Games of thrones
Who knew you could get quite so attached to a functional item of the usually unmentionable kind. The Toto Washlet toilet, created in 1980 and with many enhancements since, is a fixture in many a hotel bathroom across Japan and once you’ve sat upon the warmed seat of such a throne, as I did across a week’s holiday last month, anything else seems a very poor substitute.
The duckbill-like seat opens as you approach, in a sort of salute, and politely closes after you are done, with the semblance of a bow. Then it discreetly flushes itself with a murmuring cascade, like the most polite of little waterfalls. The control panel invites hot-air drying, oscillation, warm wash bidet, “odour masking” purification and a few other squiggly symbols that suggest the Toto could pop up slices of toast or play the accordion, if that should be your desire. Certainly it has no need to pass you loo paper after all those targeted sprays and rushes of warm air.
But it’s no longer necessary to visit Japan to avail oneself of such superior comfort and class as the Toto is quite the accessory in chic capitals and, increasingly, Australia, with top-of-the-range models costing a packet. A writer for The Times, Robert Crampton, recently recounted his experience testing one at London luxury bathroom retailer CP Hart. It’s not something one tends to do here — you know, rock up to Harvey Norman and ask to try all the trappings on sale in the open-plan bathroom section. But, as Crampton reports, his trial was in a locked compartment, which is what one would expect before shelling out for a premium loo described by the CP Hart salesman as the lavatorial equivalent of a Ferrari.
I have encountered Toto toots in Macau and Hong Kong and on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which sails Japan’s east coast in summer. In Bali, a Toto I tried had been adopted for use in tropical climes and whooshed ice-cold water, which came as a shock. Once, confined to my hotel room in Vietnam with food poisoning and a raging fever, I imagined Toto was talking to me. As its lid raised itself on each approach, the strangled squeak sounded like “Hello!”. After four days, we were having limited but welcome conversations and its presence was a comfort as I cursed the existence of shellfish.
Bathrooms are important considerations when you travel. I have risked kidney failure in rural China rather than use a public convenience. Ditto on aircraft on overnight flights when queues are long and hygiene is questionable. I am cheered to see that Japan Airlines is featuring the Toto Washlet “electronic toilet with waterjet function” in all cabins on many of its Boeing 787-8 services, which seems a civilised move.
Who among us still laughs at the process of handing out chilled or warmed towels, rolled like devotional offerings, to cleanse our hands before eating. That’s a Japanese custom, too, as are facemasks for those with colds and germs, which would be a boost when flying. Except on my Japan Airlines flight from Sydney to Tokyo last year, when the cabin attendant came around with a tray of same, the bloke next to me lifted up the plastic packet and swiftly put it back. “No thanks, love, I know you Japanese like to keep clean and all that but I don’t need a shower cap just now.”