The Washlet: Once You Go Tech, You Never Go Back

I was recently asked to start writing a monthly column for Geekweek from the perspective of an expat living in Japan.  I jumped at the opportunity, as I am always willing to share what I've experienced during my eight years here. The only problem was figuring out where to begin. It only took me a few seconds to decide: the washlet

I love living in Japan; the culture, history, food, language, and people are all amazingly rich sources of wonder and admiration for me.  But secretly, the biggest reason behind (pun intended) my stay here, and the first thing I start to miss about Japan whenever I leave, is the washlet. For those of you not in the know, the Japanese washlet is a mechanized bidet/toilet seat that is found in 50% of all Japanese households. 


The washlet was first introduced to the world in 1980 by Toto, a company that continues to produce some of the most advanced ass-washing systems the world has ever seen. At first glance, washlets look deceptively simple, but don’t let their unassuming appearance fool you. Current washlets host a dazzling array of functions: posterior water cleansing (i.e. anus spray), female bidet water cleansing, automatic air drying, seat heating, massage, water and seat temperature controls, adjustable water nozzle positioning, self-cleaning nozzles, automatic seat and lid opening and closing, automatic flushing, air deodorizing, soap rinse, air conditioning controls, and power-saving modes that use washlet user history to determine when to turn on and off seat and water heating in order to conserve energy. And these are just the tip of the ass-berg. The actual control panels for the washlets are usually connected to the seat itself in an easy to reach place, while higher-end models have wireless wall-mounted panels complete with LCD’s. 


Washlets are not only sanitary, but also eco-friendly. Without going into too much detail, I can personally vouch that my toilet paper use has been reduced by about 90% since I started using a washlet. After the posterior spray is over, a simple dry-off wipe is all that is necessary to finish the job. Washlet makers also tout the health benefits of their products: research has apparently shown that washlets can help alleviate constipation and even hemorrhoids. Washlets aren’t totally devoid of controversy, however. Some Japanese doctors claim that repetitive use of washlet water cleansing on high-pressure settings can cause “Washlet Syndrome,” with symptoms ranging from chronic constipation to skin inflammation around the anus.

Despite potential problems for over-users, the washlet remains my favorite Japanese invention (yes, even more than the Walkman, or panty-dispensing vending machines). The washlet has become an indispensable staple of my daily routine and personal hygiene, and it beats the hell out of the other uniquely-Japanese toilet -- the “squatter.” But that is a topic best saved for another column. 

For those of you still skeptical about the wonder of the washlet, imagine life without those annoying never-ending wiping fiascos. Imagine life where even on a cold winter's day, you know that the toilet seat is waiting for you, nice and warm. That fantasy is a reality, my friends, and it is all thanks to the washlet.


Matthew Rooks has been living in Japan off and on for 8 years and counting. He is a university educator living in the Kansai region

You can follow him on twitter @Rookeree

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