Well, this week I was thrilled that Stephen Colbert – so brilliant! – featured a toilet on his program that I have actually used! He was honoring our returning troops with a seat on the throne. I test-drove the same model it out as part of my exploration for this blog. I call it exploration because it has a built in bidet, which I’d never used before…and never wanted to, really. But during a conversation about bathrooms, my lovely friend and former colleague Susan recommended a clean restroom featuring state of the art bidet toilets, and I knew I had to check it out, so I could report back to you guys!
bi·det noun \bi-ˈdā\ : a bathroom fixture used especially for bathing the external genitals and the anal region
Now, honestly, I was pretty uncomfortable with the idea of somehow publicly washing my…junk…with some sort of plumbing contraption. But in honor of the blog, I decided to seek out and commit to trying this unique fixture that is not often found in U.S. bathrooms. I walked all the way to the east end of 47th Street to the stately and inviting Japan House and asked to use their bathroom.
I was expecting resistance to someone walking in right off the street and asking to use their facility, but the gal who was texting at the front desk didn’t seem to mind at all, and I didn’t have to use any of my prepared mental scripts to convince her to let me in.
The bathroom was clean, empty and quiet – which was comforting considering I was going to be in there for awhile fiddling around with…I just didn’t know what to expect. They had tricked out all of their fixtures with automatic soap and water and while the line of curving spouts in front of the mirror created an elegant repetition, the pipes and tubes of were stuffed underneath the exposed sink, writhing around the dark belly of the bathroom while the shiny fixtures gleamed in reflected light. It created an interesting ying and yang of form and function.
The toilet, Toto’s Washlet model, was equally complex, with tubes and labels and a digital control panel on the wall, highlighted in Stephen Colbert’s presentation. The seat itself is labeled with “Power”, “Deodorizer” and “Energy Saver” and little lights next to each label so you could see what was being powered. The seat was actually warm; it certainly seemed the seat was regulated to be comfortably close to body temperature. The digital panel controlled a tube that emerged from under the rear of the seat and could be oriented by positioning and angle to target the area that you wanted cleansed. You could program a steady or oscillating stream and determine the strength of the stream of water. I am still, as I write this, flabbergasted by the sophistication of the whole thing, and the fact that all of this very private stuff was packed into a tiny, utilitarian public stall. It wasn’t as if the lighting and interior were warm and intimate; it was an austere environment, and so it seems that the bidet is not secretive or personal or weird, but a legitimate personal hygiene device.
I fiddled around with all the settings (I even used two of the stalls because the first one seemed not to be working as well as it should, and some of the features weren’t available). As nervous as I was, it was a fun experiment, and I was laughing at my own reticence and at having this very new experience in such an unfamiliar place. Fortunately, no one else ever came in, and that is my favorite bathroom feature of all, so I had the privacy to hang out down there undisturbed. I ended my little experiment with the air-drying feature. I’m not sure it totally dried up every last droplet, but it was definitely interesting me that it was available from this complex little device!
I still used toilet paper because, as a first time user, I just wasn’t about to go prancing out of there without feeling totally confident about my cleanliness, but I have to tell you, as soon as I dragged that rough paper across myself, I instinctively reacted with disgust…how was it that after a soft burst of water and a quick air dry I was using some dirty PAPER on my most sensitive areas?? It just seemed crazy all of a sudden to be using toilet paper.
Wow, Toto, your Washlet might have made a convert out of me! Thanks to the Japanese Society for letting me use your bathroom as a personal research lab. And thank you to Stephen Colbert – not only are you a great comic and commentator, but you highlighted a very cool, kind of strange experience.
PS… Toto is an environmentally conscious company and they have an interesting product description on their webpage: