Tips for Times When You Suddenly Need the Toilet in Japan

Unfamiliar situations during a trip abroad can make you feel very uneasy, especially if you are traveling with children or the elderly. Since restrooms and customs that relate to them are different in every country, this article aims to ease your mind by showcasing some tips for times when you suddenly need the toilet in Japan!

Restrooms in Japan

Restrooms in Japan are usually free and there is no need to leave a tip. They are known to be relatively clean and hygienic, and since even the toilet paper is soft, they can be used comfortably. There are two types of toilets: Western-style ones that are used by sitting on the toilet bowl, and Japanese-style ones used by squatting over the toilet. The men's restrooms are also frequently furnished with urinals. You'll find plenty of public lavatories scattered throughout the city, and in recent years many high tech restrooms, equipped with different kinds of functions, have been appearing one after the other. For example, there are toilets that open and close just by entering and leaving the stall, as well as ones that can flush automatically.

Where Are the Restrooms?

Public lavatories can be found in various places all over the city. For example, other than airports and train stations, there are public toilets in libraries and government offices. You can also find them in entertainment facilities like arcades and pachinko parlors, as well as in commercial facilities like buildings annexed to the train station or department stores. Toilets are also available in electronic stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, and so forth; however, depending on the store, you might have to ask the staff for permission or buy something in the store. In addition, public restrooms can also be found in parks and outdoor sightseeing areas but, as you can see in the picture, it can be difficult to understand what their intended use is just from their outward appearance, so it is recommended to ask the staff for information or check a map if available.

Apps to Search for a Restroom

Smartphone apps can be really helpful for when you need to search for a public bathroom. Here are two different apps (both are free and available for the iOS and Android) that support English.

Toilet Information Map
A navigation app connected with Google Maps that lets you easily and quickly search for restrooms all over the nation in case of an emergency. The voice guide feature tells you the toilet's location and route and can be activated in just one touch. It is also easy to look up which restrooms provide facilities like washlets or special washbasins for ostomates. *This app has been machine translated.
Toilet Information Map

Check A Toilet
An app developed with the aim of creating a society in which elderly people, those with disabilities, and parents with small children can easily leave their house. Multipurpose toilets (accessible toilets, ones with diaper changing tables, etc.), restrooms equipped with nursing rooms, and so forth, can be easily looked up with this app. As of April 2019, around 71,000 multipurpose toilets all over Japan can be searched with this app, which also offers a special search filter for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients.
Check A Toilet

If You Need to Go While Traveling

If the need to use the toilet appears while you are traveling, what should you do?

Airplanes: Lavatories are always available on airplanes, both on international and domestic airlines, as well as in airports.
Trains: It is safe to assume that every train station has a restroom (except very small unmanned ones). All the shinkansen (bullet trains) are equipped with lavatories, but for conventional train lines, you'll find that only some of the limited express trains have toilets.
Buses: Almost all long-distance buses, night buses, and so forth are equipped with toilets. However, regular buses usually have no toilet, so it is advisable to use one before boarding.
Taxis: None of them come with toilets, so ask the driver to be dropped off near a place that might one.

Points to Be Careful About While Sightseeing

The best strategy is to research where the restrooms are beforehand and frequently use the toilet when you find one, instead of postponing it. Another method is to avoid diuretic drinks like coffee, green tea, and alcohol, to directly decrease the amount of times you will need to visit the restroom. When you are lining up, it may also be possible to ask the people before or behind you or the staff to hold your place in line so you can go to the restroom. However, it depends on the time and place, so it is important to take steps to avoid being in that kind of situation as much as possible.

Other Tips

When the situation does not allow you to immediately run into a restroom, it is necessary to find a way to overcome it. One simple yet surprisingly effective method is to listen to music or lightly move one's body to distract yourself. Another solution is to use a portable toilet*, or take anti-diarrhea medicines that can be easily taken without water.

*: Common ones are 20 - 30 cm long, and there are many types available depending on the use, such as ones with odor control.

Knowing how toilets in Japan are like will definitely help to make your stay even more comfortable. Keep these bits of information in mind and have a nice trip!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

Recommended articles for you

Can't find it in a guidebook? Looking through this app will definitely make you want to go to Japan.
Sightseeing information to make you say "Wow!", updated every day!