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Toilet Training Asian-Style

When I tell people I will be travelling in Asia, the subject of the squat toilet often comes up. Even though most of the world’s seven billion people are skilled at using the squat toilet, we North Americans shudder at the very idea. One would think that something as basic as attending to one’s daily needs would be more uniform after all these years of human existence, but it is not. The truth is, people in Asia and elsewhere in the world have been far more accepting of our customs than we have been of theirs. While the squat toilet is still common in Asia, the commode toilet or “Western” toilet is often found in public toilets along with the locally preferred, and in many ways superior, squat toilet.

Credit: Sandra Scott

Credit: Sandra Scott

Part of my problem with the squat toilet is that I never learned how to use it. For many, the difficulty comes from having to squat—without years of practice, their knees just can’t take it! But it never occurred to me that people who have mastered the squat toilet technique would have difficulty using a commode-style toilet. Of course if squatting is easier on the system, sitting must be a pain, in more ways than one. So, throughout Asia, there are instructional missives for how not to use a commode toilet: No standing and no squatting on the seat (which can’t be easy!). And since many Asian plumbing systems can’t handle it, toilet paper in the commode is often a no no—instead you must use a hose (or in more basic facilities, a spigot and bucket) for washing. Signs also advise guests that the toilet hose should not be used for washing one’s feet or taking a shower.

Of course, the most modern of all toilets originated in Asia. The Japanese have designed a toilet called the Washlet that makes our commode toilet and paper system seem outdated. Manufactured by Toto, the Washlet is the “everything toilet.” It comes in various models but each one has a control panel, either attached to the toilet seat or wall-mounted. The most basic model allows users to choose the temperature of the seat and water, if they prefer the cleansing water to be pulsating or a stream, and if they want it to at the front or at the back. Depending on the model, the following additional features can be included: auto-flush, automatic open/close lid, massage feature, warm-air drying with three-temperature settings, automatic air purifier, and a noise maker to mask undesirable sounds.

Credit: Sandra Scott

Credit: Sandra Scott

Don’t think for one minute that the Washlet is a novelty item. They are found in many locations – in hotels, Tokyo’s Narita airport, restaurants, and so on—even the Chengdu Panda Research base in China features “Japanese toilets.” Will Asian visitors to North America comment on our toilets in the near future? The conversation might go like this: “Have you seen the toilets in North America? They are so old fashioned, so backward. They just sit there! And use paper!”

Keep on the lookout for the Toto toilet’s appearance in North America.
 

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