body because the users sit down and relieve their bowels. In the case of washiki, elderly people often die of cerebral stroke and so on by overstraining themselves. Thus, the use of yoshiki is recommended for the disabled or elderly people. There are additionally many advantages; for example, it is possible to install the heated toilet seat or onsui senjo benza, the user can do his business comfortably, it is resistant to bad smell because the feces drop directly in the water, it is good for piles, the basin and the basin's surroundings are resistant to filth, and so on.

Should the inside of lavatory basin be clogged and should the clog not be cleared easily, the basin itself can be removed by loosening the screws fixed on the water-supply pipe and floor, so it is rare that the basin must be replaced.

Urinal (for men)

The urinal for men appeared after the Meiji period as mentioned above, but before that, even a male person used the toilet basin for urinating or urinated standing up outdoors in the name of tachishoben. Even now they urinate standing, but it is not limited to Japan, and as seen in the Manikin Pis statue in Belgium they urinate standing across the world.

The part where the urinal is set up is often not partitioned and the number set-up can be increased in the isometric space. Because of this, except for the time of congestion or emergency, men do not often use a toilet basin and thus many of them are reluctant to empty their bowels in the lavatory of public facilities such as a school, a company, and so on.

Formerly, as for the urinal, mostly the flush bulb or faucet at the upper part of a basin washes down the basin, but many hate to touch it because the general public touches it and it is unsanitary. For this reason, the basin which automatically flushes with water after urianation as detected by an infrared sensor has increased.

Public restrooms

Now in Japan there are public restrooms in various places such as large-scale retail stores (department stores, supermarkets and so on), parks, public facilities, railway stations and so on and we can find them easily as the number is large. From an international viewpoint, we can say that the density of public restrooms in Japan is very high and fulfilling. Many public restrooms have two spaces which are for men and women respectively, but since the 1990s from a barrier-free standpoint a lavatory which have a wide space for elderly people or a person in a wheelchair has been established additionally.

As the general public uses public restrooms, various problems sometimes happen. Public restrooms get filthy very soon and therefore cleaning is important. For this reason, they are cleaned sometimes by hiring people from a professional cleaning company and additional cost is required for maintenance as well as consumables and so on. Some lavatories in parks are filthy because they are not cleaned for a long time or because of graffiti and so on and people are sometimes reluctant to use them even though they exist. Also in the public restrooms, underage people smoke or some people install a camera inside the compartment and secretly film or commit debakame (peeping Tom, voyeur) or crimes such as rape are sometimes committed.

Simple toilets

Small and square simple toilets like a public phone booth are sometimes set up at construction sites, event sites, mountain tops, emergency evacuation areas, and so on. They have a similar principle to the vault toilet because the tank which receives feces is below, but recently there are water flush ones too. Also, disposable portable products called 'portable toilet' exist and are used for emergency.

Market share of toilet basins

In Japan production (the traditional pottery industry) by the two companies TOTO LTD. and INAX Corporation dominates the market of Japanese toilet basins, and Janis Ltd., ASAHI EITO Corporation, NEPON Inc., and so on follow this. Among them, the company which occupies the highest share (about 50 %) of the market is TOTO LTD. and INAX Corporation, which has about a 25% share, follows. As the toilet basin is heavy and bulky, the transportation from the developing countries such as China and so on whose production costs are cheap is out of proportion to the benefit and thus the Japanese market is mostly dominated by home manufacturers and this tendency is expected to continue in the future. For the same reason, Japanese toilet basins are not exported and overseas production at the point of demand is dominant. Japanese toilet basin manufacturers are aggressively conducting sales also in the foreign countries and the country where Japanese manufacturers' toilet basins sell the most is the People's Republic of China, and sales by TOTO LTD. total more than one million units every year.

Nowadays, with the popularization of onsui senjo benza, household appliance manufacturers such as Panasonic Electric Works Co., Ltd., TOSHIBA CORPORATION, Hitachi Appliances, Inc. and so on actively enter the market, but they cannot produce the pottery and their entries are limited to the 'toilet seat' part. Recently, however, Panasonic Electric Works Co., Ltd. is increasing its market share by developing a toilet basin made from resin. In contrast, the two top share companies of the toilet basin fall behind the household appliance manufacturers in the introduction of new materials except for the technology of electronics control or pottery and the two have a tough time in the market of onsui senjo benza.