Trends in Japan

Top Picks || Arts & Entertainment || Business & Economy || Education & Society ||
Science & Technology || Sports & Fashion || Search || Back Numbers

New Functions Take Full Care of Bodily Functions

June 16, 1998

This elevating toilet seat assists elderly and handicapped people to sit down and then, after use, to stand up. (Inax Corp.)

A few decades back, a toilet in Japan was usually a porcelain-lined hole in the floor. The squat toilet is still common. But so, increasingly, are high-tech bowl units, with features like seat-covers that automatically rise when a person enters the restroom, seats heated to body-temperature, warm water jets that cleanse the user, and, in a final flourish, gentle blow-drying. Or when the user stands up, the flush is activated, and when the door is shut, the seat-cover goes down again--all automatically. Although they seem rather complex for a simple toilet, these features are expected to benefit the elderly, the handicapped, and those many Japanese who suffer from hemorrhoids.

Bowled Over
The high-tech toilet is already attracting attention overseas. In May 1997, an article in the Washington Post headlined "But Do They Flush? Japan's High-Tech Toilets Do Nearly Everything, Even Redden Faces" described how a U.S. diplomat in Tokyo accidentally hit an automated toilet's bidet button, which activates a warm-water nozzle lodged inside the bowl, and soaked the cubicle. The bidet is a jet of warm water squirted upward from within the bowl to clean the user. A lot of Japanese have certainly also suffered this embarrassment at least once while fumbling among the buttons on the keypad, which is set alongside the toilet bowl, or even a remote control.

Apart from these cleansing functions, other bells and whistles available on high-tech toilets include automatic changes of the seat's covering sheet and, in many women's stalls, automatic rushing-water soundtracks to mask characteristic toilet noises. Restrooms in many so-called "intelligent buildings" are now completely high-tech.

Automated toilets are also spreading among ordinary homes. In Japan, 2.2 million units have been sold, equivalent to one in every three detached homes. A top-class hotel in central Tokyo has installed the units in 480 of its 1,519 rooms and plans to equip all the other rooms during FY 1999. "Some customers specifically ask for them when making reservations," a hotel representative says. "Quite a lot of customers have written in letters to the general manager that they hope to see the toilets installed." The high-tech toilet is becoming a part of everyday life.

A Boon for the Aged
A top sanitary-ware maker's catalog shows the full range of extras that come with toilets these days. Apart from the adjustable nozzles and blow-dryers, there are automatic deodorizers, toilet seats that open and close automatically via sensors, automatic bowl-cleaning, room heating, seat heating, and even a mechanism for adjusting the height of the seat. A toilet with all these features inevitably sports an awful lot of buttons.

Nonetheless, the high-tech toilet has recently attracted attention as a boon for the aged and otherwise physically impaired. In Japan, where central heating is rare, you experience a big temperature drop when you go to the toilet from the living room or bedroom in most houses in winter. There have been cases of old people collapsing from cerebral apoplexy and other conditions triggered by visits to the toilet. Apart from eliminating this danger, high-tech toilets with adjustable seat height could also help the aged and others impaired in their bodily movement. The automated toilet could also prove a blessing for the one-third of all Japanese who are thought to suffer from that bane of modern living--hemorrhoids--because it reduces the need for painful wiping.

New Markets
In parts of Southeast Asia and of the Middle East, water washes are the norm after a bowel movement. And in some parts of Europe, bidets are customary. However, automated units have failed to show much growth in terms of unit sales or product recognition, although they have been exported for some 10 years. "In Southeast Asia, the problem is their high price," says a spokesperson for a sanitary-ware maker. "And in the United States and other developed markets, there is a strong taboo mentality with regard to bowel movements and toilets, sufficient for people to reject advertising." Nonetheless, those Americans who have bought them are thought to be very satisfied customers, so there appears to be ample potential for acceptance.

In Japan, there has apparently been an ironic corollary to the ubiquity of the automated toilet. Some people have become so attached to them that they find that they cannot do the business on any other porcelain--leading to constipation, which aggravates hemorrhoids.

Back to Main Index

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Japan Information Network