An offbeat plumbing cult from Japan

An offbeat plumbing cult from Japan

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If you are looking for a holiday gift that is out of the ordinary, I have a suggestion for you. In fact, this particular product has been written up recently in The New York Times in the Fashion & Style section so dramatically that it has caught people’s imagination. Perhaps that is because the giver of the gift can realize as much benefit as the receiver. Ready for the offbeat suggestion?

The Times sums it up with this headline: “The Cult of the Toto Toilet.”

What? You may say that you have had indoor plumbing all your life. You may even have a commode previously manufactured by Toto, the Japanese plumbing company. But the object of this cult, dear reader, is no ordinary bit of plumbing. If you own one, it will change your life. Let me explain.

While this Toto marvel may look the same as a regular toilet bowl as it quietly sits in the bathroom, when you lift the lid the differences become obvious. You see several buttons in a housing alongside the seat. And like many of the latest electronic luxury items, its use is intuitive. There is the on-off switch, two different buttons that regulate temperature and a couple more that control position of the flow. This seat, you see, is actually a bidet, with all the benefits brought right to your doorstep, so to speak.

Called a Toto washlet, the product has inspired unbelievable devotion. This Japanese creation boasts a heated seat, a bidet function for a thorough cleanse and, if you have one of the more recent models, “an air purifying system that deodorizes during use,” according to the Times. There is even an air dryer, virtually eliminating the need for toilet paper if you have higher tolerance for risk.

I first saw the washlet when I visited Japan seven or eight years ago. It seemed like such an upscale item, yet it was so widespread: in hotels, department stores, restaurants and airports. I was so impressed with its functionality that when I returned home I called my plumber to see if I could order one. He thought I was kidding when I described how it worked. I challenged him to call his supplier before he totally laughed me off, and then call me back with the answer. He did, 20 minutes later, and added that in addition to mine, he was going to buy one for himself.

I was not so surprised on my trip to China this past September to find such a seat in the home of a Chinese family. Though they are still a novelty here, they are more common in Asia, and they are now made by more companies than just Toto.

The installation of the washlet is a little complicated in an existing bathroom. In addition to bringing a water line to the seat, an electric outlet needs to be placed within a cord’s reach of the commode, and this is counter to the normal safety regulations for distance between electricity and water. Therefore this outlet has to be one certified for use near water, like the one near the bathroom sink used for shavers or hair dryers, and the electric line probably has to be snaked over behind the bathroom wall from the nearest source of electricity. This is not impossible, however, but it is the largest expense in making this change. I can tell you, and so can everyone who has one, that it is well worth the effort and not just as a luxury or convenience. There is a real health component.

The washlet I have is the most basic, and the entire transition cost in the three figures. But now there are many more upscale and sophisticated models. They can also be a lot more expensive. Features can include urine testing and other medical data that can then be relayed via the Internet directly to physicians.

But you can still get the stripped-down version, like the most basic model of washing machine or dishwasher, and that is quite sufficient to take you to a better place.