In this third and final column on my observations about innovation in Japan based on a recent trip, I’d like to discuss more innovations that I experienced and more about what businesses can learn about profitable growth by innovation.
Examples of innovative products, services and approaches to life emanating from Japan abound, just think about some of the following examples:
- Hybrid gas – electric engines
- Food: particularly sushi, Kobe beef, noodles, rice cookers & realistic fake food
- Trains & Subways: High-speed Bullet Trains, amazingly efficient subway systems
- Flat Screen TVs and ad ons like HDTV, Blue-ray DVD, mini DVD, etc.
- Wearing masks when sick
- Toto Washlet toilet systems – which I’ll profile in this column
Toto Washlet Toilets
The Toto Washlet, also known as the Super Toilet, is a warm water cleaning toilet seat with seven or more functions and is considered the most advanced type of toilet world-wide. The Toto product Washlet Zoe is actually listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most sophisticated toilet in the world.
The original idea for the Washlet toilet probably came from Europe to Japan in the early 1960s and focused on integrating a bidet into a traditional toilet seat. It’s interesting to note that the first toilet of this type was not produced in Japan. The age of the high-tech toilet in Japan actually started in 1980 with the introduction of the Washlet G Series from Toto, since then all types of Japanese high-tech toilets are referred to as Washlets. As of 2002, over half of all private homes in Japan have a Washlet type toilet, which exceeded the number of homes with a PC at that time. Usage has certainly grown since then, during my travels in April and May, every hotel or restaurant I visited had one of these toilets, basically they’re everywhere you go.
At first glance the Washlet looks like a typical Western toilet, thankfully not a squat toilet which are prevalent outside the large cities in Japan. The Washlet has a number of additional features compared to a traditional Western toilet: seat heating, deodorizing, two adjustable warm water jet options, blow drying, automatic seat opening and closing, and optional massage options. These features are accessed by a control panel on the seat itself, a wall mounted control or a wireless control.
The most basic feature is the integrated bidet with two settings: one to wash the front and one to wash the back (politely speaking), also known as the feminine wash and posterior wash. A pencil size nozzle emerges from under the toilet seat when it is summoned to do its work and squirts warm water with adjustable pressure on the desired area. At no point does the nozzle actually touch the body and the nozzle itself is self-cleaning before and after each use. The most advanced Washlets even mix warm water with soap in the water jet. The controls are linked to a pressure switch in the toilet seat, and operates only if there is pressure on the seat, which avoids my first curious experience with a bidet when I was sprayed in the face.