There are many strange and unique things to discover when you come to Japan. Buying that first canned coffee from a vending machine. Exploring the amazing products for sale at a convenience store. Walking behind the convenience store and finding a 300-year-old Buddhist temple. And also having to use one of those Japanese-style seatless squatting toilets for the first time, possibly while inside a moving train, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life.
Happily, the day is coming when we can say goodbye to Japanese squat toilets, as they’re being phased out in many areas of life in Japan in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The trend has been long in coming: since 1963, Japanese squat toilets have gone from 85% of the Japanese toilet market to less than 1%, as Japanese embrace the convenience of a toilet you sit on rather than squat precariously over. Japanese squat toilets are especially difficult for the elderly to use, too, which has helped drive the change. So starting with Tokyo’s subway stations and sightseeing spots, expect to see a lot fewer Japanese squat toilets the next time you visit Japan.
Toilets aren’t the only area of life that’s getting more Westernized. More and more, Japanese are finding that Western beds are a better way to sleep than Japanese futons, the heavy sleeping pads that must be folded up every morning and hung up to dry every few days, something that can be a real chore for someone over the age of 65. Since 1970, the adoption of Western beds in Japan has climbed from 23% up to 60%, with many high-quality beds imported from other countries and manufactured inside Japan. While I like sleeping in traditional futons occasionally when staying at a ryokan inn for example, it’s true that they can be difficult to sleep in, and when you wake you’re usually naked, your yukata having come off your body in the night.
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