The 7 Weirdest Things about Taiwanese Toilets

Between Christmas and New Years, my fiance and I took a trip to Taiwan (tickets were cheap and we love travelling) to visit friends and explore Taiwan. We both learned lots about Taiwanese culture from friends and strangers, and overall had a wonderful experience.

This is the first of many posts about what I learned in Taiwan.

THE SEVEN WEIRDEST THINGS ABOUT TAIWANESE TOILETS

1. Toilet paper does not get flushed down the toilet. According to one of my Taiwanese friends, because of low water pressure and aims to protect the environment, you are never supposed to flush your used toilet paper down the toilet.

Instead it goes in the large, usually grey, plastic garbage bin beside the toilet.

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Which is all well and good, you know, if they had signs. They don’t. And when my friend told me this, I was mortified, because for the first two days, I had been flushing toilet paper down the toilet, just like the irresponsible foreigner that I am.

Oops.

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The more I thought about this Taiwanese way of the toilet (for those of you who don’t know, my fiancé is huge on Japanese toilets – his dream is to spread Japanese toilets to every home in America and improve sanitation in Third World counties), the more I realized how good it was. Because paper is never flushed, they can get away with no only doing the “Japanese style” of two types of flushes, a big and a small one (I call it the “Japanese style” because the first – and only – time I’ve seen this is in Japan), but they can also cut down on wasted water.

Bottom line: Taiwanese toilets are incredibly efficient.

IMG_6372(We’re not going to judge me for the amount of pictures of toilet’s I took, ok?)

2. People do not throw away their trash in the allotted toilet paper bin next to the toilet. This might not sound so impressive, but let me explain. Taiwan, like Japan, has a lack of public trash cans. This stems from the fact that Taiwan (and Japan) have a “Pay as you go” garbage system, where you buy special, expensive bags at the store, put your trash in them, and then leave them outside (or bring them to a nearby lot) to be disposed of, free of charge.

Well, not entirely free. You did pay for the bag, remember? That’s how the service is run. You are charged by the number of bags you fill, and you pay by buying each bag. There-in lies the problem with public trash cans in Japan and Taiwan – people then want to dump their trash in these public trash cans instead of bringing it home and paying for it.

And it causes me a never-ending stream of frustration every time I buy a cup of coffee in Japan and spend the rest of the day carrying the empty cup around because I can’t find a place to throw it away (and am morally opposed to littering. Foreigners in Japan already get a bad enough reputation).

However, surprisingly enough, the five days I stayed in Taiwan (and I don’t want to calculate how many times I went to the restroom) I never saw anyone dump their trash in the toilet paper garbage bin. I never saw anything but toilet paper in there.

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And as a result, when I wanted to dump a bag containing Stinky Tofu (A Taiwanese specialty that every foreigner ought to try, but I have yet to find anyone, Taiwanese or not, who actually likes it) I didn’t dump it in the bathroom. I carried its’ Stinky self around all night, like a good little foreigner.

Be proud of me.

3. The train station bathrooms had an electronic sign that showed which toilets were occupied, so you could estimate your waiting time. I’m not joking.

The locks had small magnets and sensors (I think) that connected them to a mainframe. When you locked your stall, the corresponding light outside the bathroom turned red. When you unlocked it, the light turned green. Theoretically, you could sit inside your stall, throwing the lock back and forth, just to mess with people standing in line.

But that would just be mean.

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The sign had four categories, red for occupied, green for available, yellow for broken, and the ominous blue for “Investigation report” which (as I learned) can be anything from a leaking valve to a horrible dump. The sign also showed how many “Western” and “Asian” styled toilets were available (see the explanation later in the post).

I really liked these signs.

My fiancé, on the other hand, loved them. His new dream is to bring these Taiwanese bathroom signs to Japan. I support his dream whole-heartily.

4. Most of the time, you find toilet “tissues” instead of toilet paper. Does that make sense? The place we were staying at had a mix between tissues (like the kind you use when you have a runny nose) and napkins (like the type served at cheap fast-food restaurants).

On the plus side, it was convenient, easy to approximate how many you needed, and could be accomplished with only one hand (if you were trying to read a magazine).

On the minus side… it was weird. Like really weird. We only use tissues in my apartment when I forget to buy toilet paper out grocery shopping. It took a little getting used to.

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Look to the right of the toilet, it is a tissue dispenser.

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I would say about half of the public toilets in Taiwan use tissues instead of toilet paper.

5. The toilet paper/tissue dispenser is often outside the bathroom. And I don’t just mean outside the stall, I mean sometimes it was completely outside the restroom itself. Like you had to grab a handful before you even entered the bathroom.

Which, if you’re a tourist, you sometimes forget to do.

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After the first time, I didn’t forget. It actually brought back fun memories of living in Ghana, checking the stall for toilet paper as soon as you enter, before you sit down. And I started carrying around a pack of tissue paper in my purse, just in case.

But I guess this is all enacted to save the environment?

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble gauging the amount of toilet paper I’m going to need. This is the only “Weird Thing about Taiwanese Toilets” that I wasn’t such a fan of.

6. They had both “Western” and “Asian” styled toilets. Per usual, I liked the Western toilets. I like being able to sit down.

Taiwan reminded me of Japan in a lot of ways (probably due to the fact it used to be a colony and still retains close proximity to the island), but also incorporated a greater number of Western traits than Japan.

Toilets weren’t one of them.

My friend swore to me that the “Asian” style toilets were gradually being phased out. In comparison to Japan, I guess there were less of them, percentage-wise, and were rarely found in public, wealthy, or heavily-populated areas.

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For the five days we were there, I used the “Asian” styled toilets twice. Lucky me. And, of course, I took pictures of both.

7. They had adorable signs. Forget the classic ‘pink triangle + head’ for women and ‘upside-down blue triangle + head’ for men, Taiwanese bathroom signs were adorable. And always unique.

My favorite signs had to be:

A. At “Sogo,” a Japanese department store that went bankrupt in Japan, but is wildly popular in Taiwan. As is the way of the world. I loved these signs because the little blue man was wearing a tie. I love ties.

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B. At a giant temple. I loved this one because not only was the little blue man wearing a tie, but he was also wearing a hat and had an umbrella. The pink woman looked like something out of a period drama. I had to wonder where they got the sign, and how old it was.
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Bottom line (no pun intended): Taiwanese toilets were a lot like Japan in a lot of ways, except even more environmentally friendly (if that is possible).

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

11 Comments on The 7 Weirdest Things about Taiwanese Toilets

  1. If you ever come to Romania, remember to throw your used toilet paper in the bin in a public restroom. don’t worry, the bin has a plastic trash bag on top, and are emptied fairly often. I only went to the restrooms in the malls which are cleaner than at some mcdonalds/ kfc’s. To use the restroom at kfc you need to buy something, and they’re locked. The receipt comes with a pin code that unlocks the door, haha. You might have to pay for a real public toilet.. the only one i know of is downtown, at the entrance in a subway station – but you dont have to pay for the subway trip unless you need to go by it.
    Some romanians, me included, developed the habit of throwing used toilet paper in a bin, even at home… well not my flatmate… but usually the toilets can handle it if you don’t use the whole toilet paper roll, or half of it at once :P
    [and wow, i liked many blog entries of yours today, haha]

  2. I’ve been in Taiwan for over five years, and I totally thought that the bathroom occupancy/wait time indicators were a transplant from Japan, just because it seems like something the Japanese would come up with; and, as Taiwan is as Japanophile a place as can be, it just seemed right. I’m quite surprised that those electronic bathroom occupancy indicators are entirely a Taiwanese innovation!

    • I know! The woman who was showing us around Taiwan also thought they were a Japanese invention. Since then, I’ve seen it once or twice at rest stops in Japan – but nowhere near as much as I did in Taiwan.
      I think it’s a really neat invention

  3. It’s not just Taiwan that won’t let you flush toilet paper. My friend studied in Greece and said you can’t do it there because of the old pipes. Based on the mixture of students Glasgow gets, they have signs taped to the bathroom stalls that say it’s ok to flush it. I think that habit with the trash in the bin carries over.

    Those Asian toilets look terrifying, by the way. I’d be totally afraid of falling in. I love the signs, though. Oh well, back to stalking your blog and reading old posts.

    • Really? Wow, that’s so interesting. I had never seen that before (even in Ghana), so I was really surprised when I got to Taiwan. I think America should adopt that strategy too (since it saves lots of water, and then the water can be used straight as fertilizer, ect).
      I’m totally going to bug my friend in Glasgow to send me pictures of their toilet (is that creepy?)

    • Also, thanks for stalking my blog :)

      • The only problem I could see was the smell (complained about by my friend in Greece) and your mention of the trash. And it’s totally not creepy, I totally need to take pictures of the wall-spanning conversations in one of the library stalls including a huge down arrow for the Ministry of Magic. You just need to find one that has the sign; I think they take them down to make way for the student union events mid year. And no problem, it’s how I totally procrastinate on studying for my finals.

        • Hahaha yeah. I didn’t have a problem with the smell (because, sadly, I’ve seen MUCH worse), but Ryosuke had difficulties with it. I think it just depends on the person.

          I see your point though, in the summer that has got to be brutal!

  4. I found this site very usefull and I just wanna thanks for that. I hope you keep up the good work!

  5. Happy New Year! LOL nice write up on the Taiwanese’s toilets. Did not realize that they had some many types. I only seen a few of them only. =)

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