07/24/2014 03:02 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2014

Japan's Dirty Secret: Pit Toilets

Despite Japan's reputation for high tech toilets and washlets, and the announcement of a Toilenniale (toilet-themed art festival) to open in Oita prefecture in 2015, a surprising number of households in Japan still have the old-style Japanese "pit toilets." These toilets have a porcelain bowl, but no running water to flush in or out. You just squat over the hole and drop your goods into a cement pit waiting at the bottom. It's basically an in-house outhouse.

Almost all the houses on Japanese islands in the Seto Inland Sea, most dwellings in Japan's countryside, and even older houses in Japan's biggest cities, are equipped with such toilets.

As reported recently on Japan's RocketNews24's English site, these toilets are very much a part of the Japanese culture. Even some public schools are known to have pit toilets. It's no wonder so many Japanese elementary school students believe a ghost named Hanako-san lives in the third floor toilet stall! Pretty scary stuff.

And pit toilets are surely the reason for Ususama Myou-o, the guardian deity of the toilet who purifies the unclean.

In Japan, you can upgrade the look of these pit toilets by buying plastic or porcelain western style toilets that fit over the hole.


Photo: Amy Chavez/RocketNews24

Some people have what's called jokaso, which is a modified pit toilet. It works like a camping toilet, where there's a bit of water to help flush down the goods, after which the hole is covered back up with a spring-loaded plastic cover.

Once a month, a truck comes around to empty out the pits into large trucks equipped with vacuum hoses. The truck then carries the stuff to a cesspool.


Photo: Amy Chavez/RocketNews24

Such a method of disposing human waste is environmentally friendly, of course. And it doesn't look like the pit toilets are going to be replaced anytime soon. As a matter of fact, when I started doing research on the toilets, and snooping around taking photos, people asked me what I was doing. When I told them I was writing an article about kumitori toire (as they call them), most people looked surprised and said, "You mean they don't have these toilets in the U.S.?"

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