What’s Special About Japanese Toilets? The Magic of TOTO Toilets, Explained

Have you ever heard of a Washlet? Find out what makes it Japan’s most luxurious toilet.

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How often do you walk into a public restroom only to see the most disgusting sight you’ve ever seen? Every stall is like a fecal crime scene—filth-ridden with the previous user’s evidence left in places they should’ve cleaned more thoroughly.

Unfortunately, this is a common experience for many Westerners. The part of our brains that says “Hey, we don’t have to suffer someone else’s mess like this!” just hasn’t screamed loudly enough yet, so we haven’t bothered changing our ways.

But Japan? They’ve taken things to the next level. Japanese toilets are every clean freak’s dream: hygienic, spotless, and a joy to use. Allow me to wax fanatical about why Japanese toilets are so awesome and what we’re missing out on.

A Brief History of Japanese Toilets

In the past, Japanese toilets consisted of a hole in the ground and a wooden toilet bowl.

Years later, even after Japan moved on to using streams of water as a makeshift sewage system, these pit toilets remained popular. Japanese farmers collected the waste out of pit toilets to use as fertilizer, but others just found them more comfortable than the alternatives of the time.

But it wasn’t until the invention of the TOTO Toilet that Japan unlocked a genius-level advancement in personal waste management.

The First Japanese 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.

Since Japan didn’t have a modern sewage system at the time, the idea of installing ceramic flush toilets was quite radical.

Okura opened a laboratory in 1912 to experiment with sanitary ceramic products. After testing thousands of prototypes, Okura and his team finally completed their first flush toilet in 1914. Initial sales of this early prototype encouraged Okura to start manufacturing toilets on a larger scale.

But without a widespread proper sewage system beneath Japan, popular demand for ceramic toilets remained low through the early 1900s—until the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. TOTO struggled in limbo for nearly a decade before this disruption came and toppled everything, leaving most of Tokyo in shambles.

One good thing came out of this disaster: Japan turned the destruction to their advantage by using the opportunity to rebuild their country with modern sewage networks. With better plumbing systems in place, many business owners called upon TOTO to provide and install ceramic sanitary products in their bathrooms.

Introducing the TOTO Washlet

When TOTO unveiled the Washlet in 1980, things really took off. All people had to do was attach the Washlet to their existing toilets if they wanted to experience an electric version of the European bidet.

And TOTO started getting really creative with their marketing, too. Toilet talk was a social taboo in Japan at the time, so you can imagine the shock that came with TOTO’s first Washlet commercial:

Today, you’ll find both Western and traditional toilets in Japanese restrooms. While Japanese farmers no longer use human waste for fertilizer, modern versions of pit toilets still exist today—and these traditional squat toilets never fail to terrify Western tourists.

But TOTO toilets still lead the way in sanitary innovations. When you see a Western-style toilet in Japan, it usually comes with signature TOTO features that make our own toilets look primitive and feel downright dirty.

The TOTO Washlet’s Best Features

In America, toilets have only one job: flush… and many toilets aren’t even very good at that. But TOTO? They take cleanliness very seriously, and they know that there’s more to proper toilet hygiene than simply getting rid of the waste.

That’s why TOTO toilets provide several additional features—ones that clean your behind and ones that clean the bowl itself. Here are the most enviable TOTO Washlet features:

Automatic lid controls
Washlets have built-in sensors that detect your entry and exit, and automatically lift and close the toilet lid accordingly. You never have to touch it yourself.

Seat warming
In America, warm toilet seats may cause you to cringe because we know that warmth came from another person sitting on it. But Washlets have built-in seat warming functions, which provide maximum comfort during the winter months.

Rear/front spray
We all know water is necessary to truly clean something. Ever get a bit of peanut butter on your finger? You can wipe it, but it won’t feel clean until you rinse it. Same logic applies to the butt. Washlets rinse you off with a stream of water, and you’ll feel much cleaner.

Air dryer
Nobody likes wet underwear. So what do you do once the Washlet rinses you off? You could dry off with some toilet paper… or you could turn on the Washlet’s air drying function. The warm air leaves you feeling dry, comfortable, and refreshed.

Ewater+
Hate scrubbing gunk buildup in filthy toilets? Wish you didn’t have to rely on strong, synthetic chemicals to sanitize? Washlets release a mist of ewater+ (electrolyzed water) after every use to disinfect and clean.

Deodorizer
People have come up with all kinds of tricks to deal with poop smells, like lighting a match or masking the odor with Febreze. None of that’s necessary with a Washlet thanks to the built-in deodorizer function. Never again will you overdose on air fresheners.

The Sound Princess

If you’re super shy, you probably wait until everyone leaves the bathroom before doing your business, but that’s a waste of time. Or maybe you constantly flush the toilet to mask your grotesque noises, but that’s a waste of water.

Otohime (“The Sound Princess”) is a little box that’s mounted on the side of bathroom stalls in many public restrooms in Japan. Wave your hand in front and it’ll play a flushing sound for 25 seconds—an ingenious way to disguise your toilet symphony!

When Will We Catch Up?

I know that Europeans are fans of bidets, but we’re still stuck in the past here in America and Canada. While TOTO has been expanding its reach to the United States, little progress has been made toward improving public (and private) restrooms.

Japan definitely beats America in terms of toilets, and they also beat us in snacks. All this talk of toilets probably ruined your appetite, but if you’re dying for a taste of Japan, you should check out some of these unique and tasty Japanese snacks!

TokyoTreat lets you have a genuine taste of Japan by sending you a box of unique Japanese snacks, drinks, and candies every month. Check out this month’s TokyoTreat box!

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