They are found in more than two-thirds of Japanese households and visitors to the country have marvelled at their heated seats, posterior shower jets and odour-masking function. But for the company that has sold over 30 million high-tech toilets, commonly known as Washlets, global lavatory domination remains elusive, especially among shy US consumers.
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"It's because of the cultural taboo over talking about toilets," said Hiromichi Tabata, head of the international division at Washlet-maker TOTO, a company that also makes bath tubs, kitchen taps, basins and plumbing fixtures.
Pop diva Madonna gushed about Japanese culture during a 2005 visit and pointed to the Washlet as a key draw, saying "I've missed the heated toilet seats"-the kind of free marketing most companies dream about.
For a nation that claims globally recognised brand names such as Sony and Toyota, the Washlet's relative lack of overseas presence comes as a surprise to many foreign visitors, even if they're initially baffled by its dizzying array of functions and Japanese signage.
In technology and hygiene-obsessed Japan, where restaurants provide a steaming hot towel for customers' hands, they're found in public toilets, office lavatories and over 70 percent of Japanese households.
"We thought that Japanese people, who are clean freaks, would like the idea of the Washlet," said spokeswoman Atsuko Kuno.
But when it hit the market in the booming 1980s, the high-tech toilet wasn't an immediate success in conservative Japan either.
US President Barack Obama has left the United States for his first trip to Japan in about 3-and-a-half years. Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold a summit meeting on Thursday. (NHK )
The education ministry conducted national academic achievement tests on Tuesday for all final-year students at primary and middle schools across the country. About 2.24 million students at about 30,000 schools took Japanese and mathematics exams. (The Japan News )
Japan and the United States are now seen deferring a broad trade agreement until after a summit meeting set for Thursday due to differences over key issues, informed sources said Tuesday. (Jiji Press )
The virus strain that caused bird flu at a poultry farm in southwestern Japan has been confirmed to be genetically identical to the one found in South Korea, the National Institute of Animal Health said Tuesday. (Jiji Press )
Airport authorities in Tokyo launched a frantic scramble to change security pass codes, an official said Tuesday, the day before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives, after an airline employee dropped a memo containing the details. (Japan Today )
The Imperial Household Agency announced this week that it has received over 100,000 applications from individuals seeking to participate in the first ever public opening of parts of the Imperial Palace. (Japan Today )
A former judge from the Ministry of Justice is alleged to have installed a camera inside a women's toilet inside a ministry building in Kasumigaseki, people with knowledge of the matter announced on Monday, reports Sports Nippon (Apr. 22). (Tokyo Reporter )
Police in Fuso, Aichi Prefecture, said Sunday they have arrested an unemployed 38-year-old man for attempted murder after he broke into the home of his ex-girlfriend and stabbed her and her parents. (Japan Today )
Feeding black-tailed gulls has been a popular activity on the sightseeing boats that cruise around the Matsushima islets, considered to be one of the three most beautiful spots in Japan, but local authorities banned the practice this month in a bid to protect the islets' famous pine trees from withering as a result of nitrogen in the droppings of the gulls, who have bred in large numbers in the area. (The Japan News )