How to Use an Asian Toilet
Useful Survival Tips on How to Use Three Different Types of Toilets, Asian Toilet Etiquettes & Where to Find Clean Toilets
Here is the challenge of the day for you. Do the Asian squat now!
If you can comfortably do it, you are a true Asian. (Disclaimer: This is my hypothesis that still requires more research to be proven true.) Interestingly enough, my observations based on a small pool revealed that it’s culturally learned rather than a matter of physical capability. For example, my husband, who is ethnically Asian but was born and raised in the States, has a difficult time doing it.
Why am I bringing this up? Well, it’s related to today’s topic on how to use an Asian Toilet.
The Glorious Discussion on Toilet
I hesitated for a second to post this because of the very superficial reason that I didn’t want any toilet photos on my feed. But I changed my mind as it is an important and interesting topic that addresses basic human needs we can’t ignore even when traveling.
For the discussion, I will mainly focus on public restrooms in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. In my experience living and traveling in Asian countries, I found that those three countries have some similarities when it comes to a public restroom:
- Generally speaking, public restrooms are clean, especially in Korea and Japan.
- Three types of toilets are available.
- Yet, there are some minor differences, making it more interesting to compare.
Three Types of Toilets
1. Squat Toilets, the Traditional Style
I heard many theories on why squat toilets are still around. Some Japanese believe that squatting is more hygienic as it eliminates direct skin contacts to the toilet seat. Some doctors have praised squatting for its health benefits as it may be the more natural position for us humans to take care of our business. (Dogs certainly know!)
Whether you believe it or not, when you travel to Asia, you are destined to find yourself asking, should you give this toilet laying on the ground a try?
My western friends have told me that it was a daunting task as they didn’t even know which side to face and where to put their feet. Don’t be too quick to dismiss, though, because sometimes it can be the only option for you. Regardless, if you can’t do an Asian squat as I mentioned above, you will have difficulty using this type of toilets.
How to Use an Asian Squat Toilet:
- Stand facing toward the direction of a porcelain hood.
- Spread your legs and put one foot on each side of the toilet.
- Undress before you squat. Make sure you are holding your clothes, strings, bags or anything that may fall.
- After doing your business, stand up before flushing the toilet. You don’t want to be splashed.
- Flush. Depending on the design, you may find a lever to step on or a string to pull down.
2. Flush Toilets, the Western Style
Great news for those who like to feel at home when using a toilet even during a trip! The western style toilets are available in most places in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.
In Korea, I can safely say they are the dominant style. Thanks to the massive campaign by the Korean government, public restrooms have been significantly improved and updated. In fact, you might have to go to the rural areas to find a traditional squat-style these days.
In Japan and Taiwan, you will have an option to choose between the western and traditional squat styles. Look for a sign on the door of each toilet. When a western style is not available on your turn, it’s okay to let the next person go first and wait in line for the next available one.
3. Japanese Bidet, The High-Tech Style
With a bit of an exaggeration, it seems that the Japanese bidet is installed on every single flush toilets in Japan. I also frequently find these high-tech toilets in hotels and cafes in Korea and Taiwan. (I think it’s called Japanese Bidet because it was first introduced by Toto, a Japanese company.)
My parents have one in their home and swear by it although I never really got into it until my recent trip to Japan. Japan experienced an exceptionally cold winter this year. Who would want to sit on an icy cold toilet first thing in the morning, right? I loved the seat heating function of my hotel's bidet!
In addition, this high-tech toilet comes with many other features: 1) You can massage your tush to help with your bowel movement. 2) Clean yourself up using water jet with an adjustable nozzle. 3) Blow dry your bottom. 4) With a click of a button, you can also play music for privacy. (Actually, you can find this stand-alone “manner” or “etiquette” button in many public restrooms in Korea.)
You can maneuver all of these functions on a control panel mounted on the wall or on the seat. Before you touch anything out of curiosity, please first sit on the toilet. You don’t want to get splashed with water all over your face although technically the water should be clean.
Give it a try if you see one and let me know how it goes!***
Asian Toilet Etiquettes: Do's & Don'ts
Again, I want to remind you that I’m focusing on Korea, Japan, and Taiwan in this post. Toilet etiquettes in other Asian countries might be different.
Properly Sit on a Toilet Seat.
You might not think twice before sitting on a toilet. Nevertheless, you will frequently see a sign urging everyone to sit on a toilet rather than squatting.
With an influx of tourists from the mainland China in recent years, other countries see the needs to educate the public who may be coming from an area where flush toilets are not accessible.
Some of the modern public restrooms provide you with a toilet cover sheet or seat cleaner; others may have a rolling plastic cover installed on the seat. However, I’d say don’t expect it to be ubiquitous as in the States.
Flush or Not to Flush the toilet paper?
For public hygiene, please flush the used toilet paper, unless a sign says otherwise.
In Japan, ALWAYS flush toilet paper. But you should only use the toilet paper provided in public restrooms, which is 100% resolvable in the water. I noticed that public restrooms only provide a tiny can for ladies’ hygiene products.
In Korea, my experience says 95% of the time flush it. I rarely find a sign asking to use a trash bin instead. When in doubt, follow what others did.
In Taiwan, I’d say it’s a 50% chance. It really depends on where you go. I find it a bit tricky, though. I don’t think twice about flushing toilet paper as it became a habit. But I frequently see a sign asking to throw toilet papers in a trash can due to a plumbing issue.
?Tip: Some restrooms in Taiwan don’t have toilet papers inside the stalls. Look for a huge roll mounted on the wall near the main entrance. It’s also a good idea to have a pocket-size tissue* in your bag, which you can easily find at local convenience stores.
Wash Your Hands with Soap
This is my pet peeves. Why would you not wash your hands after using a restroom? It’s an important public safety practice that not only protects yourself but also protects the safety of others. Please wash your hands with soap!
When I first moved to Taiwan, I was surprised to find some folks wash their hands just with water but not with soap. I guess it’s better than not washing at all. But what does it really going to do?
Then, I started noticing many public restrooms in Taiwan do NOT provide hand soap. Sometimes, they have a watered-down liquid soap or an empty dispenser.
?Tip: Now I always carry a hand sanitizer* in my purse, which comes in handy to travel anywhere in the world.
Generally speaking, I don’t think it’s an issue in Japan or Korea. You will find hand soap or sanitizer in public restrooms. It seems that the majority follows the public safety protocol.
Use Hand Towel or Dryer?
In Japan, there is no hand towel in public restrooms. But you will find an electronic hand dryer mounted on the wall. If you prefer to wipe, it’s a good idea to bring your own handkerchief.
In Korea, you will have either an electronic hand dryer or hand towels, or both. I can’t generalize in Taiwan as it’s really a case by case in my experience.
By the way, did you notice that public restroom doors in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan are almost always completely sealed? With the “manner/etiquette” button and sealed doors, I think privacy in using restrooms are much more valued, whereas, in the States, safety in public restrooms is bigger of a concern.
I just wanted to share my cultural observations. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts/observations on the different toilet etiquettes and cultures.***
Where to Find Clean Toilets
As I mentioned earlier, public restrooms in those developed Asian countries are generally clean. I don’t think the majority of you will have any trouble.
But because I understand the importance of securing clean toilets when traveling, I want to share my tip to find one in Asia. I’d say it also applies to less developed parts of Asia, too.
One Simple Rule: Find Western (or Westernized) Establishments
I love Costco restrooms. Why? Because it’s totally up to the U.S. standards. It’s always clean. Amenities include toilet papers, hand soap & towel, and sensor-activated auto dispensers. As a tall girl, I also appreciate the American-size stalls and toilets. That means, no hitting the wall and no claustrophobia!
I’m all for environmental protections to save the polar bears. But I do appreciate a generous amount of water at Costco restrooms. In Asia, the sensors on the facet work for five seconds. Five seconds is not enough time to wash my hands!
My other favorite places include:
- Western big-box stores (Costco, IKEA, Carrefour, etc.)
- Hotels & Resorts
- Coffee shops
- Department stores & shopping malls (Many establishments don’t have a public restroom on the 1st floor. Go one floor up or down.)
- Subway stations (in Japan & Korea only)
Now, can someone tell me how to use an Italian bidet? :-)