WATCH: What Makes Japan No. 1 In Toilet Technology

Jun 16, 2017
Originally published on July 6, 2017 1:47 pm

Japanese toilets have come a long way from the early 20th century, when many people in Japan still used "squatters," which were built into the floor.

Western toilets became popular after World War II. And today, signature Japanese toilets offer the world's most futuristic and automated technology when nature calls.

The units are not just toilets, but also bidets, offering a dizzying menu of options for washing and also for privacy — not to mention heated seats, automatic odor-neutralizers and lids that rise when you approach.

A Japanese government survey last year found more than 80 percent of Japanese homes have toilet-bidet combos.

Check out the Washlet — the name given to a popular toilet-bidet combo made by Japanese company Toto — and its more advanced cousins in this showroom tour. Toto is the world's largest toilet maker, with more than $5 billion in annual sales. Its Washlet line ranges in price from $400 to $1,800. Higher-end Toto Neorests, which count Leonardo DiCaprio and Madonna among its fans, can cost as much as $5,000.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

To truly see Japanese innovation, look no further than the bathroom. Japan's high-tech, toilet-bidet combos have these menu panels that are full of rinsing and drying features, and NPR's Elise Hu is going to explain one noisy innovation that the Japanese have come to expect.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: We're at Toto because Toto is the largest manufacturer of toilets in the world, and one of the awesomest (ph) things about Japan are the toilets here.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUSHING WATER)

HU: There it is.

What you're hearing there isn't actual rushing water but the manufactured sound of rushing water which comes standard with almost every Japanese toilet.

Can you hear that?

(SOUNDBITE OF RUSHING WATER)

HU: The noise-making feature is called Otohime or the Sound Princess. The Japanese are community-minded, so it used to be that Japanese women would flush the toilet several times before they used it to muffle any personal noises. But Toto spokeswoman Nariko Tamashita says a drought in the 1970s inspired an invention.

NARIKO TAMASHITA: (Through interpreter) Everyone realized that it was a waste of water to - just to cover up the sound. And that's how Toto came up with the idea of selling the Sound Princess.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUSHING WATER)

HU: I can turn the volume down.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUSHING WATER)

HU: Ah, so if you don't need it to be so loud - there you go.

It's just one feature of the endlessly innovative Japanese toilets. But this one solved both a societal problem, shame of potty noises, and an environmental problem, water waste, in one invention. Sounds good, right? Elise Hu, NPR News, Tokyo.

(SOUNDBITE OF TERUYUKI NOBOUCHIKA'S "CAFE DU PARC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.