Chinese, English, and Japanese toilet instructions

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Sol Jung, a former Penn undergrad, took this photograph more than a decade ago, but I'm only now getting around to posting on it.

There's quite a story behind the photograph and why it took me so long to write this blog post about it.  I will explain below.

On 8/11/21, I wrote to Sol:

In going through some old e-mail drafts, I came upon the note from you that I have copied below.  It is dated 9/28/10.  I think that you must have sent it to me when you were taking "Language, Script, and Society in China".

Do you think it's possible you could somehow dig up the photo to which the note refers?

Here's Sol's note of 9/28/10:

This is a photograph that I took of a sign I found in a ladies' restroom at a fashion outlet in Gotemba, Japan (the Kanto Plains). It is a trilingual sign, but perhaps the first one I have ever seen where the foreign text is in a more prominent font and layout than the Japanese text. I think that this is an interesting artifact that conveys Japan's view of Chinese people as both cultures intersect through increased tourism efforts on the part of the Japanese government (I believe that from Summer 2010, Japan is allowing lower income Chinese to travel to Japan).

And here is Sol's note of 8/13/21:

I found the photo that I sent to you over a decade (!) ago, and I have attached it to this email. Unfortunately, the photo resolution is low, since it was taken on a first generation iPad, but thankfully it is easy to read the Chinese text. I have transcribed the Japanese and English text, because they are more difficult to read:

1) If the toilet lid is down, raise it before using the toilet.

2) To use the toilet, sit facing the door as shown in the diagram

3) Use the paper provided, and discard in the toilet bowl when you have finished.

4) Finally, press the lever down to flush the toilet.
If there is no flush lever, flush the toilet by holding your hand up to the sensor.

5) Do not try to flush any items other than the paper provided.
Sanitary items, paper napkins, etc., should be placed in the waste bin provided in each cubicle.

Here is my note to Sol written this morning (8/14/21):

It's amazing that you found that old photograph that you took more than ten years ago!  It is really quite an exceptional specimen.  I knew there must have been a good reason for me to keep my draft all those years, but because of the smallness and blurriness of the English and Japanese type, I wasn't able to use it back then.  You have most kindly solved my problem now because you typed out the English and the Japanese.  That is most thoughtful of you.

And now for the Chinese parts of the instructions:

Cèsuǒ de yòngfǎ
How to use the toilet

Rú biànqì gài gài zhù shí, qǐng dǎkāi shǐyòng.
If the toilet lid is closed, please open it for use.

Qǐng rú tú suǒ shì, miàn mén ér zuò shǐyòng.
To use {the toilet], please sit facing the door as shown in the picture.

Qǐng shǐyòng suǒ bèiyòng zhǐ.
Shǐyòng hòu de zhǐ qǐng diūqì zài biànqì zhōng.
Please use the paper that has been provided.
Please discard the used paper in the toilet.

Zuìhòu, qǐng àn xià chōngxǐ bǐng, fàngshuǐ chōngxǐ.
Méiyǒu chōngxǐ bǐng de biànqì, qǐng yòng shǒu zhē zhù chuángǎnqì, fàngshuǐ chōngxǐ.
Finally, please press down on the flush handle to release the water for flushing.
If the toilet does not have a flush handle, please cover the sensor with your hand to release the water for flushing.

Suǒ bèiyòng zhǐ yǐwài wùpǐn, qǐng bùyào fàngshuǐ chōngxǐ.
Nǚxìng shēnglǐ yòngpǐn jí niàobù děng, qǐng diūqì zài cèsuǒ nèi de lājī xiāng zhōng.
Do not flush any other objects than the paper provided.
Please discard female sanitary products, diapers, etc. in the trash can inside the toilet.

Remarkably explicit and clear!

Selected readings

[Thanks to Pablo Barrera]


  1. Duncan said,

    August 15, 2021 @ 2:21 am

    Regarding the image, I had no trouble reading the English here. I don't read Japanese (or Chinese), but the Japanese characters look sharp enough I'd assume they'd be readable, even if one might need to infer a bit from context for a few of them.

    Of course that's possibly due to the fact that I'm reading on a 75-inch/190 cm 4K/UHD TV and zoomed in the image to roughly 2.5x. I was going to say that reading it on a CRT may have been more difficult and chalk it up to[1] that, but then realized we're talking 2010 not 20th century so that doesn't make much sense.

    In any case, agreed with the last sentence, "Remarkably explicit and clear" indeed, for the English and diagrams anyway, both image-wise and meaning-wise.

    [1] Chalk it up to: Now I'm off to look up the origin of /that/! =:^)

  2. Steve Jones said,

    August 15, 2021 @ 4:37 am

    (Please excuse reposting)
    It’s still an alien contraption to rural dwellers in China: see the felicitous pun
    under “The domestic routine”, linking to

  3. David Marjanović said,

    August 15, 2021 @ 4:47 am

    the Japanese characters look sharp enough I'd assume they'd be readable

    The big characters are Chinese. They're legible.

    The Japanese is small enough that the resolution is not sufficient. Some of the characters are just black blobs, and when I zoom in, they just become bigger black blobs because the picture is too blurry.

  4. Chas Belov said,

    August 15, 2021 @ 11:54 pm

    I wouldn't ever act on it, but most such signs about flushing only the toilet paper never clarify that the body waste also goes in the toilet.

    That said, since these instructions specifically mention raising the lid and sitting, it would be difficult to misdirect one's body waste.

  5. Terry K. said,

    August 18, 2021 @ 11:31 am

    I found the English readable, but that's from recognizing the whole words, and doing so in the context of the sentence. Not all the characters are clear. I don't know if it's similar for the Kana in the Japanese, but surely it's a different sort of task trying to read the unclear kanji.

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 12:55 pm

    The gentleman who is seen raising the lid in fig.~1 and who is then seen sitting (presumably facing the door as instructed) in fig.~2 appears to be sitting with his trousers still in place. I wonder whether a vital part of the instructions has inadvertently been omitted …

  7. Terry K. said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 3:10 pm

    @Philip Taylor
    Person, not gentleman. It's noted that the sign was found in a ladies' restroom.

  8. Philip Taylor said,

    August 23, 2021 @ 3:17 pm

    Fascinating — I had never even considered that possibility. The figure is so stereotypically male that I did not consider for one second that it might be female. But he (or she) still forgot to take his/her trousers down !

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