Otohime: Using the Sound Princess to Hide Embarrassment

It is normal for any creature to eat and excrete. That is just how creatures like human beings and animals were made. However, no matter how normal it is for people to urinate and do their business in the toilet, it is still a hushed topic for most people. Majority of the population in any country are shy about their activities in the restroom for fear of embarrassment. In every country, there are also specific cultural aspects when it comes to using the toilet. Japan probably takes this one up a notch.

Cultural Aspect of Using the Toilet in Japan

By Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10399

Being clean, in general, is, or at least should be, important to every human being. However, in Japan, being clean is almost synonymous with being beautiful. The Japanese people are quite particular when it comes to cleanliness and orderliness. In fact, even some words in Japanese that stand for “clean” can also be utilized to depict beauty. An example of this is the word “kirei,” which may be translated to either “beautiful” or “clean.”

With cleanliness being an important aspect of their everyday living, it should come as no surprise that their toilets are among the most high-tech ones in the market. Most, if not all, of the toilets in modern buildings in Japanese incorporate built-in bidets, which is a feat for other countries that cannot even provide a separate bidet in public toilets. Deodorants and air fresheners specifically for toilet use are also big hits in Japan.

Probably one of the main factors why cleanliness in the toilets, in general, are so important in Japan is because of the crowd. Living conditions in several cities in Japan are at its peak in terms of being overcrowded. Probably one of the few places that one can get privacy and comfort is in the restroom. Hence, some toilet rooms in Japan may also contain newspapers, bookshelves, and even character posters and goods.

Some properties in Japan also consist of toilets rooms being separate from bathrooms. This idea also falls on the concept of the separation between the clean and the unclean. In fact, some buyers specifically want this before buying a certain property or unit.

While Japan is already one of the leading countries in terms of high-tech toilets, some of its facilities still incorporate the traditional squat toilets. Nonetheless, this cultural aspect of Japan in terms of using the toilet has become known worldwide. So many foreigners are in awe of the different features of Japanese toilets, with some people randomly pressing buttons and getting surprised at the result.

The Japanese people are so particular with their activities in the toilet rooms that toilets in Japan now come with additional features. These include seats sensitive to pressure, which automatically turns the bidet off once the user stands up. To cater to foreigners in Japan, some high-tech toilets in the country have incorporated buttons written in English.

It has become a thing so huge that back in January of the year 2017, an agreement was established to standardize the iconography found in Japanese toilet control panels. This was done by the Japan Sanitary Equipment Industry Association. The purpose of this agreement was to decrease the confusion on how to properly use Japanese toilets.

Introducing the Keitai Otohime Sound Blocker

By Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9901

Having established how particular the Japanese are with their toilet activities, one of their concerns quite stands out. This concern is the idea of other people hearing one’s own urination. It may sound weird to some people, but this is actually an issue in Japan. While it is completely normal to urinate with a sound, most Japanese women tend to feel embarrassed when this occurs.

Because of this embarrassment, several Japanese women tend to flush the toilet consistently in order to mask the noise. As a result, large amounts of water are being wasted just because of this embarrassment. Education campaigns were launched to decrease the number of women doing this but it was for naught.

This concern was finally recognized and solved when a device known as the Otohime was introduced in the 1980s. The Otohime is a device that creates the sound of flushing water. Literally translating to “Sound Princess,” the Otohime was introduced by the brand Toto. This became hugely popular after its release.

At present, this can be commonly found in new public toilets for women. Some older toilet rooms have also been upgraded to incorporate this device. Truly, this has helped several women pee in peace, figuratively. Also, they are able to urinate without having to waste tons of water. The Otohime is typically attached to the wall of the toilet. However, there are also others that are already included in an existing washlet.

It can be activated in two ways. The first way is by pressing an on/off button to activate the sound. The second way is by simply waving a hand in front of the motion sensor. This depends on the specific device being used. The sound that the Otohime creates is similar to the flushing sound of the toilet. Users can preset time as well.

With the help of this device, an estimated amount of up to 20 liters of water can be saved per usage. Imagine just how much water is wasted without the use of the Otohime. Unfortunately, there are still some women who think that the sound produced by the Otohime sounds artificial. Hence, they still continue to consistently flush the toilet when urinating.

Recently, the famous toilet company TOTO teamed up with a toymaker company Takara Tomy Arts to produce an upgrade of the Otohime. Together, they introduced the Keitai Otohime. Unlike the regular Otohime found in toilet rooms, the Keitai Otohime is a portable device that one can bring anytime, anywhere. Just the size of a palm, the Keitai Otohime sound blocker is convenient for women going to public toilets that do not have the Otohime.

With a single push of a button, the device emits a loud sound of running water continuously for a span of two minutes. The sound fades out with another push of the button. The device is operated by two AAA batteries. Based on tests, if used five times per day, the device can create a total of up to 600 flush sounds.

The Keitai Otohime also comes in two designs. These designs are the forest design and the ribbon design. For the anxious, the device would not accidentally play a sound thanks to a locking function. Hence, it would not just suddenly play a sound of flushing water while one is in a public park or a crowded train.

The device is also marketed as being friendly to the environment. Takara Tomy states that without the use of the Otohime, Japanse women typically flush the toilet 2.5 times on average just to hide the natural sound of their bodily fluids. However, with the use of the Keitai Otohime, each usage can help save around 4 gallons of water.

Upon its introduction, the Keitai Otohime sold like pancakes. Just following its launch, 30,000 units of this model were sold out. Hence, one can just imagine how valuable Japanese women find this device to be.

However, while the market does love this product, there is still competition. There are several downloadable applications recently that serve the same purpose. One of these apps is known as the Eco Oto, which was developed by Polygon Magic. This app sells for around $1.20.

Why Japanese People Are Embarrassed of Toilet Noise

By Fboas [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

One can just imagine the craze over the Otohime in Japan. However, it may also come as a surprise how big of a deal this is to the Japanese people. Even though producing sounds due to bodily fluids is completely normal, Japanese women are still very embarrassed about this. It has come to the point that they are willing to waste water just to cover this up.

What really pushed the company, TOTO, to create the Otohime was the major drought that the city of Fukuoka experienced in the year 1978. The company was based in the city of Kitakyushu, which is relatively close to Fukuoka. Because of this drought, the company decided to develop the Otohime. As water was scarce, TOTO recognized the need for women to stop with the habit of flushing toilets more than necessary.

The name “Otohime” was chosen for the device based on symbolism. Apparently, it was used to signify the modesty and shyness of Japanese women. Even though some foreigners still do not understand the importance of the Otohime, several women in Japan are grateful for this device.

Some researchers state that this modesty regarding the sounds of bodily fluids dates back to the 19th century. Apparently, even back then, Japanese women were already quite conscious of these sounds. However, some women say that their embarrassment is not exactly just for themselves.

In fact, some women actually use the Otohime not for their benefit but for others’. These women are more concerned with other people being uncomfortable hearing such bodily fluid sounds coming from strangers. Hence, the Otohime is also used in consideration of other people.

The introduction of the Keitai Otohime was launched recently so that the Japanese can use the device whenever, wherever. The company recognizes the fact that not all public toilet rooms offer the Otohime. Furthermore, the Keitai Otohime can also be brought to other countries that do not have the Otohime built in their toilets.

However, some women are already content with just using their phone to produce these sounds. More and more applications are becoming available online for women to just download. With these applications, women would no longer have to bring another device with them. Nonetheless, the Keitai Otohime was still well-received by many. The cost of the device is 1,449 yen. The Keitai Otohime is also battery-operated.

One question that may come to mind is, is this consciousness only applicable to Japanese women? According to a survey conducted by Toto on 200 male college students back in the year 2007, more than 30 percent of the respondents were also actually flushing the toilet consistently whilst doing their business. Hence, even Japanese men are also conscious of this.

Features of the Sound Princess Device

By Toto (japanische Wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Keitai Otohime comes in two designs, namely, the ribbon design and the forest design. Both designs come in pink. The device is small enough to fit into a purse or a handbag. Hence, it is perfect for women on-the-go. Due to its color, men are not likely to buy this product despite its usefulness.

Even though it is such a small device, the Keitai Otohime produces a loud sound of running water. This enables the user to urinate with ease, knowing that the sound he or she makes would not be heard by other people. This device was indeed a great collaboration between two companies that were concerned with the issues not just of Japanese women but of the country.

The device is 85 millimeters long, 55 millimeters wide, and 15 millimeters thick, which are equivalent to 3.3 inches, 2.2 inches, and 0.6 inches, respectively. The materials used to produce the Keitai Otohime sound blocker are ABS and acrylic. When buying the device, it already comes with two AAA batteries.

The Keitai Otohime sound blocker can be used for 7 to 10 hours continuously. If the device is to be used five times per day for 10 minutes, the battery would be used up in 120 days. However, it is also important that instructions in using this device only come in Japanese.

Even though the Keitai Otohime may seem like an unusual product, the device is considered highly valuable in Japan. It also signifies the modesty of Japanese women. Furthermore, as the survey suggests, Japanese women also use the Otohime in consideration for the comfort of other people. Hence, the Otohime is a result of the toilet culture in the country.