In the eyes of all the industrial nations, Japan’s track record on the environment is an enviable one. Every household in Tokyo sorts through its garbage into 3 separate piles of what could be burned, what couldn’t be burned, and what could be recycled. It is one nation where the government imposes laws, and the citizens obey without a hint of dissatisfaction (unlike their neighbors in China where they really have no choice). Soon corporations in this nation are going to be judged by how they trim the waist-line of their employees.
But going back to the environment—even this nation that cherishes nature and protects its resources apparently is facing a monumental problem because the citizenry is in love with its toilet seats. Yes, you read correctly—toilet seats. Many foreigners have been equally surprised and impressed by how the Japanese consumer market is considered to be the most pampered in the world.
You really haven’t seen anything until you took a dump on a Japanese toilet seat. Called “washlets” because they are toilets that wash your buns (not to mention heating said buns and blowing them dry air after the wash), these gadgets are the 21st century solution to turning that lonely, and often chilling experience into a, well, warm one.
I have heard American business people who would claim that this is the best Japanese invention since Cup of Noodles, while others ask, “Is it clean?” or “They’re not recycling the toilet water, are they?” (the answer is, “yes, it’s clean,” and “no, it’s clean water.”)
This marvelous invention, apparently is the pain the ass—excuse my metaphore—for the Japanese government, for in spite of Japan’s track record of lowering carbon output and energy use in its commercial sector, electricity use at homes have grown steadily, and one of the chief causes is apparently the butt-warmer-cleaner.
I couldn’t stop but laugh when I read about this challenge in an article in the Washington Post. I have often been asked by my friends in Japan about how Americans view the Japanese. “What are they saying about us?” they would inquire.
I was impressed by the depth of the reporting, but wondered what an average American would think about the article. At first glance, it is quite humorous. But I often wonder if it is humorous because of the subject matter or if it is because the American general public never takes people in Japan as seriously as their partners in Europe. It also does highlight how Japan is viewed as a nation that is frugal and can get things done without regard to all the debate about protecting its industries, something the US President loves to use as an excuse to keep polluting the world.
But the folks at Toto (not the rock band, but the company that makes a lot of these washlets), are already researching ways to reduce energy use by these toilet seats. The big problem is the continuous heating of the seats and the warm water reservoir. By using computers and intelligent technology, the firm is programming the toilet seats so that it could predict use patterns within the family. Perhaps Dad would go do his Number 2 early in the day, and Mom would go later. And during the day time when there is little activity, it could auto shut-down so that the energy consumption is lowered.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of experimenting with a washlet, my advice is simply to sit down and enjoy. And don’t make the mistake of standing up and trying to watch how it works. That is one wet experience you wouldn’t want to write home about.