Toilet Tech | Japan | Living in Mexico

Toilet Tech

Here's an update on Japanese toilets. I just had to do this. After all, the Tokyo part of our tour is about modernity, and the new toilets are nothing if they aren't modern.

I've only seen one squatter; they're on their way out. You know the kind I mean, consisting of a shallow sink in the floor with two raised islands for your feet and a hole. A ceramic version of the latrine you dug when you went camping in the Sierras. The one I saw was in a high-end department store. For some reason, department stores seem to be among the last to switch over to sitters.

Most places not only have sitters exclusively, they have toilets with heated seats. One of the little rubber bumpers under the seat is a control for a valve that allows hot water to circulate through the seat, providing instant warmth. Sit. Rubber bumper compresses. Valve opens. Butt warms. Why this is desirable is beyond me.

The heated seats have a couple of rubber hoses that lead off to the house plumbing. These hoses can cause the seat, when a man lifts it to pee, to snap down unexpectedly. Sounds to me like an opportunity for kaizen (the Japanese continuous improvement process). 

Here we see our hotel room toilet seat with one of its hoses.


A high-tech toilet.

The complicated object to the left is the control panel.

Let's repeat that. The toilet seat has a control panel. Not only does it have a control panel, the toilet is sufficiently complicated that it needs to have operating instructions printed on it.

I bet that in a drawer somewhere in the hotel, there's even an instruction manual. Which, of course, nobody reads.


Control panel.

The switch to the far right is easy enough to understand. You don't wanna warm your ass? Turn it off. Curiously, turning it off is a temporary function. As you sit, you can turn the heat off for the ... um ... current session. Next time you use it, the darn thing's on again, so if you don't want a cozy butt, you have to turn it off every time. Too much trouble. I just leave it on, but I might consider changing my policy in hot weather.

The remaining four controls are for the buttwasher. Let's say you have excreted some ... solids, and are about to reach for the toilet paper. Well, just hold on now! Toilet paper, as we all know, doesn't really do a good job. I mean, would you besa mi culo right after I walk out of the bathroom? I thought not. Recognizing this, the ever inventive Japanese have come up with a solution: A bathroom-sized pressure washer.

Getting back to the moment of our dilemma, we reach not for the tissue. Instead we press the appropriately color coded brown button. A little tube snakes out from under the seat and somehow positions itself itself exactly where it's needed. Don't wanna think about that too much. A valve clicks, and suddenly a gentle stream of warm water hits you spang where it's needed. Woo hoo! If you're looking for really deep cleaning (sorry), you can hit the "hi" pressure toggle, but you'd better clench up before you do, 'cause on that setting, the jet is really effective.

In case you don't understand the color coding, the brown button has a little cartoon that represents a butt hanging down and a jet gently squirting up. Fair enough. Now look at the pink button. Says "front." But what does the cartoon mean? After lengthy study, I surmise that it is a representation of a woman in a skirt superimposed on a spray of water. So it's saying, "Hey guys. This one's for the girls." Pink and all. At one point, I thought the ideograms above the pink lozenge represented the tube snaking out from under the seat, but now I think they are kanji for "douche." I could have come up with better graphics than that. So could you. Think about it. Different images. Different color. See?

The stop button is so you can turn off the jets before rising, a desirable strategy. It keeps the bathroom drier.

Now. All this convenience and comfort comes at a price. The more complicated something is, the more likely something will go wrong. There could even be the possibility of injury. And so, this toilet seat is the first ever to bear a WARNING LABEL!


Warning label.

Looking at the second group of warnings first, we are cautioned not to sit (or stand) on the main unit, control panel or lid, to reduce the risk of electrocution.

Gee—I gotta worry about being ELECTROCUTED by a TOILET SEAT? 

Don't sit on the lid? EVERYBODY sits on the lid. It's where you sit when you're putting on your socks or trimming your toenails. What are these guys thinking? People who fail to read the fine print—that's most of us—are gonna sit on the lid. But with this gadget, sitting means we're flirting with death!

Seems like an avoidable risk to me. You could accomplish the same thing, when needed, with a warm soapy washcloth and a little elbow grease.

Continuing to read upward, we're advised to turn the heated seat off if we're gonna sit there for a long time. To avoid burns. Come on! Half of Japan sits on toilets working today's Asahi Shimbun soduko puzzle. They're hard. Take a lot of time. There's gonna be a lot of singed butts. Or half-solved puzzles.

As a public service, the Asahi Shimbun is going to have to run easier problems.

Finally, there's the warning not to splash water (or urine) on the main unit, control panel or power box. 

Picture this: It's 2 AM. You stumble groggily through the dark to the bathroom. If you're like me, you don't want to turn on the light because you'll just wake up more, and you're really trying to get this out of the way without actually waking up. You've been doing this for years. You can hit a dime in the dark. You start to let go, dead center in the bowl.

And the lid snaps down. Remember the hoses?

In the good old days, this just meant you would annoy the woman in your life when she unsuspectingly went to use the toilet in the morning. But now: You miss, and sheet lightning arcs back up the stream.

Let's face it. This is a bad idea. Like those little dog robots. Like canned whiskey in vending machines. Like tri-level driving ranges. It ought to be killed. But I understand these toilet seats have been around for at least seven years, so someone is heavily invested in the concept and it ain't gonna go away—at least not in Japan. All we can hope is that they'll eventually kaizen their way out of electrocuting their customers.

Update: I read in the English-language newspaper that the latest models will blow hot air on your butt, to dry it. They also have nozzles that move back and forth in a "massage" action. (Their word, not mine.) Just think about that for a while.