Tourists Love Japan’s Toilets, Says New Survey

Tourists Love Japan’s Toilets, Says New Survey

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

Bidet controls
Picture: Satoshi KOHNO / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Foreign tourists are going wild for Japan's bidet-equipped toilets - and many are eager to see them in public spaces too.

Japan is famous abroad for many reasons. According to a new survey, you can add one more reason to that list: the country’s heated, bidet-equipped toilet seats. The survey reveals that tourists want to see the Japanese toilet more in public – and in their own countries too.

A (literally) warm reception

Japanese toilets featuring warm water bidets have garnered widespread approval among international audiences. The findings of a survey conducted by TOTO, one of the leading housing equipment manufacturers (including toilets), reflect this sentiment.

Out of the 1,000 foreign tourists surveyed from the UK, US, Australia, China, and India, an impressive 88% expressed a desire to see warm bidet seats in public toilets as well. This marks a significant jump from the 55% recorded in 2018. When asked about their reasons for appreciating Japanese washlets, 46.3% cited cleanliness, while 39.7% pointed to the cozy warmth of the seats and water. Moreover, 35.8% were pleased with the lack of odors.

This points towards a potential surge in recognition of Japanese toilet culture. 80% of respondents wanted similar systems to be implemented in their home countries. Their primary motivation? Dodging cold toilet seats. Yet, they also link Japanese washlets with elevated hygiene standards.

Lifestyle must-have

Japanese toilet controls
Picture: OrangeBook / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Back in 1964, Japan got its hands on the first bidet-equipped toilet prototype from the US. Known as the “Wash Air Seat,” it was initially designed for use in medical facilities to uphold hygiene. However, it stayed within hospital walls for years, struggling to find success elsewhere, primarily due to its slow heating mechanism.

After the 1970 Osaka World Expo, there was a considerable shift from Japanese to Western-style toilets, and washlets started to catch on. Yet, the Japanese remained skeptical, largely due to the chilly seats. This led to trends like using socks as covers or uniquely designed Japanese toilet seat covers.

Advertisements

Then, in 1978, TOTO seized the opportunity to create a toilet specifically catering to Japanese needs, especially the longing for a warmer seat. In June 1980, its efforts paid off with the launch of its first washlet.

Nearly 44 years later, TOTO’s products have made an unmatched impact. By March 2022, over 80% of Japanese households boasted a TOTO washlet. Globally, shipments exceeded 60 million units in 2022.

Now a staple in Japanese homes and everyday life, these washlets could soon become a standard feature in public spaces too.

No turning back

Bidet toilets have undeniably become a common sight across Japan, with sales and market penetration speaking volumes. But beyond the numbers, what do the people of Japan really think? To uncover the true importance of this fixture in Japan’s lifestyle, let’s take a closer look at the results of a 2022 survey.

The survey revealed that an overwhelming 97% of respondents plan to stick with heated bidet toilets in the future. Their reasons? 82% praised the effective dirt removal and precise cleanliness, while 48% raved about the comforting and refreshing experience they offer.

What’s truly striking is that a remarkable 84% of respondents couldn’t fathom living without heated bidet toilets. For 44% of them, it’s unimaginable, while 40% think it would be downright unpleasant.

This sentiment isn’t confined to their homes either. 71% admitted to using these toilets outside their own four walls if available. Plus, 72% expressed a desire for the product to spread overseas, eager to enjoy its comforts while traveling. And they might not have to wait long.

Venturing overseas

Washlets’ venture into the international market began in 1986, with a spotlight on the thriving US market. However, the first encounter with American audiences didn’t go as planned, as recalled by Suzuki Ryo, Executive Managing Officer of TOTO and former sales and market research representative in the US in 1994.

It was tough to sell them on the idea of an electrical appliance atop a toilet bowl. No matter how we explained its perks, they just couldn’t see the benefits,” Suzuki Ryo reminisced in his book “The World’s Best Toilet: The Development Story of Washlet.”

Their biggest hurdle was the general reluctance to embrace the idea of electricity in a water-centric product. Concerns over potential accidents, like electric shocks, made companies wary. So, the strategy shifted to convincing retail stores to install washlets in their showrooms. This way, visitors could experience the benefits firsthand, leading to increased acceptance.

For a while, washlets experienced fluctuations in foreign markets, with periods of both success and struggle. Then, the COVID-19 outbreak sparked international interest in the product, as people sought ways to enhance hygiene standards. In the US, with limited outings and toilet paper shortages at supermarkets, washlets emerged as a viable alternative for the period.

In recent years, sales have skyrocketed, with 2022 witnessing a remarkable 2.6-fold increase compared to 2018. Emerging trends show a rising demand from China and Europe, particularly in luxury hotels where washlets are becoming increasingly popular. Impressively, out of around 200 five-star hotels in London and Paris, over 40% boast TOTO’s warm seat toilets. And the numbers are only expected to climb higher.

Future horizons

Once viewed as an odd and possibly hazardous blend of electricity and water, washlets are now attracting growing attention worldwide. Their convenience revolutionized Japanese toilet culture back in the 60s, and they’re poised to bring about similar shifts in international practices.

Currently, TOTO has established bases in 18 countries and regions worldwide, tailoring designs and functions to meet the unique preferences of each area. With ambitious expansion plans, they aim to boost overseas sales from the current 25% to over 50% by 2030. And judging from the enthusiastic reception from foreign audiences for the heated seats and water jets, it seems like a goal well within reach.

Sources

日本各地にある公共トイレ 訪日外国人の約9割が温水洗浄便座を希望 NewSphere

結果公表 訪日旅行経験者の約88%がトイレに「温水洗浄便座」を設置してほしいと回答 TOTO

おしりを洗う文化をお届けして半世紀あまり 温水洗浄便座の国内累計出荷数が1億台を達成 PR Times

【世界トイレの日】「ウォシュレット」開発秘話 ~世界中の需要に応え、きれいで快適な暮らしの実現のために~ PR Times

「海外の衛生意識の変化を取り込み、販売伸ばす」 TOTO・清田徳明社長[挑戦2022] Yomiuri Shimbun

ウォシュレット、米で販売2.6倍 TOTO役員がとった戦略 Nikkei

TOTOウォシュレットを世界の高級ホテルに普及させた「秘策」 Nikkei Business

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

Japan in Translation

Subscribe to our free newsletter for a weekly digest of our best work across platforms (Web, Twitter, YouTube). Your support helps us spread the word about the Japan you don’t learn about in anime.

Want a preview? Read our archives

You’ll get one to two emails from us weekly. For more details, see our privacy policy