Japan’s Toto Washlet: A Memorable Washing Experience

In search of toto

In 1982, Toto introduced the Toto washlet, a toilet seat with sound features that were created in order to assist in limiting the water wasted on unnecessary flushes, a habit in the women’s bathroom, due to the average Japanese women’s embarrassment for making any bodily noise whatsoever. 

It was 2012 when I first discovered a Toto washlet, or rather, it discovered me. I had been staying in a capsule hotel, modern and innovative, save for its traditional bathing rooms, and had just wandered into a chic Tokyo hotel to print a boarding pass (it was 2012, the electronic ones were not in use yet) and decided to made a quick stop to the bathroom.

Upon nudging opening the bathroom stall I was greeted with the sound of birds tweeting, a gentle babbling brook, and… was that Heiden’s Fourth?

I was in awe. I looked towards the heavens only to be greeted by a spotless, glimmering, tiled ceiling.I cast my eyes downward and there, before me, was the Toto. The washlet. The toilet of my dreams. 

I took one step forward. The seat covering opened automatically. Obliged, I took a seat. 

When one is confronted with a strange new contraption, numerous buttons on a side panel with various water signs and Japanese symbols, one has the compulsion to start pressing them… all. I yelped when it sprayed water at me, whistled through my teeth when it blew air upon my bottom and grunted in confusion when the toilet seat began to warm. I paused to listen to the clipping, hurried footsteps of a polite cosmopolitan Japanese woman make her swift exit from the bathroom.

I recall this Toto fondly and now can safely say I fully understand the statement, you never forget your first! While I’ve encountered about a dozen washlets since, one was even a matte black toilet with pink toilet paper, Totos are few and far between and none have had the bird setting that I have since been, with quiet desperation, in search of. When mentioning Japan as a country I am eager to travel to again I run through the reasons. The beauty, the cleanliness of the city streets, the history, the mix of ancient and futuristic, the food, the culture, and of course, their toilets. When the person I’m speaking to has that short spark of confusion shoot, like a falling star, bright yet brief, cross their eyes I reassure them. “No…” I say with urgency, “You don’t understand…” but as soon as I mention the tender tweets of birds, they most certainly do. 


“Yes…” I say softly. “There may be squatters at road stops but in nice hotels, the toilets sing.” 

I have been in Europe for 90 days now, moving to Croatia for another three month stint while my boyfriend and I work remotely. COVID cases are on the rise again and, when entering Croatia, I will have to enter a 14 day quarantine with a dead silent bathroom.

In Europe, you could enter your stall and listen to the sound of a fly land on a piece of toilet paper three rows over. Bathrooms are, for unknown reasons, placed next to where diners sit. I suppose this is done with the expectation that the bar, restaurant, or cafe might be boisterous enough to cover even the struggles of an adult in the throws of, what Icelanders call, “playing chess with the pope” but Europeans, especially the northern ones, are rarely boisterous and would rather whisper and mutter to one another so as not to upset the other couple fifteen feet away. 

European toilets also have that strange tilt to them, don’t they? When attempting to have a silent, peaceful wee, something all women were, on some unspoken level, taught to master come middle school, the tilt of these European toilets make the small sprinkle reverberate, the sound of a single droplet from a stalactite in a cave. “The acoustics are wild, aren’t they?” A tour operator might remark upon entering this European bathroom. 

The best you can wish for is the city bistro, namely, those in Paris, or Rome. Either the bathroom is adjacent to the kitchen where a sous chef stands, as if on duty, carelessly tossing plates and glasses into a high stack, clattering and clanking them as if his or her life depended upon it, or the bathroom is neatly tucked into a narrow basement. Steep, winding steps lead you into the underbelly of the establishment where, aside from the waiter who stands, taking out their frustrations on the POS system which is, for one reason or another, always placed alongside the bathroom in the basement, you are free to do as you wish in the privacy of a small, claustrophobic, room. 

Yes, I’m bathroom shy, but aren’t we supposed to be? Or have Europeans evolved beyond the point of bodily embarrassments, brushing off what they may or may not hear, and take a bite of their gushing chocolate fondant anyway? 

No, I do not wish for the passerby to even hear a flush because, as soon as I emerge, they will be aware of what has taken place. In Iceland, I am forced to let the faucet run. I hate the idea of the waste of water but I cannot tolerate the idea that my delicate, controlled tinkle reverberates as a biblical flood reminiscent of the Dettifoss roar, a torrent of unending, the strongest waterfall in all of Europe.

These silent bathrooms of Europe offer their own regional phenomenon, don’t they? The squatters of Asia and Eastern Europe are a no brainer, they serve their own purpose. They are a literal hole in the ground that you position yourself over. Makes sense. It’s old school, slightly primitive, but it isn’t wasteful. It’s sensible and if we’re all in it together then here I am, a game player, ready and willing. But a silent, fully functioning, pristine bathroom in every city across Europe whose toilet structures are bent in such a way that no woman can have a silent use and no man can help but leave a shit smudge? Is it a test? A sick trick? If we must use these toilets, can’t there be a fan noise for god sakes? 

My working thesis is that Europeans do not suffer from as many bowl ailments as the average American. Americans need sound and though we don’t have birds tweeting in our ears and babbling brooks rushing below our seated positions, setting a bucolic scene as we take leave of our four day constipation, we have the unending sound of wind roaring as soon as we turn on the lights in every gas station, bar, and hotel room from coast to coast. 

BFFFFFFFFFFF the sound of a wind tunnel, a category six storm, BFFFFFFFF in our ears so that no one, not even our deep, innermost thoughts can either listen to or address our stomach issues. BFFFFF as we struggle to relieve ourselves, unable to hear even our inner most thoughts, and then leave the bathroom in bliss, knowing with full confidence that not a single person has heard what went on behind that closed door. 

The best American alternative to the Toto was in the K Town of Vegas, where a bathroom attempted to teach me Korean. “hana deo meog-eodo doelkkayo?” Rang a woman’s voice. “That means, may I have another?” Said the man. “Nae son-eul sillyehabnida!” That means, excuse my reach. “I chum-eul chwodo doelkkayo?” “Meaning, may I have this dance?”

Fond memories of K Town as they are, I am still in Europe, still struggling with silence. When I turn on the faucet to mask my noises, I feel guilty and begin to ponder climate change. 

Climate change is often my number one reflection on the toilet, even while I’m double tapping Instagram photos to the recorded sounds of a tornado in the U.S. I’ve seen the mass number of trees leaving Washington state bound for every county across America, meant to restock toilet paper, paper towels, and general paper product supplies. If we all had Totos, not only would we not waste water to mask our animalistic functions we wish to set ourselves apart from, we could also use its bidet and drying functions. 

The washlet’s drying bidet and drying functions are revolutionary to me. Having left Iceland a number of weeks ago for Italy, I’ve been given the blessed opportunity of staring into the white bowl souls of countless bidets and wonder… is this the moment I become a bidet gal? 

I once visited my wealthy southern grandfather as a child and was stumped to find a bidet in his bathroom. I didn’t know the word or its utility at the time and tried climbing into it only to find a shocking yet elegant fountain spout out at me. My next thought was to try washing my sneakers with this arching water but, given the angle, I quickly gave up and let the dog use it as a water fountain instead. When I visit him as an adult, I view this bidet with suspicion. I know he’s never used it, especially in his older years. And anyway, what is one supposed to do? Leave the safety of the toilet bowl and conduct some odd side shuffle over to this contraption? Then what? How do you dry? Am I missing something? The introduction of even more bidets into my periphery in Italy has given the thought a second breath of life.Whether or not I choose to adopt a bidet tonight or tomorrow is yet unknown. 

We are all bathroom connoisseurs in our own right and, after years of travel and studies of toilets and bathrooms across the world, it is my belief that Toto’s washlet is the divine answer. Neither European toilets nor American ones, filled with so much water in the bowl that you could, hypothetically, drown yourself, will do. I dislike the idea of a moon walk to the bidet as much as a blue bear and his dancing family’s toilet paper empire, or an overly ecstatic child wielding an idiotic, easily preventable spillage as calm mother soaking up the mistakes and woes of her family and internalizing her hysteria sponges up the mess with a porous paper towel. What I want is a toilet that sings to me, that opens when it readies for my embrace, that can wash and dry me freeing me of toilet paper and deforestation grief and warm me, warm my bottom while possibly even reciting the evening news. Really, is that too much to ask?