I Dream of Japanese Toilets

For some, hitting midlife means buying a sports car. One writer seeks a more private luxury.

Caroline Akervik

For my 50th birthday, I want a Japanese toilet. Having researched the options, the toilet of my dreams is of the “washlet” variety. According to Wikipedia, a washlet toilets “include many advanced features rarely seen outside of Asia.” Consider the possibilities here: music, cleansing options, appealing scents, a heated seat. The higher-end Japanese toilets greet you by opening. And if your significant other leaves the toilet seat up, you need not fear falling butt-first into cold toilet water, because this Stradivarius of toilets flushes and closes all by itself. For our moments of supreme vulnerability, the higher-end Japanese toilets offer all the bells and whistles.

Consider what a bathroom represents to all of us. In our busy lives as workers, parents, and spouses, a bathroom is an oasis of calm. Except for those years when children are little and therefore require constant vigilance, a closed bathroom door is generally an impenetrable barrier to the trials and tribulations of life. When you are raising wee folk, losing the sanctity of your bathroom moments is the ultimate symbol of how one’s life has changed and one’s priorities have shifted. Who doesn’t heave a sigh of relief upon closing one’s bathroom door? I feel like shouting “Sanctuary!”

Ironically, given that our country is the wealthiest in the world, Americans are viewed as bathroom savages. The restroom cognoscenti view our public, shared restrooms as abhorrent. When you think about it, who hasn’t felt some performance anxiety in the stall of a crowded lavatory? And why do architects continue to make the same mistake of providing equal numbers of bathrooms for men and women when the ratio should clearly be 1:2? Women must unfasten more, generally speaking. We take more time. Because public restrooms can be overcrowded and anxiety-provoking, it is even more critical that our home facilities are oases of calm.

When I was a child, there was a running joke among our family members that my brother was “writing a book” on restrooms across North America. Whenever we went somewhere, he always had to make a bathroom run to check out the facilities. In retrospect, my brother proved wise beyond his years. A bathroom does tell one a lot about an establishment. Everyone has a favorite gas station chain where you prefer to stop while on the road because you know what to expect in terms of amenities, among the most important of which are clean and attractive restrooms.

Whenever I watch HGTV, I am shocked by the lack of concern about and interest in toilet options. On home improvement programs like Flip or Flop or Beachfront Bargain Hunt, the people are looking at incredibly expensive homes, dream homes. They obsess about things like granite countertops, islands, stainless appliances, real wood floors, and his-and-hers sinks. But never have I heard anyone mention wanting a toilet seat that heats up, cleanses one, and plays soothing music. These are misplaced priorities.

As I approach my 50th year, I find myself becoming more environmentally aware. I chose not to use straws at fast food establishments because I am concerned about the impact of single-use plastics on the environment. The sheer volume of toilet paper my family of five goes through is of concern to me. Toilet paper consumption is much reduced with this magical toilet, an environmental bonus.

My fascination with Japanese toilet may ultimately have to do with my childhood. I grew up in a 200-year-old house where most of the heat came from wood-burning stoves. As kids, if we wanted a warm bedroom, we had to carry loads of wood upstairs. Reflecting back, there are all sorts of issues with having young teens tend fires in wood-burning stoves in their bedrooms. But it was a different day and age. For those of you concerned about safety, we kids fought the effort involved in carrying logs up to our bedrooms. Generally speaking, our fires weren’t lit. We preferred to pile blankets on our beds. There is only one sensation more chilling than that of a bare foot on a cold, wooden floor, and that is of a bare bottom on a chilled toilet seat. In the immortal words of my brother when describing the ambient temperature of that old house, “The house is so cold when you sit on the toilet seats, you stick to them.”

Fifty is the true gateway to middle age. Now when we gather with friends, we tend not to discuss physical adventures such as triathlons, marathons, or ski races. Instead, we chat about treatments for physical ailments like shoulder or knee issues from five decades of use and abuse. While grocery shopping, we consider the fiber content in foods. I would hazard a guess that a significant portion of my age cohort have a jar of Metamucil in their pantry. This brings us full circle to the beauty of a Japanese toilet.

While to some it may seem that a Japanese toilet is an extravagant self-indulgence, it can be a private one. We all know purchasing a sporty car can represent a midlife crisis. Such a vehicle shows that one has “made it” and that they still “have it.” The Japanese toilet is a much more subtle statement. For me, it says, “I am choosing to make the most of this stolen moment of peace and tranquility.” No one, except those with whom you share the bathroom, will know about your throne. It can be your secret oasis in a chaotic world.

I have never used nor seen a Japanese toilet. I don’t have any idea of whether it would live up to my expectations. I am way too cheap to spend a significant amount of money on something as a mundane as a high-end john. And yet the concept of the Japanese toilet wields a fascination over me. When I close my bathroom door, my heart soars a little at the uninterrupted peace. Someone calling my name while I am “occupied” is almost a violation. Add to this all the fancy options that the Japanese toilet offers, and I can envision a sublime interlude from which I would emerge refreshed and cleansed, my load both metaphorically and physiologically lightened.

The above essay contains only my personal ramblings and does not represent an endorsement of any products. I have no idea whether a Japanese toilet would be all that I imagine. I don’t know what they cost or how hard they are to install. But the idea is super cool.


Thinkpieces are reader-submitted reflective essays. A wide variety of ideas, analyses, and notions are welcome. Submit your essay for consideration to giffey@volumeone.org.

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