Japan: High-tech toilet company eyes Europe
Later this year, Eric Fior and his Japanese partner will visit France for the first time in more than three years.
He is excited about seeing his friends and family once again — but he has one serious concern after living in Japan for more than a decade.
He is dreading missing out on all the comforts and convenience of Japanese toilets.
"We are spoiled in many ways in Japan — the food, trains that run on time, people always being polite to each other — but for me, one of the very best aspects of living here is the toilets," said 50-year-old Fior, who owns a language school in Japan's second-largest city, Yokohama.
"After all this time I certainly take it for granted, but I know I am going to miss Japanese toilets when I use the ones my family have in their homes in and around Toulouse."
Transforming the toilet
Toto is Japan's largest and most famous brand manufacturer of bathroom products, which has for decades been applying technology to perfect the humble lavatory.
Toto pioneered the introduction of toilet seats that are warmed to the user's preferred settings, with the most advanced versions automatically adjusting to the ambient temperature and the time of day.
Toilets, including some new public conveniences, incorporate panels on which the user can adjust the seat temperature, the strength of the flush to reduce the amount of water consumed, and even an option that plays music or other sounds to cover up any embarrassing noises.
Arguably the most innovative design feature that Toto has come up with so far, however, is the "Washlet" shower function.
At the touch of another button, an arm emerges from beneath the seat to spray water on the user's bare bottom. Naturally, the strength of the jet of water, its temperature and the direction of the spray can all be adjusted on the control panel.
And when that delicate procedure has been completed, yet another function blows warm air over the user's behind to dry it off.
American actor Leonardo DiCaprio was reportedly so taken by Toto's toilets that he shelled out $3,200 (€2,943) for a top-of-the-range Toto Neorest 500 lavatory, which is equipped with sensors that automatically lift the lid when someone approaches. It also incorporates, of course, the "Washlet" personal cleansing system.
Toto's products are available in Europe but, in contrast to the product's homeland, they remain relatively uncommon. That, however, appears set to change.
Expanding European operations
In an interview with Japan's Jiji Press at an international trade fair for interior home equipment in Frankfurt in mid-March, Toto President Noriaki Kiyota dropped a heavy hint that the company is looking to expand its presence in the European market.
Kiyota said Toto intends to increase its overseas sales to account for more than 50% of its total sales by 2030 — and also noted that, at present, products for Europe are manufactured in Japan and India.
"Ultimately, we will make products in the countries where they are used," Kiyota said, suggesting that a new production facility is being considered for Germany, where the company has its European base in Düsseldorf.
A spokesperson for the company at its headquarters in Fukuoka, in southern Japan, played down the claim that a firm decision has been made but confirmed that local production for local markets is the ultimate aim.
"We sell our toilets in Europe to all countries that are in the European Union, plus Switzerland and the UK," said Anja Giersiepen, senior marketing manager for Toto Europe.
"Our 'Washlet' is getting more and more popular in Europe," she told DW.
"Our biggest market is Germany, and in 2021 we did a little research about the reasons why customer purchased our products."
Cleanliness and hygiene
The study showed that the single most important reason for a Washlet purchase was cleanliness and personal hygiene, accounting for more than 50% of replies to the multiple-choice questionnaire. Around 40% cited the comfort of the equipment, with another 30% saying the sophisticated toilets gave a sense of luxury.
Well over 20% said they were particularly impressed with the heated seat, while others praised Toto's bathroom equipment for being easy to clean and environmentally friendly.
"Cleanliness and comfort were the two most popular reasons," Giersiepen said. "And 40 years of experience in the production of 'Washlets' with 60 million units sold worldwide has proved to be a reliable argument for many first-time customers to buy our products."
For his part, Fior is considering a drastic solution to his upcoming two-week absence from heated toilet seats and a built-in bidets.
"We always take something back as a souvenir, and this year I am seriously considering buying a Washlet so I will be able to use it while we are there," he said.
Edited by: Keith Walker