Toilets in America really don't warrant much discussion. There's a tank, a bowl, and a flush lever. You push the lever and the toilet flushes. Recently, the law changed so that all new toilets use less water per flush, but that's about it. Anyway, this post isn't really about American toilets, this is about Japanese toilets... or at least the ones that I've encountered.
In Japan, the toilets are usually one of two types: Japanese squat or Western style.
Japanese squat is what it sounds like, you squat to use it (facing the flush lever).
I have been able to avoid using one by careful planning and by having the good fortune of teaching classes in buildings that have western facilities.
Western style is pretty much the same as an American toilet, with one consistent difference and several optional "features" designed for efficiency and comfort.
The one big difference is that all Western-style Japanese toilets have 2 different flushes to conserve water.
- A weak, dilution flush for #1 (you pull the lever up to the flush position for as long as you want it to flush)
- A strong, full flush for #2 (you just push the lever and it does the rest, like America). Also, some toilets even sense when you sit on the seat and automatically add a bit more water to the bowl.
- 'The faucet' - usually not found in public bathrooms since they have sinks, I've found the built-in faucet in most home and hotel bathrooms. The reserve tank has a hand-washing faucet attached to it so that you can wash your hands with the same (clean) water that goes on to fill the reserve tank. In public bathrooms, it's been pretty safe to assume that sinks are provided but not soap or towels. I bring a hand towel with me everywhere. Some places have a high-pressure-air automatic hand dryer.
- 'The heated seat' - (my favorite) it's also pretty safe to assume that any toilet that is plugged into an electrical outlet has a heat-able seat. The controls vary from turn knobs, to push-buttons, to those that sense when you sit on the seat, but it's not difficult to figure out. (notice the plug to the bottom left of the above photo, and the small turn knob to control the level of heating of your bum... from 'off' to 'max')
- "The bidet" - rather than installing a completely separate bidet, the bidet is built in to many of the fancier toilets. I've typically seen around three buttons: one for female purposes, one for #2 purposes, and one to turn it off (red). If you ignore the Japanese Kanjii and just look at the pictures and colors, you can safely assume what the different knobs and buttons do...
If this post wasn't enough for you, Wikipedia has a nice page devoted to the topic as well (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilets_in_Japan).