Japan is rapidly becoming the number one place to visit when traveling overseas, and one of the reasons is because you don’t HAVE to learn the language before you visit. However, make sure you at least know how to ask “where is the bathroom” in Japanese.
This is something that could come in very handy at any point in time!
Actually, there are a handful of super useful Japanese phrases that you will be able to use on a daily basis while walking around the streets of Tokyo or anywhere else in the country.
But for today, we will just focus on this one essential phrase so that you can learn it, memorize it, and then summon it to serve you whenever the need arises.
How To Ask Where The Bathroom Is In Japanese
There are several different ways to ask for the restroom’s location in Japanese, so I figured that it would be a good idea to go over each one of them so that you will be well-prepared.
The first way to ask uses the word お手洗い o-tearai which is the polite Japanese word for “restroom” and can be used in the following phrase.
- お手洗いはどこですか？ (o-tearai wa doko desu ka?)
Where is the restroom?
This phrase uses a very common pattern for asking where things are located. If you need to ask where something else it, such as the post office, all you need to do is use the new word in place of お手洗い in the sentence.
All that being said, there is actually a second pattern that is often used to ask where something it at, and I think it’s a good idea to learn it now as an alternative way to ask.
- お手洗いはどこにありますか。 (o-tearai wa doko ni arimasu ka?)
Where is the restroom?
As you can see from the two above examples, the difference is that one uses です and the other uses にあります in the same part of the sentence.
It doesn’t really make a difference which one you use, so feel free to switch between either of them.
The Japanese Word For Toilet
As it turns out, the Japanese often use the word トイレ (toire) in Japanese for “toilet” and if your ears were able to pick up on the similarities in how these two words sound, you may have figured out that トイレ is a loan word taken directly from English.
This is a more casual word that you can use instead of お手洗い for when you are hanging out with friends, or when you are in a situation that doesn’t really require you to speak formally.
So one option that you have available to you is to use the two phrases I provided above, and simply replace お手洗い with this new word トイレ and it will work out just fine.
But I wanted to give you some alternative phrases so that you can express yourself in a couple of different ways.
The first one is when you want to tell someone that you “have to go to the bathroom” which of course lets them know that you’re kind of hurting and need to get there quickly.
- すみません、トイレに行きたいんですが… (sumimasen, toire ni ikitai n desu ga…)
Excuse me, I need to go to the toilet…
The first word in this sentence means “excuse me” in Japanese and is a very common one that you will hear often.
You already know what トイレ means, so lets move on to 行きたい which means “I want to go to” and is the natural way to tell other people that you need to use the restroom.
The んですが at the end is really only added for politeness.
Speaking of being polite, what if you’re at someone’s house and you want to make a good impression by speaking very politely? There are a couple of ways to do so when you have to relieve yourself.
Just keep in mind that these phrases tend to get longer the more formal they become.
- トイレを使ってもいいでしょうか？ (toire o tsukatte mo ii deshō ka?)
May I use the toilet?
The key part of this question is 使ってもいい which means “may I use” in Japanese and is a pretty common pattern that gets used when seeking permission to do something.
The ending でしょうか is a politer version of ですか which you saw earlier.
Also something to keep in mind is that the word 借りる (kariru) which means “to borrow” in Japanese is commonly used in polite situations when asking to use another person’s lavatory.
- お手洗いをお借りしても宜しいでしょうか？ (o-tearai o o-kari shitemo yoroshii deshō ka?)
May I please use the washroom?
Again we can see how much longer the phrase gets. This one has the highest level of politeness out of all the ones you’ve seen so far, and would be used when in a person’s house rather than when out in public.
The only new word in it is 宜しい which means the same thing as いい for “ok” in Japanese, but falls under the category of respectful language. It is often used when speaking to someone above you in status.
How To Tell Between Men’s & Women’s
If you’re out in public, then you will probably be directed to the bathrooms that everyone uses.
But then you’ll have to know which one is for men and which one is for women! That is something that you definitely don’t want to get wrong while traveling in a foreign country.
The fortunate thing is that due to the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics, Japan is doing a major redesign on most of their signs to include both Japanese and English!
But just in case you’re in a place that hasn’t been updated to bi-lingual, here’s what you will need to know.
The symbol 男 means “men” in Japanese and is pronounced otoko
The symbol 女 means “women” in Japanese and is pronounced onna.
I would recommend that you write them down in your note pad or phone somewhere that you can pull out and reference when you are in that situation.
On the other hand, you could also just wait and see which one a local uses, and then follow suit. Hopefully there’s a lot of people around if you find yourself needing to use this last resort tactic.
The Two Types Of Toilets In Japan
I think that it’s worth mentioned the two primary types of toilets in Japan so that you are aware of what you are getting yourself into.
The first type is perhaps what you would expect out of the country that develops robots and life-sized mecchas.
That is to say, it has a lot of gadgets!
| Image credit: Peter Van den Bossche |
Some of the buttons do things like warm the seats so that your tush never has to suffer the hell that is known as a cold toilet seat in the middle of winter.
Other buttons will rinse your butt nice and clean, play music so that you can relax while you unload, and many of them also have a toilet flush sound generator, so that you can hide the sounds that you’re making from the rest of the world.
In other words, you will find the most technologically advanced toilets in the world available for your personal use when you have to do a Number One while in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Some of these toilets will even start talking to you. That’s right, the AI is taking over!
That’s the good news. Now lets move on to the bad news.
Here is the second type of toilet that you may find yourself using.
| Image credit: Chris 73 |
That’s right, it’s a squatting toilet!
You probably know that this style of toilet is the most common in Asia. You see it a lot more in the other ones beside Japan, such as China, Taiwan, and such.
But of course there are still some of them in Japan, so I hope that you have been practicing your squats.
I will warn you now, doing a Number Two while squatting is not as easy as you may initially think. You really start to question some of your life choices after about a minute when your thighs begin to burn.
If I can leave you with some good news, it would be that just like how Japan is updating their signs to include English on them, they are also updating a lot of these toilets to match the western style that we saw in the first picture.
Japan is doing a lot of work to make itself easier on travelers, and the bathrooms are one of those areas that are in the spotlight.
Did You Notice The Slippers?
By the way, did you know that there are bathroom slippers that you are supposed to wear while utilizing the bathroom in Japan?
You see it a lot in people’s homes, schools, traditional restaurants, and so on.
The basic idea is to remove your indoor slippers and then use the bathroom ones so that you can keep those particular germs and such in the bathroom, instead of spreading them all around the house.
So if you see some of them in your friends home, be sure to put them to good use!
Have you used a Japanese toilet before? What do you think about the heated seats?
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: