number twos

Posted on August 31, 2008
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From the London Telegraph

“Japan makes the most advanced, remarkable toilets in the world. Japanese toilets can, variously, check your blood pressure, play you music, wash and dry your anus and ‘front parts’ by means of an in-toilet nozzle that sprays water and warm air, suck smelly ions from the atmosphere, switch on a light for you as you stumble into the bathroom at night, put the seat lid down for you (a function known as the ‘marriage-saver’) and flush away your excreta without requiring anything as old-fashioned as a tank. These devices are known as high-function toilets, but even the lowliest high-function toilet will have as standard an in-built bidet system, a heated seat and some form of nifty control panel.Consequently, first-time travellers to Japan have for years told a similar tale: foreigner goes to toilet and finds a receptacle with a hi-tech control panel containing many buttons with peculiar symbols on them, and a strange nozzle in the bowl. Foreigner doesn’t understand the symbols. Foreigner finishes business, presses a button, gets sprayed with water by the nozzle and is soaked.

The Washlet, originally a brand name for a toilet seat with bidet function, has become for the Japanese a generic word for a high-function toilet (usually translated as Washeretto). In modern Japan, the Washlet is as loved and taken for granted as the Hoover. Since 1980, Toto, Japan’s biggest and oldest toilet manufacturer, has sold 20 million Washlets to a nation of 160 million people. According to census figures, there are more Japanese households with Washlets than there are with computers. They are so standard, some Japanese schoolchildren refuse to use anything else.It is easy, for anyone who has not used a Washlet, to dismiss it as yet another product of Japanese eccentricity. Such sniping ignores the fact that the Japanese make toilets that are beautifully engineered, and that the stunning success of the high-function toilet holds lessons for anyone – from public health officials to marketing experts – whose work involves understanding and changing human behaviour and decision-making. It is instructive because only 60 years ago, Japan was a nation of squatting pit latrines. Today, the Japanese sit, use water and expect a heated seat as a matter of course. In less than a century, the Japanese toilet industry has achieved the equivalent of persuading a country that drove on the left in horse-drawn carriages to move to the right and drive a Ferrari. Two things interest me about the Japanese toilet revolution: that it happened, and that it has failed to spread.” continue reading

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