Have You Heard About Japanese Toilets? They are Called Washlets and You Will
The title of this article may be a bit bold, and if you’re an American it’s natural to feel just a tiny bit of skepticism about any increase of popularity regarding the Japanese toilet known as the “washlet”. After all, it’s not exactly a new concept. It was invented way back in 1980 and shipped to consumers in 1982 by Toto, which is now the largest manufacturer of toilet seats in Japan and one of the biggest in the whole world.
So what’s so special about the washlet toilet seat? Actually, the term washlet is now a generic term that refers to toilet seats with enhanced features, just as people call all tissues as Kleenex and all vacuum cleaners as Hoovers. Technically, Washlet is a brand name.
And these enhanced features in Japanese toilets can seriously threaten how American’s perceive of themselves as the most technologically advanced culture in the world. The washlet toilet comes with a heated seat and a remote control. It’s also called a Japanese bidet as they feature pressurized water for rears and even for lady parts. And those are just the basic features—others come with soothing sounds that mask the rude sounds of splashing.
And get this: about 76% of all Japanese homes have a washlet-style toilet. In the US, even ordinary bidet toilets are rare.
The Rise of the Japanese Toilet in Japan
The popularity of the modern washlet in Japan is due to a strange set of historical circumstances. We’ll need to take a quick history lesson, because the story may provide a clue as to how the Japanese toilet can make some headway into American markets.
It all started with the Meiji Restoration, which then ushered a new modern Japan. The Japanese began taking an interest in the world stage, and as such began adopting Western weaponry and Western suits. The country’s long era of isolationism was about to end, and the Japanese people were beginning to change.
Because of this new fascination with Western technology and culture, by 1912 Toto was born in a lab to develop sanitary ceramics just like those in the US and Europe. But at the time, most people were still using squatting holes. Even Tokyo didn’t have a public sewage system, and in the rural areas outhouses still existed.
But then the Great Kanto Earthquake devastated Japan in 1923. Tokyo was flattened, and more than 100,000 people lost their lives. This tragedy required the Japanese to start rebuilding from the ground up, and the Tokyo city planners used this opportunity to construct a modern sewage system. Toto then began its ascent as western toilets which had people sitting down instead of squatting became more common.
The next big push for western toilets happened during the 1970s, when there was a construction boom fueled by the increasing strength of the Japanese economy. New buildings and homes were being built everywhere, and developers opted for western toilets.
By 1980, these western toilets were now being demanded by owners of older homes. They’ve become the norm, and the squatting holes of yesteryear became yesterday’s news.
So what accounts for the popularity of the modern-day washlet toilet seat? That’s easily explained—the modern Japanese now has a penchant for trying out new things. They’re not afraid or intimidated, and especially not with new technology. That fearless samurai culture lives on.
Potential Issues and Difficulties
Read any review for a washlet-style toilet, and invariably the review is going to be stellar. This is especially true for customer reviews. They just love them. So what’s the problem?
The minor issues include regulations and cost, but Toto has found ways of getting around these problems. For example, Toto designs a longer plug for its Washlet (it runs on electricity) if local regulations forbid the presence of electrical outlets in the bathroom.
As for cost, Apple with its smartphones and Beats headphones have demonstrated that people will buy expensive products with the right marketing, even if the products have inferior features than their competitors. It’s all a matter of making it “cool”. And besides, like LED TVs, costs tend to drop all the time, especially when more companies begin manufacturing these things.
So now we come to what is probably the biggest hurdle for Japanese washlet toilets: culture. For one, Americans are notoriously fastidious and prudish about discussing these things. Americans are also known to sticking with what’s familiar when it comes to their sanitary habits.
This is the reason why dry toilet paper is so widely used. Some manufacturers have tried marketing moist toilet paper, but their efforts have failed spectacularly.
Moist toilet paper comprises only 3% of total toilet paper sales. The cultural prejudice against new sanitary habits has even led the majority of moist toilet paper buyers to hide the products inside a bathroom cabinet instead of out in the open.
Also, most people can
There’s no doubt that the washlet toilet is superior to ordinary western toilets. So theoretically this shouldn’t pose any major difficulty. According to David Krakoff, the president of the sales division for Toto USA, it’s all about pointing out the obvious.
“You would never consider your hands to be clean if you simply rubbed them on a dry paper towel with no water, and the shower you take every day is useless without water,” he says.
So what’s to be done? The Internet is probably going to factor in, as it is the fastest way to spread info. One viral video and that’s it. Of course, any marketing strategy should also appeal to common sense. Today no parent in the US would use dry paper toilet for their babies when there’s moist wipe available. The next step is to convince American adults that they too deserve this basic comfort.
Perhaps Toto can start their marketing with tech-savvy companies and their toilets. Once their employees become used to the comforts of the washlet toilet seat, they’ll consider using it at home.
It’s all a matter about convincing an entire people to change and try new things. That’s not impossible, because the Japanese did it themselves. And so can Americans with the Japanese toilet, with the right marketing strategy.