Toilets are a necessity to any building or establishment. People can get clever when it comes to designing lavatories, with the Japanese being exceptionally unique at it. They have been notorious for creating the most technologically advanced toilets compared to other countries, and using one is truly an indulgently comfortable (and fascinating) experience. It’s no wonder that almost anyone who tries these toilets wants one for their own home.
“Toilet” In Japanese, and Its Terminology
"Toilet" in Japanese is “toire”, and sounds like “toilet” because it’s a directly borrowed word from the English language. Toire is just one of the many other Japanese words that refer to the lavatory. “Otearai”, which means “hand-washing”, can be used to pertain to a bathroom, as well as “keshōshitsu” meaning powder room, and the cruder term “benjo”, which is defined as “place of excrement/convenience”.
A Brief History of Toilets in Japan
Toilets weren’t always so progressive in Japan – the Yayoi period (occurred around 300 B.C. until 250 A.D) was the first period to see a form of sewer systems. By the time the Nara period had rolled in, a more organized drainage system had been installed throughout Nara. Their toilets were made of running streams that measured as wide as 10-15 centimeters, which people would squat over and do their business. They would use seaweed or big leaves to wipe themselves after doing said business, but more commonly, they would wipe themselves with wooden sticks called “chūgi”. The Edo period saw the progression to the use washi toilet paper. Washi is a kind of paper whose texture and look is native to Japan.
As for toilets, pit toilets and streams were used and convenient for converting the human waste into fertilizer. Because Buddhism was at its prime and was strict about not eating meat, Japan’s world of agriculture was booming and needed as much fertilizer as possible to cultivate their crops. Thus, the Japanese found it very crucial to maximizing all waste. Compared to other European countries that handled their human waste issues unhygienically (they would dispose of the human waste straight out onto the streets), Japan had a knack for handling excretory products almost immaculately.
The Modernization of the Japanese Toilet
Traditional toilets in Japan are squat toilets and still, exist alongside the western-style bowl toilets. Squat toilets are called “washiki” and are made of elongated bowls of white ceramic installed onto the floor. Though toilets from the west (ceramic bowls that you sit on, and flush after using) had slowly been making its way around Japan in the 1900’s, they only got popular after the second world war because of the American occupation. The Americans weren’t too thrilled with the idea of human excrement being recycled (a.k.a. “night soil”), thus a sense of shame was draped over the practice.
At the same time, with the advancement of science discoveries creating better, more potent fertilizers that served its purpose with fewer health risks that could infect the user from handling human waste. Instead of recycling them, human excretions were instead disposed of. With the growing trend of western appliances, by 1977, those western-style toilets were in higher demand than traditional toilets. By the year 1980, TOTO, a famous Japanese sanitary ware company patented a revolutionary toilet seat that has a built-in bidet installed called “the Washlet”, and that started the high-tech Japanese toilet craze.
Japanese Toilets: The Toto Brand
As previously mentioned, Toto is one of the leading brands in the world for producing equipment for bathrooms. Established in 1917, The company name “Toto” was abbreviated from the words “Toyo Toki”, which means Oriental Ceramics. The company’s base is in Kitakyushu, Japan. They do not exclusively produce their products Japan, they have expanded their plants to an international scale. Toto has plants in 8 countries; China (Beijing and East China), Taiwan, Thailand, the U.S., Mexico, Indonesia, Vietnam, and India.
Don’t fret - just because your country doesn’t have a Toto plant doesn’t mean they don’t sell it. You are likely to find Toto-branded equipment in any hardware of homeware store you visit around the globe. They are most famous for their Washlet, as it has a built-in bidet that works via remote control or button. Depending on the model you get, there are extra features that may come, such as a dryer, or air freshener to name a few.
A Special Japanese Toilet Seat That Turns Your Toilet Smart
If you really want what Japan’s toilets have, but have a perfectly good toilet at home, you can always buy a Washlet. A Washlet is a toilet seat by Toto that can do almost everything that those high-tech toilets in Japan. They cost around $600 and you can buy them mostly from online stores like Amazon. It’s easy to install a Washlet – but the only trick is you must have a 120-volt outlet right beside the toilet. Everything else is smooth from there, just remove the old toilet seat, mount the Washlet’s bracket using a flathead screwdriver, slide the seat into the bracket, connect water hose and outlet, and turn it on – you now have yourself your own modern Japanese Toire.
High Tech Features of Japanese Toilets
You’d be surprised how intelligently programmed most modern toilets/toire are in Japan. While you may have an ordinary ceramic toilet bowl at home, majority of the Japanese have electronic Japanese toilets installed in their own homes. How much is the majority? 74%. All with features chosen specifically by the homeowner – and Japanese toilets have an abundance of high-tech features that are mixed and matched, depending on which toilet you want to get.
High-tech features of Japanese toilets include a remote control for easy access, a bidet, posterior wash, pulsating sprays, sprays infused with soap, a turbo spray, night light, a dryer, an air conditioner, air deodorizer, warmed seats, a timer for the warmed seat, noisemakers, automated seat-lifting, and an option for the toilet to clean itself.
Bidets in Japanese Toilets: A Basic Feature
Among all these high-tech features, the most basic is the bidet. You should find a bidet or stream rinse in most of the toilets you use in Japan. A bidet, by classic definition, is a basin that you sit on to rinse your private parts with a jet of water after defecating or urinating. In Japan, however, a bidet can be considered a nozzle that you use to spray water to clean your private areas. This nozzle is integrated into the toilet bowl to aim for your privates when you command it to by pressing a button or using a remote.
A bidet is technically used only for cleaning a woman’s private parts, while the other integrated jet-stream cleaner is for one’s anus, also called a posterior wash. Though they often use the same nozzle, nozzle heads aim at different areas of the crotch and buttocks to hit the proper location. Otherwise, separate nozzles are placed for each purpose. Never does the nozzle touch human skin, as it is hidden under the rim of the bowl. After it is done shooting its stream, it usually sets off a function to clean itself.
More Advanced Features
Recently-made toilets have features that you can customize and set. For example, you can set the water pressure for the female private part to receive less pressure than the behind does. Mostly toilets is already set like this. Other toilets give you the option to add a little soap to that jet spray so it’s extra clean. Some offer different vibrating and pulsating sprays that supposedly provide relief to people who have hemorrhoids.
Because temperatures can get nippy in Japan, toilet seats tend to get very cold. It’s no surprise that modern Japanese toilets have warmers (especially with centralized heating not being a thing in Japan) but what’s more interesting is that these warmers are timed. So, you can set the seats to be warmed at night, when everyone’s home from work or school to preserve energy and keep comfortable without having to stress about it.
Sometimes it gets hot, so after you rinse, advanced toilets have options such as blasts of cool air. Automatic night lights are also a great addition to some toilets, as this helps you see in the dark without having to turn on the lights. The snazzy ones even lift the lid up for you so you don’t have to touch them yourself – and the even snazzier ones can clean themselves each time you flush.
A Quick Explanation on the Buttons You’ll Find on A Japanese Toilet
There is usually an array of buttons (at least 3) you’ll find on a control panel when you use any modern Japanese toilet. Most of them have logos on their buttons or English translations that explain what each button does. Sometimes, there aren’t any English translations, so may have to equip yourself with a familiarity of what the Hiragana or Kanji of some of the words are – if you really want to use those functions.
The three most basic buttons are as follows: a spray for the behind (おしり), a bidet spray (ビデ) – used for both behind and private part for the woman - and a stop button (止) to make the spray cease. You may find different variations of a certain button, like the spray for the behind may have another one with more sprinkles of water on its logo, indicating an option for stronger stream pressure. As for the flush button, there is usually no logo for that, so you must know what the Kanji for the word flush is – it’s 流す.
When you do decide to experiment and press these buttons, make sure that you are sitting on the seat to avoid making a mess. The pressure on these streams can get strong, and it may hit your face if you press it without sitting down. Once you are, feel free to experiment until you get the hang about what the buttons are for.
Exclusively Japanese Accessories That Go with Their Toilets
The Japanese tend to be embarrassed by the sounds that come from partaking in the calls of nature. While all the options for seat temperature and water jet pressure were nifty, the Japanese have created a device that mimics the sound of flushing to drown out the sound of the call of nature. This is called the “Sound Princess”, as it is catered to girls who have a case of paruresis, a.k.a. they have a hard time peeing in public places if they think they can be heard doing their business. Some toilets have this feature built-in already, so you don’t have to buy a separate product.
Did you know that some of the Japanese use slippers that are just for the bathroom? They’re called “toilet slippers”, and can be anything from cotton slip-ins to rubber sandals. In the same sense that they don’t walk into their house using shoes that they wore outside, the same goes for the bathroom. It is considered a dirty place, so what’s used there should stay there. It’s a cultural thing.
Where to Find Japanese Toilets for Sale
First, visit your local hardware store and find out if they have any smart toilets there for sale. You can also check the official Toto site to see where their nearest store is in your area. Most people just buy the detachable Washlet instead of spending so much on a toilet. Toilets with built in features from Toto can cost up to $10,000 and more.
Modern Japanese toilets reflect how Japan’s culture is connected to cleanliness and comfortability. It took one genius move to turn this into a concept they can market, and now any person around the world can benefit from its advantages.