Sound Princess

音姫 【おとひめ】 otohime (n) melody or flushing sound played by a Japanese toilet to mask excretion sounds


During a Japanese-toilet-using adventure in Tokyo, I was maneuvering my 5’10” frame around the tiny bathroom stall when I heard this noise start to sound.

What the…?

It was coming from the panel on the wall and sounded exactly like running water in electronic mono sound. This was Oto-hime, the Sound Princess of Japanese toilets. Some models actually have an image of a woman sitting and looking peaceful. All you have to do is wave your hand over the sensor and the noise will sound. At that time, I had accidentally activated the sensor.

I wondered for a moment why they would have machines in Japanese toilets that imitated the sound of flushing, but soon realized why. At first I thought it was a little silly, but then I realized that this is a legitimate fear/phobia of many self-conscious Japanese women. Another interesting aspect of Japanese toilet culture. Add this to the toilet slippers, bidets, toilet paper holders that double as tearing devices, and the fact that toilets always have their own separate mini-rooms in Japanese homes.

But then this year I began to notice something. Maybe I noticed it before and didn’t pay attention, but this year I really started to notice. It happens in this office building, in the different schools I visit, at the grocery store… Everywhere!

And this is it: If there is not an Sound Princess device to make the flushing sound, the women will flush the actual toilet to disguise the sounds.

Recently I was in the bathroom at work and another woman came in as well. She flushed the toilet 5 times while she was going to the bathroom and then 1 more time when she was finished. That is a total of 6 times! I also experienced this while going to the bathroom at the grocery store. The lady flushed the toilet 5 times, just because I was in there with her. I wonder if these women realize or care what a waste of water this is… It happens every day when I am at the office (the average flush is about 3) and I cannot help but wince at the wasted water.

Because of the earthquake and tsunami, all of Japan has been trying to conserve energy. People turn off lights and are careful when they use their heaters. For example, my office turns off the lights during our 12-1pm lunch break, we no longer use our color printer, and we are judicious about our heater use. But what about the water? Water is one of the fastest depleting natural resources in the world and everyone should be extra careful with how they use water.

I know I may be standing on a little “Save The Earth” soap box here, so please forgive me.

I think using the Sound Princess button is fine if it is available, but if not… women should definitely not flush the toilet extra times. Or they should buy the pocket noisemakers that you can carry around in your purse and take out when you use public bathrooms.


It is highly unlikely that you will ever see the face of the people in the other bathroom stalls, so why does it matter if they hear you? I think a little embarrassment is worth the water savings, but maybe that is just my American opinion.

So there you have it, culture shock via toilet!

For those who have used them, what was the first/strangest/most interesting thing you noticed?


6 Responses to “Sound Princess”

  1. Gosh, the girls at my school do the same thing, except they turn on the dryer, sometimes when they’re not even going to the bathroom. Everyone’s gotta go, and I get it if you have bad gas or something, but the sound of dripping water (not really water but sounds the same) is not that embarrassing. Ugh, it just bothers me because HELLO School of ENVIRONMENTAL (conserve water and energy please) Studies. I like the Japanese toilets but the first time I pressed the wrong button and it started to spray on me I just decided to stick with the simple stuff. The one in Yukiko’s house was nice, and I remember using the bathroom slippers. Off-topic, but I also remember the in-ground ones in Singapore.

  2. This is one part of Japanese culture I still find ridiculous. I’ve seen signs in some toilets specifically asking you not to flush the toilets just for noise–I think it was up on a mountain near a hiking trail. I guess up in nature they hope you’ll remember to be a bit more environmentally conscious.

  3. Hi Stacy – your grandfather and I went to Europe shortly after we got married. We were waiting for a train in Geneva, Switzerland and I needed to use the rest room. I went in and found: stalls, no doors; water flowing through a trough across the floor; hole in the floor and two concrete blocks on either side. I went outside to make sure I was in the right place and sure enough…! Just the first of many “interesting” experiences using foreign facilities!


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