It’s long been a conundrum for visitors to Japan: how do you actually use the toilet? For more than 35 years, the “washlet”—also known in some parts as the “super toilet”—has baffled the unwary traveller with its incredibly confusing array of additional functions.
Each of these space-age super toilets comes with a panel of buttons festooned with inscrutable icons. Press the wrong one and you can easily end up with a sharp jet of cold water at an uncomfortable angle, or even an unexpected blow-dry for your junk. What makes the whole affair exponentially more confusing is the fact that, until now, the makers of these Swiss army-knife commodes couldn’t agree on a way to standardise the images they put on the buttons.
Ahead of the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2020, however, with a massive influx of tourists and their bowel movements expected in the country, the manufacturers have reached a consensus. At a press conference on Tuesday, representatives from the nine companies that make up Japan’s Sanitary Equipment Industry Association unveiled eight new symbols to accompany the various key functions for each new loo. Models released from April this year will all be standardised, and the manufacturers hope it might even become an international standard.
The symbols are shown in the main image, and from left to right indicate the following: raise the lid, raise the seat, large flush, small flush, rear and front bidet, dry, and stop.
Incredibly, these functions aren’t the only features one might find on a super toilet; as well as hot-air drying, heated seats, and a range of bidet spray functions, manufacturers have included functions to control the heating and air conditioning for the room, underlighting for users in the night, and even music to relax a user’s sphincter—some Inax toilets will apparently play the first few phrases of Op. 62 Nr. 6 Frühlingslied by Felix Mendelssohn. Higher-end units will have bidet sprays that pulse or vibrate gently for sufferers of haemorrhoids, or thoughtful automatic air deodorising.
“This is one of the most exciting technological breakthroughs to be squeezed out by Japan in recent memory,” said Sebastian Anthony, editor ofTechnica UK. “I was in Japan recently and had a full-on Mr Bean moment with one toilet that featured particularly bad iconography. There was a full and whiffy bowl, manic button pushing as I tried and failed to find the flush button, and hence nozzles spraying parts of me that hadn’t received such, er, direct attention in many years.”
Japan is gearing up to make itself more comprehensible to tourists ahead of the Games in 2020, and the Rugby World Cup in 2019. Last year, the government began encouraging Buddhist temples to remove the “manji” symbol from maps aimed at foreigners, due to its close resemblance to the Nazi swastika. A total of six symbols were revised on new tourist maps, including an H in a circle which made westerners think more of helipads than the hotels it was designed to represent.
“Japan needs to create an environment where foreign visitors can easily use transport and find accommodation,” the country’s Geospatial Information Authority said in a report quoted by the Japan Times. “For that purpose, it is especially important to disseminate multilingual maps that are easy for foreigners to understand.”