Japan Simplifies Toilet Control Icons

Category: Human Interest


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. manufacturer / ˌmæn yəˈfæk tʃər ər / (n) – a person or a company that makes a product

    The basket manufacturer said that they can deliver the items tomorrow.

  2. standardize / ˈstæn dərˌdaɪz / (v) – to make something agree to a set of rules so that it is similar to others of its kind

    We should standardize our exams so that all students can be graded fairly

  3. inconvenient / ˌɪn kənˈvin yənt / (adj) – causing trouble or annoyance

    It is very inconvenient to travel without an umbrella during the rainy season.

  4. address / əˈdrɛs / (v) – to deal with a problem or situation

    She addressed the problem by talking to the people involved.

  5. refurbish / riˈfɜr bɪʃ / (v) – to make something better by repairing or changing it

    The building became more colorful after it was refurbished.


Read the text below.

Japanese toilet manufacturers have agreed to standardize toilet symbols for tourists.

Japan’s spray seats, also known as washlets, have been around since the 1980s. These washlets are technologically advanced and multifunctional. For instance, some toilets have water heaters, seat warmers, air fresheners, and an automatic cleaning function. Some toilets can even play background music.

There is no standard set of icons for washlet control panels, which has caused confusion among many tourists.  According to a 2014 survey, 25% of 600 foreign tourists reported that they found it difficult to understand the toilet control icons. Some have also reported that pushing the wrong button put them in very inconvenient situations.

To address this problem, the Japan Sanitary Equipment Industry Association agreed to standardize the toilet control icons. Among the companies that supported this cause are industry giants Panasonic, Toshiba, and Toto.

The association focused on standardizing the eight most common washlet functions among different brands. These are “raise the lid,” “raise the seat,” “big flush,” “small flush,” “rear bidet,” /biˈdeɪ/ [bee-DEY] “front bidet”, “dry,” and “stop.”

Madoka Kitamura, head of the Japan Sanitary Equipment Industry Association and president of Toto Limited, hopes that the new toilets will be more comfortable for tourists and more appealing to the international community.

Toilets with the standard symbols will be available starting April 2017. In line with this, public toilets will be refurbished to prepare for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. By making toilets more tourist-friendly for these events, the association hopes to increase the demand for spray seats abroad.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you think that the standardized toilet control symbols will make spray seats more popular overseas? Why or why not?
• In your opinion, what other bathroom features should be added to public toilets? Why?

Discussion B

• Why is the satisfaction of tourists important?
• What other public facilities should be improved for tourists? Why?