By Asian American in Tokyo | May 20, 2007
No Japan-focused blog would be complete without a post about Japan’s toilets. It’s true that you can still find old-style Japanese squat toilets in many places alongside newer Western-style toilets. (If you’re curious, there’s some at Tokyo Disneyland in the restrooms opposite the “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt” attraction.) Certainly, the squat toilets provide the cleanest experience possible as your tender bottom never touches anything, so there’s no chance of nasty stuff from the last user affecting you. However, it does take some getting used to for us foreigners as our calf and thigh muscles weren’t properly conditioned for the right stance.
Another Japanese innovation in toilet technology is the water-conserving “water recycling” toilet/sink combo. Actually, I have no idea what it’s really called, but that’s the best name I could come up with. It’s simple. When you flush the toilet, the water used to refill the tank comes out of a tank-mounted faucet for you to wash your hands (with clean water), then it flows down the drain into the toilet tank for use with the next flush. Many have 2 flush settings for “big” or “small” (corresponds to #1 or #2). You’ll see these in many Japanese homes.
Enter the latest Japanese technology pioneered by Toto, creator of the Washlet. Here’s a photo of a recent model.
Nice and shiny, isn’t it? There’s more to this than you can see in the photo above. The washlets have a little “water gun” that extends from under the rear of the seat. When you’re done with your “business”, the washlet shoots a stream of warm water to cleanse your behind. You can select from rear or front, and control the strength of the water pressure. Often, you can control the temperature of the water, pattern (rhythm?) of the stream, and adjust spray area (called “wide range” on the model in my home). Some have autodeodorizers that spin-up when weight is detected on the seat, and others even have a small fan that dries you off when done. My favorite feature is the fact that the seat is heated (also adjustable) which is sooo nice on those cold winter nights. Many models also have power raise/lower seats and auto flush. Take a look at that crazy control panel (yes, it’s wireless and mounted on the wall).
For those of you who lack imagination, here’s a visual aid.
If you don’t want to buy a whole toilet, you can purchase models that are basically add-on toilet seats.
Some may think this is strange, but I can tell you that there’s no cleaner toilet experience out there. Well, except for the squat toilet, of course.
Although washlets can be found in most homes, hotels, office buildings, shopping centers and even public restrooms in Japan, Japanese travelers are often out of luck when seeking one in foreign countries. To address this need, Toto has recently put a portable “travel washlet” on the market. We bought one and it worked great during our trip to Las Vegas last month, though it takes some skill to aim.
The article below was published on 6/25/2008.
Bottom line: Energy-saving Japanese love energy-hogging, high-end toilets
Cleanliness and comfort win out over conservation
By BLAINE HARDEN
TOKYO — When it comes to saving energy, the Japanese have much to teach the United States and other rich countries, whose leaders descend on Japan next month for a Group of Eight summit.
Energy consumption per person here is about half that in the United States, and the growth of greenhouse gas emissions is slower than anywhere in the industrialized world.
There is a hiccup, though, in this world-beating record. It happens inside the Japanese home, where energy use is surging. And nothing embodies the surge quite like the toilet — a plumbing fixture that has been re-engineered here as an ultra-comfy energy hog.
Japanese toilets can warm and wash one’s bottom, whisk away odors with built-in fans and play water noises that drown out potty sounds. They play relaxation music, too. Ave Maria is a favorite.
High-end toilets can also sense when someone enters or leaves the bathroom, raising or lowering their lids accordingly. Many models have a “learning mode,” which allows them to memorize the lavatory schedules of household members.
These always-on electricity-guzzlers (keeping water warm for bottom-washing devours power) barely existed in Japan before 1980. Now, they are in 68 percent of homes, accounting for about 4 percent of household energy consumption. They use more power than dishwashers or clothes dryers.
“For hygiene-conscious Japanese, the romance with these toilets is equivalent to the American romance with the Hummer,” said Philip Clapp, deputy managing director of the environmental group at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C.
Toilets with built-in warmers for bottom-washing first arrived in Japan in the 1970s. They were U.S.-made medical devices for hemorrhoid sufferers. But they took off, becoming the most profitable innovation in the modern history of Japanese bathrooms, according to toilet makers.
The Japanese are serious about cleanliness. The word for clean — kirei — is also a word for beautiful. People often sweep the street in front of their house. They remove their shoes upon entering a house. They shower before bathing. They are sensitive to odors. For all these needs, aversions and desires, super toilets fit the bill, as well as catering to the Japanese love of gadgets.
In addition, Japanese houses are often small and, in the winter, chilly. A warm, comfortable, musical and hygienic seat in the bathroom expands living space.
But as with a Hummer, romance with a high-end toilet is not cheap. Luxury models cost up to $4,000 — plus at least $2.50 a month per toilet in higher electricity bills.
But unlike the Hummer, which few Americans are now buying and which General Motors may soon stop making, romance with toilets continues to bloom in Japan, albeit with the intensive mediation of government energy watchdogs, who have begun to monitor the behavior of the toilet-smitten masses.
The Japanese government is struggling to meet obligations under the Kyoto global warming treaty to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.
At the G-8 meeting next month, Japan will be pushing the United States and other member countries to accept mandatory limits on emissions of the gases, which cause global warming.
Since the oil shock of 1973, no industrialized country has been more effective in squeezing more affluence out of less imported energy than Japan, experts say. Relative to its economy, Japan consumes only a third as much oil as it did 35 years ago.
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