Toi­let civil­i­sa­tion

Any­one who trav­els knows that a good pub­lic toi­let is a re­flec­tion of a coun­try’s cul­ture.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Travel - Travel Gab Leesan star2­travel@thes­

WHEN you’re trav­el­ling, us­ing the pub­lic toi­let is in­evitable. Al­though not all toi­lets are de­plorable, there are some which are truly remarkable, such as the pub­lic toi­lets in Sin­ga­pore, New Zealand and Al­maty (in Kaza­khstan).

I be­lieve that the quality of a pub­lic toi­let is equal to the liv­ing stan­dards of a coun­try. The toi­lets of­fer some in­sight as to how “re­fined” the lo­cals are.


Hav­ing trav­elled far and wide, I am of the opin­ion that Ja­pa­nese pub­lic toi­lets are the best.

When­ever I take a tour group to Ja­pan, I will share the unique phi­los­o­phy of the Ja­pa­nese toireto. Ja­pa­nese toi­lets are worth a visit and to be ad­mired. Once in Hokkaido, a tourist said to me, “The Ja­pa­nese are so in­cred­i­ble, even the pub­lic toi­lets in a moun­tain­ous area are so well main­tained, no foul smell and well equipped with toi­let pa­per.”

The eti­quette of the Ja­pa­nese peo­ple is the main rea­son for this clean­li­ness, while the fact that the toi­lets don’t smell bad per­haps has some­thing to do with their diet.

When trav­el­ling in Ja­pan, tourists do not have to worry about search­ing high and low for pub­lic toi­lets. Clean pub­lic toi­lets are avail­able in the 50,000 or so 24-hour con­ve­nience stores all over the coun­try. Fast food chains also have pretty clean toi­lets.

Even pub­lic trans­porta­tion such as the JR Shinkansen and Tokyo Air­port Limou­sine Bus have clean toi­lets for pas­sen­gers.

Their toi­lets also have cool fea­tures like au­to­matic bidet and seat warmer. Some even come with a sound­clip of a flush­ing toi­let, for those who are a lit­tle shy to go in pub­lic.

The Ja­pa­nese folks’ im­pres­sive toi­let eti­quette is an ex­pres­sion of their good at­ti­tude. Af­ter us­ing the toi­let, they will flush and clean up af­ter them­selves for the peo­ple who will use it next. In fact, a Ja­pa­nese man will only uri­nate in the uri­nal while the bowl is usu­ally re­served for “num­ber two”.


Al­though pub­lic toi­lets in China have seen much im­prove­ment over the years, the at­ti­tude of its peo­ple needs to change. Among the phrases used in ed­u­cat­ing toi­let prac­tices in China is, “one small step for­ward is a big step in civil­i­sa­tion”.

There, the toi­let is known as the “hy­giene room” but it is not hy­gienic at all. Some toi­lets re­ally stink. I have a feel­ing the Chi­nese do not al­ways flush the toi­let or even close the door. No mat­ter how so­phis­ti­cated the hard­ware is, the poor civic-mind­ed­ness of the peo­ple will ren­der it use­less.

On a trip to Ti­bet on the Qingzang Rail­way, I found that the cabin toi­lets were ab­so­lutely dis­gust­ing and prob­a­bly the rea­son for so many trav­ellers’ toi­let night­mares.


Pub­lic toi­let eti­quette in Tai­wan is in need of a revo­lu­tion, es­pe­cially when it comes to the us­age of toi­let pa­per. The pa­per is not flushed down the toi­let but thrown away in a bin as the peo­ple be­lieve that flush­ing toi­let pa­per will cause block­age in the sewer sys­tem. I find this extremely un­san­i­tary and un­sightly.

While Tai­wan pub­lic toi­lets are gen­er­ally clean, they can be quite smelly and I think it is re­lated to the peo­ple’s diet.

Part of Africa

On the other hand, I was quite sur­prised at the clean­li­ness and san­i­ta­tion of pub­lic toi­lets in Tanzania, Kenya, Zim­babwe and Mau­ri­tius. They are usu­ally found at shops that cater mainly to tourists.

You need to pay to use them but they are well main­tained so it’s fine.


Un­for­tu­nately, Malaysia is a far cry from Ja­pan or even Africa. While Malaysia is vis­ited by mil­lions of tourists an­nu­ally, our pub­lic toi­lets leave much to be de­sired.

Even toi­lets at the petrol sta­tion are hor­ri­ble, atl­hough those at R&R stops along the high­way in Penin­su­lar Malaysia are cred­i­ble.

Toi­lets at cof­feeshops are usu­ally quite bad – it seems like shop own­ers do not have an aware­ness on hy­giene and the sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to the pub­lic.

What is the right counter mea­sure, then? Presently, we don’t seem to be pro­gress­ing any­where and there are signs of us mov­ing back­wards when it comes to our toi­let et­ti­quette.

The toi­lets at Pu­tra World Trade Cen­tre, for ex­am­ple, is of­ten the topic of com­plaints among for­eign guests who are in the coun­try for exhibitions or con­fer­ences.

Some tourists have even com­mented on­line that if you’re ever in need of a toi­let in Malaysia, be sure to go to the ones at higher-end shop­ping malls.

Travel takes up a large por­tion of our life. From our trav­els, we may come across the level of civil­i­sa­tion and cul­ture of the coun­tries that we visit, and the pub­lic toi­let is one of the key in­di­ca­tors.

On your next trip, why not try to do an eval­u­a­tion?

Leesan, the founder of Ap­ple Va­ca­tions, has trav­elled to 119 coun­tries, six con­ti­nents and en­joys shar­ing his travel sto­ries and in­sights. He has also au­thored two books.

Clean and com­fort­able pub­lic toi­lets are easy to find in Ja­pan.

Can’t go if some­one is in the next stall? Just play some flush­ing sounds!

The Ja­pa­nese take their toi­let roll hold­ers very se­ri­ously.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.