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How often do you walk into a public restroom, only to uncover the most disgusting sight you’ve ever seen? Every stall is like another crime scene—filth-ridden with the previous users’ fingerprints left all over it.
Unfortunately, this is a common experience for many Westerners. The part of our brain that says “Hey, we don’t have to sit on top of someone else’s mess!” just hasn’t really screamed loud enough yet.
The toilets in Japan are every clean freak’s dream. I’d like to think of them as a car wash on a smaller scale. You might get a little embarrassed at my reference to poop throughout the article, so try not to flush (wink, wink).
A Brief History of Japanese Toilets
In the past, Japanese toilets consisted of a hole in the ground and a wooden toilet bowl. Although Japan eventually used streams of water as a makeshift sewage system, the pit toilet remained popular. Japanese farmers actually collected the waste out of pit toilets to use as fertilizer.
Pit toilets are great and all, but how did Japan achieve genius-level toilet status? Enter: TOTO Toilets.
Kazuchika Okura founded the Toyo Toki company (later renamed TOTO) in 1917. After Okura took a trip to the West in 1903, the white ceramics used in toilets, bathtubs, and sinks inspired him to start building his own. Japan still didn’t have a modern sewage system at the time, making the idea of installing ceramic flush toilets very radical.
The First TOTO Toilet
Okura opened a laboratory in 1912 to experiment with creating sanitary ceramic products. After testing thousands of prototypes, Okura and his team finally completed their first flush toilet in 1914. Sales of this early prototype encouraged Okura to start manufacturing toilets on a larger scale.
The Great Kanto Earthquake
Japan didn’t have much of a demand for ceramic toilets in the early 1900s, as a proper sewage system still didn’t exist. This left the TOTO company in limbo until the Great Kanto Earthquake struck in 1923.
The devastating earthquake toppled buildings and left most of Tokyo in shambles. However, the Japanese used the destruction to their advantage—they created new sewage systems during the rebuilding process. As a result, many wealthy business owners called upon TOTO to install ceramic products in their bathrooms.
Introducing the Washlet
TOTO started getting really creative in 1980 when the company unveiled its Washlet. Users simply attach the Washlet to their toilet to experience an electric version of a European bidet.
Toilet talk was taboo in Japan during the 80s, so you can imagine what a shock the Washlet’s first anti-toilet paper commercial brought:
Japanese Toilets Today
Today, you’ll find both Western and traditional toilets in Japanese restrooms. While Japanese farmers no longer use human waste as fertilizer, a more modern form of pit toilets still exist today. These traditional squat toilets never fail to terrify Western tourists.
TOTO leads the way in the world of innovative toilets. When you see a Western-style toilet in Japan, it usually comes with the signature TOTO features. Its high-tech functionalities make Western toilets look primitive and filthy.
What Makes the Washlet So Awesome?
TOTO takes cleanliness very seriously. Here in America, our simplistic toilets have one job: to flush—and to be honest, the flushing mechanism doesn’t always work. It’s pretty pathetic that some of our toilets can’t even do their one and only job sufficiently.
So, what’s the big deal about Japanese toilets? It provides convenient features that clean the toilet bowl and your behind. TOTO takes your comfort into account, and even provides tools to make you feel less embarrassed about doing your business in public. Here are some of the most enviable Washlet features:
Automatic Seat Lifting
If you think people spy on you through your laptop’s webcam, how would you feel about your toilet watching you? No, Washlets don’t come with a built-in camera, but they do come with a sensor. The toilet seat lifts when you enter the bathroom, and closes when you leave.
Cars aren’t the only amenities that have heated seats. It’s rather unpleasant to come across a warm toilet seat in the Western world, namely because a human butt created that warmth.
You can actually turn on a seat warmer when using a Washlet. Relaxing on a balmy 82-97°F heated seat will bring your bum on vacation.
TOTO eliminates the need for toilet paper. Instead of wiping, the Washlet sprays a stream of water on all of your bits and pieces. It actually makes you feel clean, instead of feeling like you’ve just scrubbed yourself with sandpaper.
Remember when I said that Washelts are like car washes? After you get sprayed, you can turn on the dryer. The Washlet emits warm air that allows you to leave the bathroom feeling comfortable and refreshed.
You’re probably used to scrubbing your toilet with strong chemicals in order to achieve a pearly white bowl. Washlets mist ewater+, or electrolyzed water (Gatorade?), inside the bowl to disinfect it.
You drop the kids off at the pool, and you can’t get rid of the awful scent that comes along with it. You resort to barbaric actions like lighting a match or spraying so much Febreze that you think you might need to call Poison Control for chemical inhalation. Simply using the deodorizer feature on the Washlet could’ve prevented you from overdosing on air fresheners.
The Sound Princess
The Sound Princess, or Otohime, is a little box that’s mounted on the side of bathroom stalls in many public restrooms in Japan. If you’re shy, you probably wait until everyone leaves the bathroom to do your business. Or, you might be one of those people who constantly flushes the toilet to mask any grotesque sounds.
Either way, the Sound Princess can make you feel as dainty as royalty. Wave your hand in front of the sensor, and a flushing sound will activate for 25 seconds. What an ingenious way to save water, while disguising your pooptastic symphony!
When Will the West Catch Up?
I know that Europeans are fans of bidets, so I’m looking at you America and Canada—do you really want to live an unclean life? TOTO has expanded its reach to the United States, and yet, little progress has been made in improving public or private restrooms. Unfortunately, you can always count on that sickening neanderthal of a toilet waiting behind every closed bathroom door.
Japan definitely beats America in terms of toilets, and it even outruns us in snacks. All this talk about toilets probably ruined your appetite, but you should check out this list of the most unique Japanese snacks anyway.