Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Toilet Talk

When I was in Japan last summer, we stayed at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku, which is a nice business class hotel similar to a big city Sheraton or Marriott in the States. Definitely not a deluxe luxury hotel like the nearby Park Hyatt where Lost In Translation was filmed, but still very nice with Western style rooms. What I did not expect was the space-age toilet in the bathroom.

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?


Elizabeth said...

Those pictographs are hilarious! But ya know, I want one!!
Of coarse this is from someone who lived in a cabin without running water for 6 years, so any indoor plumbing excites me!!

J.Po said...

This is WAY too much information.

yellojkt said...

You're one to talk, J. Po. You've blogged about urinals.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

The first time I was in Asia in 1981, I was shocked when I was entered my first squat toilet. Nobody warned me ahead of time, so there I was standing over this hole in the floor, snickering to myself about how stupid I felt because I didn't know how to use it properly. Ahh, good times.

To answer your question. No. My toilet suits me fine.

Mooselet said...

We saw the squat toilet in the airport in Narita as we flew through Japan on our way to the US a couple of years ago. We thought they were fascinating but none of us had the, er, guts to use them.

I want one of those space-age Japanese toilets, though! I think my kids, however, would make a mess so it'd have to go in my bathroom.

Gypsy said...

I would definitely buy one of those if they were reasonable. Hell, even if they were unreasonable I'd be tempted.

The best toilet experience I've ever had was in Munich at Oktoberfest. In one of the beer gardens they had these commodes with little plastic sleeves over the seat. Then, when you were done, the sleeves would automatically pull back, the seat would lift up, an arm would come out and clean the seat, and then another sleeve would be run out. It... was... AWESOME. And not even because I'd had six million gallons of beer, either.

Impetua said...

Would I have one if they were reasonably priced? God, yes.

Can't... get... clean...

That being said, I groove on the little pictograms, esp. for the bum-hoser.

yellojkt said...

Looks like the Toto company has a potential customer in the Liz/Impetua household. When I was a Boy Scout at the Japanese Jamboree I had to use an outhouse that was a squat toilet. Not a lot of engineering in that. A slit in the floor and a board that served as a splash deflector.

And yes, mooselet, those hoses can squirt pretty far, giving young children hours of fun.

trusty getto said...

Lemme think about it . . . .

Nope. I'm happy with what I've got :)

Anonymous said...

I've cultivated distaste for anything from Toto, Rosanna.

Hold the line, I've changed my mind.

Time to dump these stinky puns.


yellojkt said...


This Toto is from Japan, not Africa, so you can turn back.

Now you have me doing it. Did they know they named the band after a brand of toilet? Seems almost too ironically appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Remember when The Simpsons went to Japan? The toilet in the hotel room said to Homer, "I am honored to receive your waste."

My family laughs about this all the time! Thanks for your thoughtful post--it really bowled me over. ha ha ha

Anonymous said...

That deluxe is by far the coolest toilet I've ever seen...I want one!

Impetua said...

I should add that when I was studying abroad lo these many years ago, when my hair was still red and Russia was still a communist country, our dorm had been recently remodeled and they had accidentally plumbed our European "shelf" style toilet with scalding hot water.

I say shelf style because instead of the deep-bowl-of-water style employed here in the states, the shelf style toilet featured a sort of, well, shelf, so that whatever one placed in the toilet remained there on the shelf in all its glory until one flushed it.

It was marginally better than the hole-in-the-floor, squat-n-leave-it toilets we found in the public restrooms, but not by much and then really only because at least the general public didn't have access to it.

I wrote home on the paper provided to us in one of the student hotels we visited, in Tbilisi I think.

Sorry for all the toilet-based memories, but there it is.

paula said...

Woo hoo! Just like a water-park ride!

I'm all about cleanliness and personal hygiene.. so, yep. I'd have one in my house.

Anonymous said...

I think I saw that on some show - either about Japan or about toilets. What am I thinking? It must have been about Japan.

But no, I don't want one.

PS. thanks for helping with the Cher survey.

Anonymous said...

I would be all about the high-tech toilet. Maybe in my next place when I get in a renovating mood...

If nothing else, maybe my girlfriend wouldn't use so damn much toilet paper. It's gotten to the point where I make her buy the stuff because she goes through it so fast. She could just hose herself down!

Anonymous said...

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