Whenever a friend of mine visited me in Japan, they were usually pretty interested in the bullet train, the many arcades, or the 100-yen shops. However, more often than not, they would always be interested – or surprised by – Japanese toilets. One feature of a Japanese toilet that is absent in their American counterpart is the multifunctional bidet, known as the “washlet.” By pressing a button or turning a knob, the user of the toilet can wash themselves with water at with varying pressures and temperatures. At first my friends were usually scared by bidets, but would sooner or later warm up to it, wondering out loud, “Why don’t American toilets have this?” Some even ended up buying their own in the US!
The history of the washlet actually dates back to World War II. After the war ended, the Japanese began importing American “sit down toilets.” In the first half of the 20th century, nearly all Japanese toilets were “squat toilets” (I don’t think I need to explain why they called them this). The Japanese public found that they really enjoyed American toilets because they could sit down in comfort rather than squatting.
Many Japanese fell in love with the western-style toilet, and would purchase expensive American and Swiss toilets, which included primitive bidets with very simple functionality. Yes, the bidet was actually invented outside of Japan! The first toilet with an integrated bidet was made by a company in the United States in 1964. However, it really didn’t catch on in American homes because of the ludicrously expensive price.
Toto, the leading brand in Japanese toilets, introduced the Washlet G Series in 1982, changing Japan’s toilet industry forever. Employees of Toto at the time helped with the development of the Washlet by acting as test subjects, eventually figuring out the ideal length of the nozzle, water pressure, and angle. It was truly a team effort, and clearly Japanese ingenuity at its best. Monthly sales of Toto’s latest invention skyrocketed, and it sold three times more than its most popular model from the previous year.
Today, the bidet is king in Japan. According to a recent survey, almost 75% of all private homes in Japan have a washlet-style toilet. This is actually more than the number of households with a personal computer! These toilets are literally everywhere – including a number of public restrooms. You could be hiking Mt. Fuji and you will find a washlet toilet at a rest stop.
The washlet toilets of today have a plethora of useful and interesting features. It isn’t uncommon to see a Japanese toilet that has a heated seat, and automatic lid opener with a proximity sensor, and a built in speaker that plays music while you do your business. Then there are more useful features like automatic air deodorizing and a germ-resistant surface. Other Japanese companies have even designed specific models for the elderly that include arm rests that help the user stand up after use.
The future of Japanese toilets is certainly bright. Researchers are currently developing medical sensors in toilets that can figure out one’s blood sugar based on urine samples. They are also working to create toilets that are able to measure one’s pulse and body fat content. Some companies are even considering integrating artificial intelligence into the toilets, so that they can greet and even have basic conversations with the user. The washlets of tomorrow are more than just simple bidets!
As an American, you may find it difficult to find a washlet style toilet at a store like Home Depot. But luckily there are many different places online, like Bidet.org, which carry a wide range of washlet-style toilets at an affordable price. If you want to have the bathroom of tomorrow, then you should definitely check out their selection.