Japanese Toilets

OK, OK. Japanese toilets seem to be very interesting to many people, and it’s frequently the only question I get about Japan. I had no idea it was so well known.

Yes, the toilets here are impossibly high tech. The seats are pressure sensing, heated, air-conditioned, massaging, and motorized A.I. It includes a heated bidet for women, a separate heated cleaner for men, a blow dryer, an automatic cover dispenser (in public bathrooms), odor sucking fans, environment controls, and a bowl-light. They make pleasant synthetic flushing noises when you flush (because they are, of course, silent otherwise) or at the wave of your hand in front of a special sensor (to cover the “embarrassing sounds” of your natural bodily functions…), and include an SD card slot so you can listen to your own MP3s while you sit. They usually include a remote controller on the wall with a vast array of buttons, lights, and displays, all in Japanese of course. Don’t press the red one - it calls the police. No, I’m not joking.

Nothing needs to be touched because the infrared sensors can tell if you are going to stand or sit, and when you are finished using the toilet. But it goes without saying that all us foreigners DO press the optional buttons and are inevitably greeted with an unpleasant surprise gush of pressurized water shot into our ass. It isn’t uncommon to see the result when a foreigner walks out of a toilet covered in water from the jets that remained on after he jumped off the toilet. . .

Needless to say, these toilets are over-the-top, which led my family to ask “why”. Good question, and I don’t know the answer. But if I were to guess, I’d say the most likely reason is that the middle class and wealthy Japanese like to over-compensate for the majority of the country’s prolonged state of development. A strong and potentially hurtful statement about Japan, yes, but looking around Japan you will quickly realize that this is not the super high-tech country of the future that most people think it is. It is actually desperately stuck in an era of industrialization. If you head to the heart of even the most glamorous Tokyo neighborhood, all you have to do is carefully look around you to see corrugated tin roofs and walls, and an aging population that, even before the crash, were never included in the country’s prosperity. Go outside Tokyo and you’ll realize that this is the norm in Japan. The majority of Japanese were never included in that bubble, and now that it’s popped, those who recovered even a little want nothing more than to be perceived as a success. This is a very critical opinion and it may well be totally off base. But it seems to be true to me, and it’s part of my explanation of these toilets.

You see, it’s not just Japan. I know people from all sorts of cultures who will buy something outrageous to prove they can (even if they can’t). The classic American example is the guy who buys a car he can’t really afford just for the appearance of success. But in Japan, it’s not realistic for anyone but the truly wealthy to buy and maintain nice cars. But if you can buy an otherwise simple thing, like a toilet seat, and turn it into a virtual amusement park for just a few hundred dollars, that might really impress. And it does. A 20 year old apartment gains automatic value with the simple addition of a “washlet” toilet seat. A company or restaurant assumes an air of prestige when clients and guests see they have a decadent throne in their washroom. And of course it’s an everyday reminder to its owner that she can live the luxurious life (if only in that one room of the house) of those in the highest echelons of society.

So, without being too critical, in short, I believe these seats are not designed and popularized in Japan out of a concrete need, or natural cultural evolution. But rather as a status symbol and self-assertion that they are not living in uncertainty in a perpetually developing nation. They are successful, and high tech in everything they do and own, right down to their shitter.

Price of the appearance of success? $400 - $5,000

And, yes, they do have toilets that talk to you, and even connect to the internet via a built in cell phone. No, they are not for you to check your email, but rather for the toilet to send you blood pressure, body fat percentage, and even blood sugar levels (measured in urine) to your doctor!


I came home yesterday to find a big envelope in my mail. It was the wedding invitation from my friends, Dhara and Rishi. Certainly not worth writing about, normally, but this was an extraordinary invitation! They are Indian, so the paper, and designs were all very ornate, and beautiful.

Of course I’ll be going back to the US to attend the wedding. Here is the beautiful package:

The large envelope was filled with dried flower pedals and a classy transparent folder. All the ink and pen was in gold. The envelope and folder had little gem stones stuck to them.

Inside the folder were lots of intivations to seperate parties in various parts of the world! Amazing!

I was very impressed with this classy invitation, and just had to share it here!