Let’s Talk Toilets

You can’t come to Japan without noticing how clean it is. There’s no trash on the streets, and any debris that does happen to fall is instantly swept away by one of the countless custodians. However, if you wish to throw something away, good luck! Japan has a very strict trash sorting policy, and you’re expected to save that candy wrapper or water bottle and dispose of it in your own trash. It is also expected that you remove your shoes before entering anyone’s home to prevent filth, and seemingly it’s expected that you wash your car every day. I cannot otherwise explain how every vehicle in this country is spotless despite a distinct lack of garages and fairly heavy rainfall.

It can be inferred, therefore, that the Japanese are a fastidiously clean people, and a simple trip to the bathroom will confirm this conclusion. To support their hygienic standards, Japanese toilets are extremely high-tech. I can safely say that we have nothing like them in America. Europe might come closer with their love of bidets (or, as I like to call them, leg-shaving stations). But Japan has taken it to a whole new level.

So, let’s talk toilets. The most famous Japanese brand is Toto, which has dubbed itself the “Apple of toilet tech,” and upon close inspection, the title seems warranted. Indeed, its “Washlet Zoe” appears in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most sophisticated toilet in the world. They have added features to their features, things I would never believe necessary, but now do not wish to live without.

My first trip to a Japanese bathroom, or toire, was eye opening. I truly didn’t know what to do, and for a 27-year-old woman that seems kind of funny. Obviously there was a toilet bowl, but no sink. So I inwardly congratulate myself for bringing a travel-size disinfectant and go about my business. But when I went to flush, I was flummoxed. There was no handle to pull, no sensor at which to wave. Only a large remote (yes, remote), which had stick drawings that made no sense and unintelligible kanji descriptions. Hmm. Decisions, decisions…

IMG_0178So, being in an adventurous mood, I press the one at the far left of the remote, hoping that’s the correct choice. Nope. It isn’t. As I wait to hear the traditional sound of running water, I instead feel a light drizzle of warmed water hitting me at a very directed angle. Um, okay…

I awkwardly wait it out and then turn my attention back to the perplexing controls. I decide to press the next button (by the way, I should mention there are about ten options). Immediately I feel heat radiating from the toilet seat.

Well, now this is okay by me!

Finally, third time’s a charm! I hear the flushing sound I’ve been waiting for, and then stand up to use my disinfectant, when a small stream of water emits from a miniature faucet on top of the toilet itself. So I hope to God it’s not recycled water from the bowl and use my anti-bacterial afterward, just in case!

This was, as I say, my first of many commode encounters. I’ve gotten better at understanding the stick-figure gibberish, and can usually avoid any unwanted bidet action. But I stopped yesterday to use the IMG_0180public toilet at the JR Yokosuka train station, and boy was I surprised when the moment my bum hit the seat, the sound of rushing water commenced. It continually made loud flushing noises until I rose from my seat, when it stopped abruptly. Huh.

Turns out, Japanese women are frequently embarrassed by the sounds created in public restrooms (I mean, who isn’t?). So they would often flush the toilet needlessly to cover any unwelcome noises. But this wastes water, so Toto invented the “sound princess,” intending to hide women’s restroom distresses. Most popular, they are now installed in a majority of female public restrooms around Japan. (Evidently men do not need such luxuries).

But they haven’t stopped with heat and sound. I have yet to experience, or perhaps I simply haven’t found the right combination of buttons to enjoy the complete hands-free experience. You go, it washes you, and then dries you as well. No soap necessary. Now that’s toilet-tech

Not to worry. If you are nervous to experiment with the bidet functions, let me put your mind at ease. Most washlets have both water temperature settings as well as a pressure gauge (1 – 5), depending on your needs. This all seems very civilized until you realize you don’t read any of the four written languages used in Japan and have no idea how to control these settings. So you get what you get. We have heard a few horror stories that describe the process in very graphic terms, but you’ll likely only make that mistake once! And when you leave, it’ll spritz the entire room with lavender to cover any sins.

Overall, Alex and I have fallen in love with Toto and all it stands for. Who doesn’t want a spa experience on the toilet? And who doesn’t love public toilets that warm the bum and won’t burn the nostrils. Compared to many other Asian (or even some European) WC’s that are barely more than a hole in the ground, the Japanese are light-years ahead. There are still a few “Japanese-style” toilets to be found. Frequently, if you’re waiting in a long lavatory line and one stall is continually left open, you will find a traditional toilet inside. It looks like a male urinal that’s laying on its back, sunken into the ground. It’s an old-fashioned squat-and-go with a flushing handle to discard any unwanted material. I have yet to try this. In part because I’ve heard the pipe in front of the latrine referred to as the “grunt bar.” Um, no thank you.

Ever innovative, Japan and its prized Toto are continuing to develop toilet tech. Coming up next: medical sensors that test the urine for blood pressure or body fat content, and self-lifting toilets for the elderly. What will they think of next? I can only hope we’re still here to try them!

3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Toilets

  1. Aww, squat toilets aren’t that awful. They’re supposed to be very good for you. Just remember to use your foot to flush, because everybody else does, and those feet have been touching the tile and not everyone can aim… You get the picture, I’m sure.

    Really, though, heated toilet seats in winter are the best. If I could have one here in the US, I totally would.


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