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In with new symbols, out with confusion. 

January 19, 2017

The Japan Sanitary Equipment Industry Association has agreed to standardize the array of confusing symbols that appear on Japanese toilets and baffle tourists.

“Until now, manufacturers have adopted pictograms that seem to be optimal,” the association said in a press release, “but when foreign tourists use public toilets such as at hotels and sightseeing facilities, it is difficult to understand the operation buttons.”

Japanese toilets have many features not available on the typical western toilet, including buttons to trigger the bidet or warm air drying functions.

The new standardized Japanese toilet will have eight buttons—to close and open the lid, close and open the seat, large flush, small flush, rear spray, bidet, drying, and stop.

One of the top complaints from visitors to Japan was that the toilets were too confusing. In fact, according to a 2014 survey, 25 percent of tourists responded that they “did not know how to use a Japanese-style toilet” or that they “did not understand the role of various operation buttons.”

The move to make the country’s toilets more user-friendly comes as Japan prepares to host the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Elsewhere in the country, the government has recommended that map makers drop the Buddhist manji symbol (often used to represent a temple) as tourists interpret the symbol as a swastika.

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