I decided to write about toilets because of this picture I found in the ladies' room at a local rest stop:
When I saw this, I laughed...hard. Firstly, why, in Japan, does anyone need a reminder of how to use a western-style toilet? Are there really people who have used only squat toilets their whole life and stumble upon this as their first toilet? And can you imagine what sort of incident might have happened to encourage this place to put up the sign in the first place? My imagination tells me that some little old obaachan (grandmother/elderly woman) climbed up onto this western-styled toilet seat, found it difficult to balance, and slipped. Maybe she fell in, or maybe she got stuck somewhere, but in the end the station decided to post signs on correct toilet usage.
I've traveled to many countries around the world and toilets are one thing that can pose major surprises. When I was in high school I was shocked to encounter my first squat toilet in Italy. Then, I was shocked to have to pay to use a bathroom in France. A few years later I was in Mexico and had my first encounter with a true hole in the ground. Actually, it was an elevated platform (with walls and a ceiling of course) with a hole in the bottom for everything just to fall out to the ground below which could be seen from certain angles. In Guatemala and Thailand, there were often bathrooms where you had to pour your own water as a flush mechanism.
Then I came to Japan where the most modern toilets can do just about anything you can imagine. They come with a variety of spray settings with adjustable pressure and temperature. They can play music for you, blow you dry, and so on. However, squat toilets are prevalent - even the nicest hotel I've ever stayed at had squat toilets. Sometimes there are dozens of toilets and just one western-style sit toilet. The more rural you get, the more likely you'll only have squat toilets as an option. I suppose it's possible for someone to go decades using only squat toilets, but you'd have to be very rural and never travel.
I get spoiled traveling in Japan sometimes. While traveling through Guatemala and Mexico, I got in the habit of using a good bathroom whenever it was available precisely because good bathrooms were far and few between. And on top of that, my standards of a "good bathroom" declined significantly. Since it was an unpredictable challenge, sometimes just finding a bathroom was rough.
With all of my weird toilet encounters, a few things come to mind as advice for travelers. The first is to take advantage of good bathrooms when you find them. The second, have soap or sanitizer for your hands. In Japan, where they are so quick to panic over illness, public bathrooms almost never have soap. And finally, the most important advice, is to always carry extra toilet paper.