Embracing Your Inner Washlet

I have always wondered why women spend so much time in the stalls of public bathrooms. What are they doing in there that takes so long? I am a woman and I don’t understand it! No wonder we suffer through long lines in public places! But now, Japan has provided an easy explanation for why women spend so much time in bathrooms. Now, even men’s bathrooms can have long lines.

This would be a major political issue if the lines were in the men’s bathrooms, and not an issue at all if women ran the construction industry. ….Stock photo.

Introducing the Washlet, baffling some and extending personal hygiene time for others with technology that few of us could have imagined. It looks like a vanilla American toilet but the Washlet is the iPhone XS MAX of the personal hygiene world. And like your first smartphone, the Washlet is initially a little intimidating. Guide books say things like “Japan is a complex society, and try figuring out their toilets, haha!”

But it’s not that bad. You can either read the instructions or let the Washlet functionality seep into your soul, as I did.

The many types of Washlet control panels. Stock photo.

First —  here is how the Washlet is not like your iPhone: the Washlet loves you. Without expectation of remuneration or recharging every three hours, the Washlet is designed to be all about you, if you are willing to walk that path.

Matcha-topped breads, no relation to Washlets but I like the photo which I took at a bakery in Fukuoka.

When you approach it, the Washlet knows. It automatically lifts its lid. This is disarming at first because you are wondering whether there is something in the bowl, ready to jump out at you. But then you sit down and you feel, um, relieved, because the seat is heated.

When the Washlet senses you are comfortably seated, it begins making little purring noises as it prepares to perform any of your several commands. Maybe you are a little shy and would like a tasteful flushing noise….you can push that button.

Can you guess what the leaders of Japan’s toilet industry have in common? Yep, they love the control panel. Stock photo.

After you are done with you know, you can push one of several other buttons — the bidet function for the back or the bidet function for the front or the bidet function that is soft. No worries — the water is heated.  But if the Washlet doesn’t know you well, be sure you know where the stop button is!

Yes of course, there is a dry function if you prefer touchless.

Then stand up and voila! The Washlet will self-flush and lower the lid.

There are still some of these around, treasured by some, eschewed by others.  Stock photo.

At first, many Americans may be a little queasy about the rituals the Washlet encourages. Maybe you will feel like a Parisian putain for awhile (not necessarily a bad thing). But ultimately, probably almost certainly you will wonder how you could live without such  freshness.

See — you can just put a bar of soap and a little towel here and not waste water. Stock photo.

The Washlet is not perfect. I worry about the environmental consequences of all that heating and squirting and lid-lifting. But the Washlet is all about me, so it has anticipated my concerns. On the top of the bowl, it offers a stream of clean water to wash your hands, which will then be recycled as part of the flush.

On your way out, you think maybe the long line was not so bad. You look back for just a second….

“Please come back soon,” the Washlet seems to say. “You know you will be happy.”

Not very relevant to the Washlet but I loved this poster, which was part of an art installation on Ogishima.



“There is nothing you can see that is not a flower. There is nothing you can think that is not the moon.”
              Matsuo Basho




  1. Ooh-ooh!! I know the answer to your question!

    This of your best blogs ever!!!

    I’m glad you pointed out that the Washlet seeps into people’s souls rather than seep onto people’s toes.

  2. Brilliant Kim, at it again, reporting on what’s real out there in the world.

    Thank you!

  3. I agree, intimidating! When I was in Japan, none of the bathrooms had paper towels or hand dryers. My pen pal said it was because there had been some terrorist explosions in trash cans, so they eliminated trash cans. She carried a new and pretty cloth for us to dry our hands every day.

  4. 🙂 Still the case as far as I can tell. I bought a little cloth for this too, which was fun. Although it turned out to be polyester so it doesn’t dry my hands. Will get another!

  5. Japanese toilets are quite a phenomenon, and a welcome one, although I never did much experimenting with all the available controls when I was there. Just used the necessities for good hygiene which are certainly missing from the bland toilets in much of the world.

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