Traveler Essentials

How to use Japanese toilets and onsen


The famous Japanese toilet buttons that are hard to understand! Fear not, since you only need to know one in order to flush it = 流す. Most toilets do have a lever or a more common way of flushing but if you see nothing, the “flush” button kanji will get the job done. Do however feel free to try all the specialties the Japanese toilets offer! Common functions include bidet sprays, water pressure adjustment, seat heating, and sound effects to cover any sounds you might make.

Public toilets found nearly everywhere

Japan has public and FREE toilets almost everywhere! In the parks, just sometimes beside the roads and in all department stores and public transportation waiting areas. Public restrooms in Japan are clean and therefore pleasant to use. However, for a tourist not used to the Japanese style toilet that is on the ground which you must crouch over, it might be a bit difficult to do one’s business there. Most public toilets do have westerns style seats but in some small shops or remote areas it is still common to have the traditional toilet.

While the toilets can be found in most places and have toilet paper in them, there are almost never any hand towels or hand paper to dry your hands on after washing them. In Japan it is customary to carry your own small hand towel to use for drying your hands after visiting public restrooms.

Onsen rules

Things to know beforehand

Going to a Japanese onsen (hot spring) or a public bath house is a great experience. The basic things to know beforehand are that wearing swimwear in the bath is not allowed and most places will not accept customers with tattoos, or they need to be at least covered. Otherwise the basic rule is that you ensure you shower and thoroughly wash yourself before entering the water and clean up after yourself for the next person. A more detailed guidance for entering a public bath can be read below.

Bathing Etiquette

When entering the onsen or bath house, take off your shoes and leave them at the entrance or in a locked shoebox. After paying the entrance fee, find the changing rooms that are usually designated by kanji signs for men (男) and women (女).

In the changing rooms choose a locker or a basket to put your clothes into. Remove all your clothes and lock your locker (it might need some money to work), you’re now ready to enter the onsen. The only thing to take with you there is a small towel and a locker key. If you have your own washing products those as well, but most places offer shampoo, conditioner, and body soap.

Washing happens on a stool in front of a mirror with a small hand shower and a wash bowl. Sit on the stool and thoroughly wash your body and if you want, also your hair. After washing, rinse yourself and clean up after yourself.

You can now enter the bath but remember to keep your hair out of the water and if you have a towel with you, place it to the side of the bath or on top of your head (as long as it’s out of the water). Before leaving the bath area, ensure you wipe away excess water to avoid creating a mess in the changing room.