Japan prepares to standardise baffling instructions on its toilets in anticipation of tourism boom
Eight new symbols show users how to flush, open and close the lid, activate the front and back cleanse and drying functions, and trigger the off switch
Navigating the array of buttons on Japan’s high-tech toilets can be a disconcerting experience for the uninitiated, who, expecting to hear a familiar flushing sound, are instead subjected to a sudden, and unwanted, cleansing of the nether regions.
As Japan prepares for an influx of overseas visitors during the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics the following year, the country’s sanitation industry has agreed to standardise pictograms on toilets so users know for certain if they are about to receive a blast of warm air or a jet of water.
Nine manufacturers belonging to the Japan sanitary equipment industry association will soon start using the same eight symbols to explain the buttons found on their state-of-the-art WCs.
At a launch event this week, the firms said they had agreed to simplify the pictography in response to complaints from tourists that they are confused by symbols that differ depending on the make of toilet.
In a 2014 survey of 600 foreign visitors, a quarter said they could not understand some of the symbols that appear on the toilet buttons.
The eight new symbols show users how to flush [large and small], open and close the lid, activate the front and back cleanse and drying functions, and trigger the off switch.
The unified icons will appear on toilets sold in Japan from April, according to Jiji Press, which added that makers eventually hoped they would become standard for high-tech toilets sold around the world.
The confusion arose when manufacturers created their own symbols after the first toilet with washing and drying functions appeared in Japan in the mid-1960s.
The toilets, including Toto’s market-leading Washlet, have since become common fixtures in restaurants, hotels and other public places, occasionally to the consternation of visitors who are more accustomed to a simple flush and a lid they open and close manually.
“We are sure the new design of pictograms will help our products become more popular overseas, as well as offer hospitality to foreigners and show that Japan is a country that welcomes tourists,” said Madoka Kitamura, head of the industry group and president of Toto, told reporters, according to the Asahi newspaper.
The government is also considering a revamp of other symbols that some overseas visitors find confusing or offensive, including a swastika-like pictograph used to indicate a Buddhist temple on maps.
The decision to standardise toilet pictography is the latest attempt to make Japan’s toilets more user friendly. Last month, “toilet paper” for germ-infested smartphone screens was installed in dozens of cubicles in the arrivals hall at Narita international airport.