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Japan’s new symbols for high-tech toilets get official recognition

Screenshot from Kyodo News
Screenshot from Kyodo News

For first-time travelers to Japan, sitting on one of its high-tech toilets can be a daunting experience. Press the wrong button and you might receive a powerful jet of water where the sun don’t tend to shine, or possibly a rush of hot air about your nether regions that you really weren’t expecting.

Yes, pressing a button on a Japanese toilet without full knowledge of its function can be a little nerve-wracking at first, especially with all those mysterious noises coming from the bowl as the machinery springs to life. Indeed, if you’re fresh off the plane, the words “brace, brace, brace” could well pop into your head as you tentatively push a button and wait to learn how your undercarriage will be dealt with by Japanese technology for the very first time in your life.

It doesn’t help that different companies use different symbols on their toilets. So just when you think you’ve worked out what each one does, another visit to a different bathroom presents you with the same sweat-inducing challenge all over again.

But, thankfully, this is all set to change.

Toilet makers in Japan last year teamed up to flush away tourists’ confusion by helpfully unifying the symbols on their johns. And we’re delighted to report that those symbols have now been officially recognized by the International Organization for Standardization, the Japan Times confirmed this week.

Representatives from the nine member companies of the Japan Sanitary Equipment Industry Association — Toto, Toshiba, and Panasonic among them — had put forward eight new symbols representing various functions on a computerized toilet. With sales of the high-tech contraptions increasing in markets around the world, it’s hoped the symbols will now become a global standard.

They include opening and closing the lid, raising and lowering the seat, a big flush for more robust deposits, a small flush for liquid deliveries, washing and drying various parts of the body, and, in case you find you don’t know what the hell you’re doing and it all starts to get a bit out of control, a very helpful stop button.

The standardized signs have already started to appear on new toilets, as well as on separate units that fit onto existing toilets. The  unified set of symbols also means guidebooks on Japan will be more likely to publish them, giving visiting tourists the lowdown on how to go through the motions in a calm and relaxed manner. Which is exactly how it should be.

Updated on February 27: Added news of official recognition.

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