Japan wants visitors to experience its world-class toilet culture

Published April 20, 2015
A GIRL prepares to go down a slide inside a giant toilet, part of the exhibit at The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo.
A GIRL prepares to go down a slide inside a giant toilet, part of the exhibit at The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo.

TOKYO: Japan is trying an unconventional way to impress visitors to their country with both their technology and their gracious hospitality — a toilet “gallery” where it’s just fine to touch, and sample, the exhibits.

Toto, Japan’s leading toilet manufacturer, plans to soon open a high-tech bathroom “gallery” in the departures section of Tokyo’s Narita international airport.

“Gallery Toto” will feature four stalls each for men and women, so departing visitors can try out the company’s famous Washlet models, complete with all the features that come in an upscale Japanese toilet — bidet, seat-warmer, sterilising and deodorising functions, and electronic flushing.

The gallery, with its futuristic illuminated walls, features murals of Mount Fuji and other iconic landscapes of Japan.

Toto says the display will provide an opportunity for travellers to experience “Japanese toilet culture” and technologies, hoping that it will also help boost international sales.

And Japanese toilet culture is something to behold.

Almost every train and subway station in Japan, and many of its parks, boasts a spotless public restroom. It’s not uncommon to find a public restroom where the toilets feature all these impressive technologies, plus additional conveniences like a special seat for your baby while you do your business (which doubles perfectly as a bag-holder) and a flip-down board that you can stand on while you get changed so you don’t dirty your socks on the bathroom floor.

Nor is it unusual to find little toilets and wash basins for children, or hooks to hang your umbrella on while you wash your hands. Accessible stalls with plenty of handrails are standard in this rapidly ageing society.

And that’s just in public places. Many Japanese homes have similarly fancy toilets, which allow users to adjust the temperature of the seat and the water pressure and temperature from the bidet.

What must Japanese think when they travel abroad?

While the Toto gallery will be available for viewing and use soon, potential customers won’t be able to buy products on the spot. Instead, Toto officials hope foreign visitors, flushed from the experience, will buy its toilets after they get home.

In Japan, customers can buy only the seat component for $1,100 (although the company’s top-of-the-line Neorest goes for $3,500). In the United States, the full Washlet, Toto’s signature product, retails for $3,000.

There’s one person who might not be impressed with Toto’s attempts to showcase its products to foreigners: Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The Global Times, a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist party, earlier this year lashed out against Chinese tourists who were returning from Japan with the high-tech toilet seats after reports that Chinese tourists spent $1 billion in Japan during a holiday season, a good chunk of it on toilet seats.

“Such news makes a mockery of China’s boycott of Japanese goods over the past two years,” the newspaper said. “Some Chinese people feel ashamed about this and have criticised their compatriots’ obsession with foreign goods,” the paper said in an editorial entitled “Popularity of Japanese toilet seats overstated”.

“That Chinese tourists swamp Japanese stores at a time when the country is facing a sluggish domestic demand is certainly not something to be proud of,” it said.

By arrangement with The Washington Post

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2015

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