- Japan’s toilet wars started in February, when Matsushita engineers here unveiled a toilet seat equipped with electrodes that send a mild electric charge through the user’s buttocks, yielding a digital measurement of body-fat ratio.
Unimpressed, engineers from a rival company, Inax, counterattacked in April with a toilet that glows in the dark and whirs up its lid after an infrared sensor detects a human being. When in use, the toilet plays any of six soundtracks, including chirping birds, rushing water, tinkling wind chimes, or the strumming of a traditional Japanese harp.
In a Japanese house, “the only place you can be alone and sit quietly is likely to be the toilet,” said Masahiro Iguchi, marketing chief for Inax.
This may be one explanation for the ferocious toilet research going on in Japan. This is a nation famously addicted to gadgetry of any variety, and the addiction clearly extends to the bathroom. Another factor stimulating toilet research is the fact that Japan’s population is peaking and the number of households is expected to start declining by the end of the decade. Some money can be made by exporting toilets to countries with comparatively primitive toilet cultures, like China and Vietnam. But in Japan the real sales growth will be found by adding exotic toilet features.
Matsushita, for example, introduced in May a $3,000 throne that not only greets a user by flipping its lid, but also by blasting its twin air nozzles — air-conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter. Patting this Cadillac of toilets, Hiroyuki Matsui, chief engineer here, said, “You can bring a bathroom temperature down by 7 degrees Celsius in 30 seconds.”
Then in June, Toto, Japan’s toilet giant, came out with WellyouII, a toilet that automatically measures the user’s urine sugar levels by making a collection with a little spoon held by a retractable, mechanical arm.
Maybe I’m a Luddite, but the use of “mechanical arm” and “toilet” in the same sentence concerns me.
- Americans should prepare for more than that simple 20th-century choice: to flush or not to flush. Users of the Matsushita toilet can program it to pre-heat or pre-cool a bathroom at a specific time at a set temperature. For owners who might not be so regular, this toilet allows users to set the temperature and pressure of a water jet spray used to wash and massage the buttocks, an enormously popular feature in Japan.
Toilet jet sprays, which sometimes confuse foreign visitors with disastrous results, are now in nearly half of Japanese homes, a rate higher than that of personal computers.
Imagine if Japan’s butt-spraying toilet culture is married with South Korea’s online gaming mania: an entire generation would never leave the bathroom.