The toilet revolution

The toilet revolution

Japanese sticks from the Nara era. Photo © Wikimedia Commons/Chris

When it comes to toileting habits, the world is divided into two groups: water cultures and paper cultures. Each clan is convinced their way is best, but the intercultural mantra of “there’s no right or wrong, just different,” fails in this case: in the sanitary sweepstakes, water cultures are the clear winners.

In The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (yes, this is what I read in my spare time), Rose George writes: “Using toilet paper to clean yourself down there makes about as much hygienic sense as cleaning yourself with a towel and imagining you’re rubbing off the dirt.”

Muslims have known this for centuries, as I recently wrote in The Lota Position. There’s still hope for the paper-wielders among us, though. We only have to look at the Japanese, who a scant 200 years ago were still using paper or [shudder] sticks to clean themselves. They’ve since undergone what George calls a “toilet revolution,” renouncing their paper-centric ways and zealously embracing the joys of the post-excretory wash.

Washlet controls

Washlet controls. Love the graphics!

About 15 years ago, when Chef Boyardee returned from his first trip to Japan, he told me wondrous stories about the toilets there. Japanese commodes, he sighed, had heated seats, a built-in spray for washing your nether regions, and a booty blow dryer that didn’t chafe your delicate skin. I thought he was pulling my leg, but he was deadly serious. “If we had a toilet like that,” he said with a fanatical gleam in his eye, “I’d put a bar fridge and a small TV in the bathroom, and I’d never come out.”

Happily for my marriage, we don’t have a toilet like that. We’re in good company: most North Americans have probably never heard of the Washlet brand toilet that stole my husband’s heart. But in Japan, it’s a sanitary staple: 72% of households have at least one.

They’ve evolved since Chef Boyardee’s maiden voyage, and now require a remote control to handle all the options. In addition to “anal and genital cleansing jets,” air dryers, and heated seats, some models also boast:

  • air conditioned seats for the hot summer months,
  • automatic spritzing of deodorizing spray,
  • glow-in-the-dark strips that ensure you won’t get lost in the dark (I’m guessing this feature is especially useful after a night of carousing),
  • motion detection sensors that obligingly raise the lid and seat if you’re facing the toilet, or just the lid if you’re facing the other way,
  • a sound system that plays classical music to relax the sphincter, plus music (or old-school flushing sounds for the purists) to mask any less-than-delicate noises that might otherwise spoil the Zen-like ambiance, and
  • medical sensors that check your pulse, blood pressure and body fat percentage, and even analyze your urine to determine your blood sugar level.

Well! All that’s missing is a foot massage and complimentary cocktail. I’m tempted to run out and buy one of these beauties, but I think I’ll wait. Surely Apple will one day figure out how to add these features to the iPhone. Bum wash and blood pressure check? Yep, there’ll be an app for that.


About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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13 Responses to The toilet revolution

  1. You’re wicked and I love it!!!

  2. Sine says:

    Thanks for the intriguing article! I had heard of these before but never paid much attention. Now I’m intrigued. I’m sure if I ever tried one I’d be hooked and want to get my own. I’d probably add a small desk and bring my computer:-). Are they even for sale anywhere in North America? Price point?

    • Maria says:

      I understand they’re very expensive because demand is so low. (Paper culture, right?) Toto, who manufactures the Washlet, has a US website: PS I’d add a kettle and good reading light. 🙂

      • Sine says:

        About 400 bucks it seems. Not even as bad as I thought. Or maybe another item to put on the list for transporting in your luggage? Will have to put on hubby’s Asia travel list. I’ve imported whole children’s high chairs in that fashion:-)

      • Maria says:

        I can just picture your poor husband schlepping that porcelain marvel of technology through US Customs. “Anything to declare, sir?” And then a puff of room deodorizer escapes from his carry-on bag while the sphincter-soothing sounds of Mozart begin to play. Wish I could be there to witness it. 🙂

      • Sine says:

        LOL, you made my day with your US Customs visual! And my husband will say it’s no different from the typical stuff he’s asked to do for me, like carrying a cat all the way from Singapore to North Carolina and being chastised left and right by allergic women, when in fact he hated the cat probably even more than they did!

  3. debdundas says:

    Your brand of toilet humour really raises the bar!

  4. This cracks me up… husband had the same reaction to that fancy toilet when he discovered one in his office in Abu Dhabi. I, however, am not a fan of the hand bidet’s next to every toilet in our apartment……my 4 year old thinks they are built in squirt guns!

  5. finallywoken says:

    Recently went to Japan, and yes, the first thing that amazes me is their toilets. All of the hotels I stayed in, all the shopping malls I visited, always have fancy toilets. Among all the features you’ve mentioned above, there’s one that plays a flush sound (why?) too. The downside is, most of the times the buttons are in Japanese writing, so I must learn about the features carefully to find the right buttons.

    I don’t really need everything, the heated toilet seat is enough for me. And I do wonder why this option is never considered important for people who experience winter in the West. Especially for those who live in a place like Scotland where it’s almost always cold. How many times do we run to toilet at night during winter and scream because the seat is so cold it can cut ice?

    Talking about toilet, I visited a cafe in Cologne, Germany, last month, and while waiting for my turn (there’s rather a long queue), I suddenly realised that the glass toilet doors are transparent when the cubicles are empty, but once people get in and lock the doors, each door turns to opaque and have a picture of a lady and a word ‘besetz’ (busy/occupied). How cool is that? Now the picture can be easily done by installing a projector on the ceiling (rather expensive I reckon, 5 doors, 5 projectors), but the glass door that turns opaque, how does it work?

    • Maria says:

      How cool is that? Although to be honest, I’d have to be pretty desperate to go into a toilet stall that had transparent walls. I just know there would be a malfunction while I was doing my business!

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