Open the door to the bathroom, and the toilet lid automatically rises. A soothing sound emanates from the toilet, and as you sit down, deodorizing functions begin to work. Push a button, and the toilet washes your rear end. Push another button and it gently dries it with warm air. The toilet will automatically flush, and when your leave the room, the lid will automatically close. People living in Japan are used to such toilets, but for people visiting for the first time, it can be a source of culture shock. During last month’s Tokyo Design Week, PingMag visited bathrooms that looked like spaceships, and talked to Mariko Shimasaki, from toilet manufacturer Toto.
Written by Ayana
Translated by Kevin Mcgue
To begin, could you tell us a bit about Toto?
Toto was founded in 1917 as a maker of bathroom items. At the time, most toilets in Japan were made of wood, and Toto introduced more hygienic and durable toilets made of porcelain, which at the time were used only outside Japan.
And what about the “Washlet,” which caused a revolution by adding a warm water washing feature?
It started in 1964, when a medical apparatus that was used in America was imported and sold in Japan. After a period of research, Japanese-produced models went on sale in 1980. At first, it did not catch on, but then it was named Washlet, and a memorable television commercial made it well known, and it became part of the public consciousness.
People in Japan use Washlets quite regularly now, but what advantage do they have exactly?
The device is designed to clean properly using a stream of water, which cleans better than wiping with paper because water makes dirt come off easily, or makes it soggy. It is also milder on the skin, and helps people who suffer from hemorrhoids.
What new features have been introduced recently?
Previous Washlets released a steady stream of water. However, recent models release water in pulses of varying volumes of water, which has greater cleaning functionality.
We have heard that some people carry around portable Washlets. About how many toilets are equipped with Washlets?
According to a government survey in March of this year, around 70% of homes have Washlets installed.
But why are Japanese toilets so high-tech?
In Europe, there is a history of using bidets. However, in Western countries today, the bathtub and toilet are often in the same room, so there is a likelihood that the toilet will get wet. In Japan, the bathtub and toilet are in separate rooms, so it is possible to use electric appliances in the toilet room. I think this fact is closely related to the development of toilet technology.
How do you research consumer needs?
We get questionnaires from users and sometimes speak to them on the telephone. We also visit institutions that use Washlets. Our engineers have a strong desire to improve technical aspects based on our research.
Are the needs different for home toilets and those in public spaces?
In train stations and other public spaces, a large number of people use the toilets, so durability is very important. When designing toilets for places like department stores, we give consideration to women’s needs, such as creating a space to put on makeup. We are aware that people do not want to touch the devices in public toilets, so many of the functions are automatic.
How do you think Japanese toilets will change in the future?
In the past, toilet rooms were covered in tiles, but these days they are covered in flooring, with pipes and cables all concealed, making it look like any other room in the home. I think we will move further away from spaces we once considered “toilet-like” in the future.
An age where everyone can have these high-tech toilets can’t be too far away! Thank you Ms. Shimasaki and Toto for your help!