Fascination with Japanese Toilet Seats Sparks Soul-Searching in China

Nobody is letting nationalism get in the way

smart toilet seat

Chinese consumers have shown they won’t let any historical disputes get in the way of buying the hot new thing. Tourists have been flocking to Japan to buy up “smart toilet seats” which can turn toilets into a makeshift bidet. Now, Chinese media are publishing dire warnings about jumping on the Japan toilet bandwagon.

Offering automatic service every time you use the toilet, these hybrid bidet/toilet seats have the ability to get rid of unwanted smells and bacteria, featured a heated surface, non-rusting components,  and can even give you a quick massage while you’re on the throne. But Chinese media aren’t easily convinced, and view the toilet seat fascination as a threat to China’s influence.

The Guangzhou Daily quoted a recent Japanese toilet seat convert as saying, “I, a top Chinese university graduate, eventually had to kneel down (in reverence) to the mysterious technology of the Japanese toilet lid. O, great teacher, show me the way!

The People’s Daily Online said the trend is a “loss of face” and sounded the alarm that “Chinese manufacturing needs innovation to activate consumer demand”.

The China Youth Report echoed the need to strengthen domestic production, and went so far as to ask its countrymen, “Why can’t a world-famous manufacturing empire make better products than a Japanese-made toilet seat?

Japanese appliances like rice cookers and televisions have long been popular with Chinese consumers. However, the bidet/toilet hybrid has only become popular in China recently, despite having been around since the 80s.

In 2003, TOTO general manager of restroom product research Hiroshi Kobayashi admitted the bidet toilet seat was simply not selling outside of Japan. “You’d think that because Europeans are used to the bidet, they’d be more interested. We just don’t know why they aren’t,” he said.

China’s rising middle class and tendency to revere Japanese-made consumer goods are both bolstering the bidet market, and the declining yen hasn’t hurt either.  The bidet reflects a Japanese cultural emphasis on cleanliness, especially in the home. In contrast, we’re reminded that the hygienic condition of bathrooms in China are lacking.

Whatever the reason, Chinese consumers’ willingness to embrace Japanese innovation shows tensions between the two countries don’t run too deep.

Charles Liu

The Nanfang's Senior Editor