Friday, April 11, 2014

Japanese toilets are something you should consider buying

I have a new article out in The Week about how America should be importing more of Japan's latest and greatest inventions:
The question of adoption of foreign technology is key to the Big Question of development economics — namely, why some societies grow fabulously rich while others remain desperately poor... 
I've lived in Japan for a total of about three years, and in the summer I usually go back. So I've had a lot of contact with Japanese technology. And let me tell you — they have some things we would really like, if we would only bring them to our shores. 
The biggest example is the amazing Japanese toilet. These so-called "washlets" are famous for washing your butt with a jet of warm water. But that's not their only important feature. For another thing, the seats are heated. Have you ever sat on a heated toilet seat? It is an experience not to be missed. Imagine a heated car seat on a cold day, and then imagine that without pants. Also, the toilet flushes at the touch of a button, and the button is on a control panel near your hand — no more having to reach behind you to pull a lever! 
But Americans do not have Japanese toilets... 
We've grown used to the idea that everything good is invented in America. If it wasn't invented here, it must not be worth having, we tell ourselves... 
There are other examples, besides just Japanese toilets. Japanese saran wrap, for example, makes American saran wrap look like the bad joke that it is. The Japanese version tears cleanly, doesn't stick to itself unless you want it to (how do they do that?!), and is strong and durable.
The article is obviously a little tongue-in-cheek, since toilets are not that big a deal in the grand scheme, and since America is in general relatively good about importing foreign technology (arguably better than Japan). But relatively good does not mean good enough, and it's important for us to keep our edge. Also, Japanese toilets are really great, and you should try one.


  1. I prefer cold toilet lets me know at least a few minutes have past since it was last used.

  2. Anonymous4:09 PM

    Nice to know Sherlock

  3. Anonymous5:00 PM

    How can you say that toilets are not important in the "grand scheme". As a long time resident of "the West" I'm sure it would be jarring to not be able to use one for an extended period of time. Where can I get one of these toilets?

  4. When I spent a week in the Tokyo metro area, I was surprised at how rare the "squatting" toilets were - I thought they were more common in Japan. I did see a lot of those special technology-advanced toilets, though.

    What we ought to do is copy Japan's fun integration of your transit card system with all the vending machines around the train stations.

  5. I keep hearing this speculation... " trains may be made obsolete by self-driving cars "

    I guess it goes without saying we are not talking about freight trains.

    I think that this speculation will be true for some passenger trains running on some routes, especially short routes. But as the Auto-Cars (hehe, it only sounds redundant. ) take over the short routes it will leave the longer, most efficient routes for the trains. All train routes would look like today's express routes. Auto-Cars and trains will end up complementing each other. ( the same goes for buses and auto-cars).

    How about auto-cars making High Speed trains obsolete ? In an article that mentions the possibility of us leapfrogging Japan, I think this may have been the implication?

    I don't see it at all. High speed trains serve the purpose of covering a lot of distance very high speed one might say. They compete more with short haul air lines than cars. I might enjoy spending all day in an auto-car going from LA to San Fran...(It's gorgeous ) But I could do it in 3hrs on high speed rail. And the price would be less.

  6. This was the best part. "...the real reason we don't adopt Japanese toilets is the very fact that people are so eager to give reasons not to. We've grown used to the idea that everything good is invented in America. If it wasn't invented here, it must not be worth having, we tell ourselves. It's a toxic combination of "golden age mentality" and national chauvinism — "

    Well put . Bravo.

    This attitude is endemic in America. I know people that are literally incapable of comprehending the possibility that the Europeans get better healthcare outcomes for way less than we do. They simply can not accept it.

  7. Anonymous7:45 PM

    Toto makes really excellent toilets. Even if we're sticking with "low tech" toilets, the Toto models are fabulous. It's the only brand I buy.

  8. Anonymous7:50 PM

    Even the cheapest German toilets at the home improvement stores have dual flush and styrofoam-insulated tanks that don't sweat in summer. Americans haven't even figured out what the puddle of water under their toilet in the summer is yet, much less what to do about it. American exceptionalism- exceptionally clueless.

  9. Martin Stone8:46 PM

    Hi Noah,
    I totally agree with you, these japanese toilets are really fantastic.
    I have seen this Japanese toilet seats and washlets on youtube, and they are really high tech just like what you said so i search about the price in Google and its $350 for the washlet alone, , i mean thats a lot of meaning for a regular guy, when what they have are like $199 toilet bowl and tank with just the same old lever push..

    These are Toto toilets, and if you ever think of washlets, there are toilet bidets which are more expensive about $5,000 each .. TOTO MS990CGR-12 Neorest Toilet and Washlet ... these are luxury toilets ... i believe there are more cheaper toilets from Toto but having washlets are for me optional only, as long as American standards toilets are serving its purpose then i believe those are okay...

  10. Some people blow their extra bucks on Mercedes cars. We drive Toyotas instead and bought two $5,000 Totos.

  11. Nice article....the heated seats were designed to be more comfortable for the elderly, especially in areas along the Sea of Japan and Hokkaido Island. The sounds were initially used to make using the WC more "private" and genteel for ladies...running water, birds chirping, etc. Both Inax and Toto introduced the automatic WC prior to 1990. I first saw the Toto version in 1983, in Tokyo. As usual, when it comes to plumbing, Americans fight the newer technologies for two, main reasons: 1) Americans are so used to having a gazillion choices for plumbing products in their homes - colors. styles, etc., which makes the Toto/INAX-style extras more difficult to include in traditional designs Americans prefer, and, 2) Getting new or advanced technologies or products approved by a plethora of bureaucratic Federal, State and Safety organizations would give anyone the desire to just sit down on a nice, warm seat and just ponder life.

  12. Anonymous12:04 PM

    Having had the opportunity to live in Japan for 9 wonderful years, one thing I missed when coming back to the US was all the wonderfully flavored Japanese toothpastes. In the US, all I could get (at the time) was mint or cinnamon. YUK! Then came the equally horrid baking soda toothpaste. Sure made me miss the fruit flavors offered in Japan. Now, at least, at this late date, I can finally find citrus flavored toothpaste in the US.
    I also miss the vending machines where I could buy hot coffee. Ditto for the sake machines.
    Lol. Can you imagine beer, wine and whiskey machines on the streets in the USA as they are in Japan? There'd be drunk teenagers all over the place!

  13. Anonymous5:19 PM

    Are you admitting you're so full of BS you need a $5k toilet to help eliminate it?

  14. Anonymous7:24 PM

    I bought one (Atlanta) for a trial and both my wife and I now love it, and I do not like using the old style any more. It is great for old farts like my wife and I (both over 70) who are getting limited in our around-the corner reach! However, it is better known as a "Bidet seat" I must be related to the military as I bought a super deluxe model for $495, and well worth every penny!

  15. Anonymous7:29 PM

    I wonder how their saran wrap would work across the toilet under the seat?

    1. Anonymous12:01 PM

      There's a nightly two-hour game show on Osaka TV dedicated to that prank.

  16. Here is the thing to miss from Japan: Pokari sweat.

  17. Noah:

    You're not the only writer who has commented recently on the increasingly ubiquitous (in Japan) Washlet and its less-well known competitors:

    Backfitting your bathroom with one appears to be easy, too.

    1. Yep, I linked to that article in mine! :-)

    2. Anonymous11:42 AM

      socks, scissors, duct tape, kids underwear just to name a few more......

  18. Anonymous12:01 PM

    I've lived in Japan 15 out of the past 20 years. These toilets have been around a long time -- I even ran across a toilet expo (probably all Toto) in rural Japan in 1993 where they were selling those. At the time, many rural areas did not have indoor toilets. I've noticed a lot of old squat toilets being replaced by the "washlets" in the past few years so the widespread use is fairly recent.

  19. Anonymous4:12 PM

    Seriously, you think the problem with America is that we're NOT eager enough to purchase electronic toilets? AND you believe that the reason Papua New Guineans are impoverished is because they're not curious about camcorders? Look, dude, I know you admit the article is tongue-in-cheek, but these issues (Americans' massive consumption of worthless crap and the reasons traditional cultures might not be thrilled to join the global market) might deserve just a tiny bit more thought than you are giving them.

  20. Anonymous5:42 PM

    A decade or more ago, when I tried to find a Japanese toilet for my new home, I was told that one or more of the major USA porcelain bath fixture manufacturers had told plumbing supply distributors that if they imported and sold Japanese toilets they would no longer be able to stock the toilets, sinks and tubs of the major USA manufacturer, thus losing most of their customers. I don't know if this is still the case, but it effectively prevented me from putting a Japanese toilet and soaking tub in my home. I agree on the plastic wrap. When traveling in the USA, I always stock up at places like Mitsuwa and Uwajimaya and other Japanese groceries.

  21. Anonymous5:48 PM

    I immediately googled "japanese saran wrap" and found that Amazon is all over it. At the bottom of the japanese saran wrap screen (ends up cheaper with shipping than the American wrap at the local market), they have a "customers have also looked at", and low and behold a japanese toilet. How does Amazon know these things?

  22. Anonymous5:57 PM

    I have experienced the incredible "Ahhhhhh" of sitting on a heated Japanese toilet seat. I have a husband who offered to buy me one, to even rewire the bathroom so the cord wouldn't drape across the sink. The reason I said, "No," was that if I had one of those in my home, I wouldn't be able to bring myself to use the cold, hard toilet at work, and would therefore end up in the emergency room with a burst bladder within a week. :)

  23. Anonymous6:12 PM

    Hey Noah, just because Japanese are suicide bombers with their planes doesnt mean we are going to. I like wiping my ass, keeping it dry is key. If you want to walk around with a wet asshole go do it, It doesn't mean Americans have a problem with the technology. We just don't like it and we don't copy others. As a matter of fact, we usually invent shit first, and the Asian community takes it and so called improves it................... Johnny come latelys I say.......

  24. Anonymous7:21 PM

    If you dont like America, you kin just leave. We r the best country in the world, and all other countrys is backwards. You shoud be reported to Homeland Security...

    There, now that I've summarised many of the comments your post received elsewhere, you can see why your conclusion is not quite right. Americans are generally too full of themselves and ignorant to use modern toilets. That's one reason why I have spent half my life living outside the US and have no plans to ever live there again. Lots of nice smart people, but way too many of the other kind - on both ends of the political spectrum. They think it's still 1950, and that America is the most advanced country in the world.

  25. I guess you are too young to remember the Walkman. Americans can a do use 'foreign' technology.

  26. It is all in pipes!

    Can't to keep the temp in the house livable and use wood seats?

    I bet some of them electrify things that one does not want to enjoy, unless inclined like Cheney!

  27. Anonymous2:18 AM

    We got this problem in Sweden too, except it's everything new comes from the USA. Technology is often important from elsewhere but if you watch TV you start to wonder if the USA is located a two hour drive away from Sweden. I think we even have people who want our polticians to fix local USA problems in Sweden because those people are watching a bit too much of TV from the USA and don't understand it is not happening here in Sweden.

  28. Anonymous11:55 AM

    Adding features decreases reliability (a traditional toilet is cheap & easy to repair).

    Plus, nearly all U.S. bathrooms I've ever seen would require having an electrician install an additional outlet - existing outlets are typically above the sink & nowhere near the toilet.

  29. Anonymous1:15 PM

    Noah, you underestimate the value of simplicity (no extra wires, chips, pipes, valves, etc. that break or wear out every couple years at least) and of good old basic human toughness. This toilet is a pretty trivial piece of "technology" like all the nonessential powered stuff that makes a basic car too complex, expensive, hard to fix, and quickly obsolete.

  30. Anonymous2:45 AM

    After clicking your reference to the "Fall of the Ming Dynasty" I can certainly say that although the Ming went the way of the "Confucian" mindset and eventually collapsed due to isolationism, Confucianism protected the Chinese from the Americanesque decay in social values. Nowhere will you find a KanyeKardashian ad or a Jersey Shore likeness on any billboard or the latest "reality" show flavor of the moment pseudostar. Although talent shows similar to American Idol highlight the hidden talents in the common folk, Chinese culture has been spared the worst of the Western Social Media Creep.

  31. Anonymous12:34 PM

    LOVE this article. I was fortunate to visit Japan, which I liked very much. The hotel room was minimalist (no excess furniture or decoration) but the beds had down quilts that kept us just warm enough and pillows that kept our heads elevated and our necks comfortable. The room temperature was perfect (not too cold for me). The bathroom was spectacular, especially the deep soaking tub and the array of soaps, the immaculate white towels, washcloths, and rugs. And we had the wonderful toilet. :-)