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Why Do the Japanese Fold Toilet Paper?

Japanese washrooms have been attracting attention worldwide for some time. Common topics include the famous high-tech toilets with heated seats, and the cleanliness and abundance of public washrooms in the country. However, this time I’d like to talk about toilet paper.

It’s not that Japanese toilet paper is exceptional compared to other countries’, even if some sorts are specifically designed for post-washlet use. What I would like to talk about has been brought up by my colleague Ayano, who has lived abroad and traveled all around the world. “Have you noticed that in Japan, it’s common to find the toilet paper folded into a little triangle? I’ve never seen this in any other country yet,” she remarked. It’s true that this way of presenting toilet paper can be found in hotels, restaurants, and other public places.

This tiny detail is a reflection of kokorozukai, or typical Japanese thoughtfulness. In a way similar to the Japanese omotenashi [traditional Japanese hospitality], it mainly consists of thinking in advance about a person’s needs and acting prior to them. By folding the toilet paper into a triangle, your hosts intend to make this tiny instant of your life nicer by making the paper easier to catch and also more aesthetically pleasing. 

However, lately, concerns have been voiced that folding the toilet paper this way may not be very hygienic, and it would be a good idea to stop this habit. With the recent pandemic, this change of habits might expand quickly. In that case, it’s now the action of not doing this tiny gesture that reflects the staff’s concern for their customers.

As I was told during a recent interview, the essence of Japanese culture does often lie in the details.

Amélie Geeraert

Born in France, I've been living in Japan since 2011. I'm curious about everything, and living in Japan has allowed me to expand my vision of the world through a broad range of new activities, experiences, and encounters. As a writer, what I love most is listening to people's personal stories and share them with our readers.

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