The Japanese are nothing if not clean freaks. When you pack half the population of the US into an area the size of California, and then pack 10% of that into Tokyo, you need some well-developed hygiene standards. One of the many industries the Japanese are a leader in is plumbing fixtures. The Washington Post recently ran an article titled Flush With Success by Anthony Faiola about Toto, the leading toilet manufacturer in the world. The article quotes Kyoji Asada, one of Toto’s top designers as saying:
"Going to the toilet should be about relaxation, comfort and cleanliness," he said. "I strongly believe the Japanese have the cleanest and most comfortable toilets in the world."
Something about American prudishness makes us unwilling to spend a lot of time or thought about comfort in the privy.
In my real life I have a professional interest in toilets and had heard of the very fancy deluxe potties that are available, but had never seen any real life examples. This was the first time I was going to be able to give one a test drive. The Washlet™, as it is called, looks like a normal Western toilet except that on the side it has what look like the control panel for the crapper on the Starship Enterprise.
The buttons are conveniently labeled in both English and Japanese with pictograms as well. The pink button is for the bidet wash, which I don’t have the anatomy to make useful, but the other button is for hosing down the business end and it works like a charm. It sprays a narrow stream of warm water directly at the poopchute. I was impressed with the accuracy of the spray. There was very little collateral wetting of anything that didn’t need cleaning. The experience is delightfully refreshing and invigorating. Another button allowed you to adjust the water pressure, but I was a little nervous to mess with that too much.
The super luxury toilets are common but not ubiquitous in Japan. I did come across one or two of these outside our hotel, but the more familiar standard toilet was more prevalent. Typically public restrooms will have a series of the old-fashioned bombardier-style squat toilets (shown on the left) that don’t have a seat and one or two Western sitting toilets. Depending on how busy the place is, it can be a long wait if you insist on sitting on the throne. I was also perplexed to find at least one place where toilet paper was a coin-vended amenity. Money well spent, but I didn’t know what to do with the leftovers after I used what I needed.
According to the Wikipedia article on Japanese toilets, more household have deluxe toilets in Japan than computers. The Post article claims Will Smith had some installed in his house after a trip to Japan. On a recent Daily Source Code, Adam Curry waxed nostalgic about a toilet he once owned with the bumspray option. For an audio tour of a deluxe model, listen to this guy's sound-scene podcast. And for all of you out there giggling, I just say, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Blatant Comment Whoring™: If these were reasonably priced, say twice the cost of a normal toilet, would you want one in your house?