(Off-topic) - The Hot Seat: Japan's High-Tech Toilets

From: Yakov Horenstein (yakov@planet.it)
Date: Fri May 16 1997 - 14:05:59 EEST


By Mary Jordan
and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Service

TOKYO-An American diplomat was at a dinner party in a Japanese home when he
excused himself to go to the bathroom. He did his business, stood up and
realized he had no idea how to flush the toilet.

The diplomat spoke Japanese, but he was still baffled by the colorful array
of buttons on the complicated keypad on the toilet. So he just started
pushing.

He hit the noisemaker button that makes a flushing sound to mask any noise
you might be making. He hit the button that starts the blow-dryer for your
b˛ttom. Then he hit the bidet button and watched helplessly as a little
plastic arm, sort of a squirt gun shaped like a toothbrush, appeared from
the back of the bowl and began shooting a stream of warm water across the
room and onto the mirror.

That is how one of America's promising young Foreign Service officers ended
up frantically wiping down a Japanese bathroom with a wad of toilet paper.
"It was one of my most embarrassing experiences in Japan," said the
diplomat, who is posted to the U.S. Embassy and who asked not to be
identified.

Forget that you need to know three alphabets to read a Japanese newspaper.
Forget that the new fashion craze in Tokyo this spring is women glueing
their bras in place. Forget horse sushi. The most puzzling thing for many
foreigners here is Japanese toilets.

Just as many foreigners had finally mastered the traditional Japanese
"squatter" with no seat, they are being confused anew by the latest
generation of Japanese toilets - high-tech sit-down models with a control
panel that looks like the cockpit of a plane. Japan is the world leader in
high-tech toilets. Its biggest toilet company, Toto, is working on a home
model that will chemically analyze urine. Already selling well are toilets
that clean themselves, that have coatings that resist germs and that spray
pulsating water to massage your backside.

The toilets basically look like standard American models except for the
control pad, which sometimes comes with a digital clock to tell you how
long you have been in the bathroom. Some of the buttons control the
temperature of the water squirted onto your backside.

The bottom-washer function, combined with the bottom blow-dryer, is
designed to do away with the need for toilet tissue. Other buttons
automatically open and close the lid - the button for men lifts lid and
seat, while the button for women lifts the lid only, Some toilets even have
a hand-held remote control.

Many foreigners say that once you get used to these toilets - which cost
$2,000 to $4 000 - it is hard to do without them, especially the automatic
seat warmer. Harry Sweeney, an Irishman who raises horses on the cold
northern island of Hokkaido, said he knew a man who drove two and a half
kilometers out of his way each morning to use a public toilet with a heated
seat. "It gets very cold up here in the winter," Mr. Sweeney said, "so
those heated seats aren't a luxury; they're a necessity."

But some people never get the hang of it-they are panicked, trapped in
stalls unable to figure out how to flush. Worse they find themselves
stranded on the toilet, unsure how to shut off the spraying bidet and
unable to get up without soaking themselves and the bathroom.

Hubert Igabille, a salesclerk in nearby Aoyama, said he thought the
computerized toilet in his shop needed a bilingual panel. Some customers
take one look at the Japanese characters on the control panel and decide to
skip it, he said.

Mr. Igabille sees the bathroom gadgetry as a logical extension of high-tech
Japan, where, airport vacuums whiz around without human help, many cars are
equipped with digital displays that use satellite technology to plot the
driver's exact location and researchers are planning to use cockroaches
fitted with miniature cameras to inspect sewer pipes.

Toto sells about $400 million of high-tech Washlet toilets a year, and it
estimates that it has only half the market here. It has expanded that
market with the Travel Washlet, a portable hand-held bottom-washer.

Going on a trip where they might not have top-of-the-line toilets? No
probem: Just fill your Travel Washlet with varm water at home. Then after
nature calls on the road, unfold the little squirt-nozzle and wash your
behind just like at home. At $100 each, Toto has sold 180,000 of these
gizmos in two years.

Toto now wants a piece of the U.S. market, so it is starting with a less
expensive, less complicated model. The U.S. Toto is a $600 seat, lid and
control panel that attaches to a regular American toilet bowl. It features
a heated seat, the bottomwasher and a fan that "breaks down odorous
molecules and returns clean air into the bathroom environment," according
to a Toto brochure.

Toto has gone to great lengths to make its toilets, bathtubs and other
products user-friendly. Thousands of people have collected data on the best
features of a toilet, and at the company's "human engineering laboratory,"
volunteers sit in a Toto bathtub with electrodes strapped to their skull,
to measure brain waves and "the effects of bathing on the human body."

A Toto spokesman, Yojiro Watanabe, said the toilets were popular because
they made the bathroom a place where people wanted to relax.

___________________________________________________
Yakov Horenstein, Marketing
Promau Engineering srl
155, Strada per Novara
28062 Cameri (NO), ITALY
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Tel: +39 (0)321 510390 [Direct: +39 (0)2 653512]
Fax: +39 (0)321 616068 [Direct: +39 (0)2 2900 6208]
E-mail: promau@msoft.it [Direct: yakov@planet.it]
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