You Probably Need This Incredible Japanese Wonder Toilet

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
April 6 2014 11:06 PM

Backwash

I tried a Japanese wonder toilet. Americans need to drastically rethink the way we clean our butts.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

If you’ve ever traveled to other parts of the world, you’re aware that there’s no monoculture when it comes to defecation. Humanity takes many routes to relief.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Some of us sit on elevated thrones, while others squat above holes. Some of us cleanse ourselves with dry paper, while others employ a nearby pitcher of water. Perhaps most notably: Some of us—let’s call them “the Japanese”—have invented a magical toilet seat, which transforms the act of excretion into a technologically enhanced pleasure ritual.

You may have heard about these Japanese toilet seats. Perhaps you’ve experimented with one on a trip to Tokyo. They boast remote controls, heated seats, and bidet functions. Some models play whooshing white noise in an effort to obscure other, zestier sounds. Toto, the leading brand, introduced its Washlet in 1982, and it’s been estimated that more than 70 percent of Japanese homes now feature a toilet seat with enhanced capabilities. (Meanwhile, only 30 percent have a dishwasher. For the Japanese, washing bottoms takes precedence over washing kitchenware.)

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For some reason, we in the United States have not yet boarded this fancy toilet seat train. Toto claims sales of Washlets in North America grow every year and have now reached a rate of “several thousand” each month. But not a single person I know—including folks who pamper themselves in all sorts of other ways—owns a toilet seat with an automated bidet function. My personal experience is that Totos are rare even in the lavatories of luxury hotel rooms.

Given how often we use our toilets, and how much money we happily spend outfitting other corners of our houses with all manner of technologically advanced appliances, the lack of traction here for Toto seems curious. I wondered: What do the Japanese know that we don’t? To find out, I borrowed a top-of-the-line Washlet S350e from Toto and installed it in my bathroom.

Installation was no big deal. You remove your existing toilet seat and replace it with the new one. I did this myself, in about 20 minutes. I did occasionally bump my skull against porcelain, but I managed to shut off the water flow to my toilet tank, unscrew the flexible pipe that connects to the spigot in the wall, and screw in the adaptor valve that Toto provides. Now water would be routed not only to the tank but also to the toilet seat’s bidet nozzle and its separate bowl-cleaning sprayer.

I slid the batteries into the remote control and voila: All at once, my bathroom became a realm of surprise and delight. Press a button and the toilet seat lifts itself, hands free. Press the button again and the seat smoothly descends into place, ready for action. As it senses my approach, the Washlet sprays the inside of the toilet bowl with a preparatory mist of electrolyzed water—ensuring that, as the manual somewhat primly explains, “dirt” will not stick.

140401_TECH_TotoToilet_3
Toto Washlet S350e

Photo by Seth Stevenson for Slate

Prim readers can avert their eyes here: We now must describe the Washlet’s more intimate functions. Capabilities that one may experience only after one has dropped trou.

First, there is the heated seat. This is the sort of thing you don’t realize you need in your life until you’ve tried it and immediately decide you can no longer live without it. It is truly a pleasure to press your hindflesh to an oval of cozy warmth, instead of receiving a mild, chilly shock. Using the Washlet’s remote, you can adjust the seat’s temperature up or down until your haunches are happy.

When the time comes, the bidet function is also at your command. This is of course the killer app of the Washlet. The “money shot.” What separates the Toto from other toilet seats. It’s also something that we, as Americans, seem to be collectively intimidated by and/or squeamish about.

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