This summer was the first since Japan fully reopened to international tourism. That resulted in a big spike in visitors from abroad coming to the country to experience Japanese culture, enjoy Japanese food…and be confused by Japanese toilets.
Miyama Kayabuki no Sato is a village in Kyoto Prefecture, to the north of Kyoto City, with a collection of preserved traditional farmhouses and a museum detailing how daily life was for past generations who lived in this bucolic community. Kayabuki no Sato, which is part of Natan City, welcomes visitors from overseas, but in recent months they’ve been having problems with how some of those visitors are using one of the town’s public restrooms, which is located near the parking lot for tour busses. Yoshifumi Nakano, head of the Kayabuki no Sato Preservation Society, thinks that the trouble stems from overseas visitors being unfamiliar with multiple aspects of how Japanese-style toilets are meant to be used, leading to poo on the floor and overflowing trash containers.
Out of the 12 restroom stalls at this restroom, eight of them have Japanese-style toilets, similar in design to the one shown in the photo above. For some visitors coming from countries that have no squat-style toilets, their natural tendency may be to use the Japanese-style toilet in as close a manner as they can to a Western-style one: they step into the stall, close the door, then do their business while facing the front door, and with their hindquarters facing towards the toilet, with some apparently even lightly resting their buttocks on the tip of the raised half-dome like it’s a toilet seat.
This is, though, the opposite of how you’re supposed to situate yourself. Having your butt hovering near the dome increases the chance that your droppings will drop onto the top of the dome, from where it’ll slide down to the bathroom floor. To help prevent this, the proper way to took a dump in a Japanese-style toilet it to face the toilet itself, scooching up close to the dome and also using it as a guide to make sure you’ve got your anus laterally lined up so that your deposits will land in the bowl and can be flushed away.
Inaccurate deuce-dropping isn’t the only problem Kayabuki no Sato is grappling with these days, though. Nakano says that the trash containers inside the village’s restrooms stalls are sometimes overflowing with feces-streaked paper after international tour buses come through.
As seen in the example photo above, many Japanese bathrooms have a small lidded trash container located inside the stall and within arm’s reach of the toilet. For visitors from countries where the sewage system doesn’t have the capacity for paper and wet wipes to flow through the pipes, this container might look like where you’re supposed to stick your paper after you wipe your butt, as is the case in many parts of southeast Asia.
However, in Japan that’s not what these containers are there for. The Japanese sewage system has no trouble flowing toilet paper, and these in-stall trash containers are primarily meant as receptacles for used feminine hygiene products. That’s why you typically only see these trash containers in women’s or mixed-use stalls, and also why the containers aren’t very big. With overseas visitors to Kayabuki no Sato putting used wiping paper in there, though, that’s a much larger volume of trash, to the point where Nakano says that the parking lot administrative staff has had to start emptying the containers because they’re filling up and overflowing by the time of the cleaning staff’s next pass through the restrooms.
None of this should be taken to mean that Kayabuki no Sato doesn’t want foreign visitors. Still, poo staining the floor and spilling out of wastebaskets is a problem, especially for a country that prides itself on cleanliness as much as Japan does. The three other public restrooms in the village have already been converted to all-Western-style toilets, and Nakano says the plan is to convert the eight Japanese-style toilets at the parking lot restroom to Western-style units as well. That’s going to take time, though, so in the meantime Nakano is hoping that increased awareness will help improve the situation.
Kyoto City itself has been dealing with similar issues for some time, and last year the municipal government designed and released an explanatory graphic with text in Japanese, English, Korean, and both traditional and simplified Chinese explaining the correct way to use a Japanese-style toilet and what to do with used toilet paper. Adding a few such posters or stickers to the stall interiors at Kayabuki no Sato might be the best plan during the transitionary period to help remind people that when in Rome, one should poop as the Romans do.
Related: Kayabuki no Sato official website
Sources: J-Cast News via Livedoor News via Jin, Kyoto City
Insert images: Pakutaso, Kyoto City
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