What a Way To Go: YK’s Number One Toilet

Ladies, listen up. Sushi North has a toilet that operates like an automated car wash for your private parts, right down to the warm-air dry. No joke.

The Washlet, the latest in Japanese high-tech toilets, allows you to do your business and leave fully cleansed without ever having to lift or close the lid, swipe a sheet of TP, wipe, or flush.

Sushi North owner Seiji Suzuki says he installed the thousand-dollar gizmo almost a month ago to provide greater sanitation for his customers and to save on toilet paper. It’s especially good if you’re on your period or suffering hemorrhoids, he enthused in an email from Japan. The Washlet, somewhat surprisingly, also saves water (although not if every customer has my inaugural experience).

As someone who lives off-grid and toilet-trained three sons on a honey bucket, any functioning flush toilet already feels a mighty luxury. To be confronted by one that comes with a full-page instruction manual and wall-mounted electronic control panel, however, is downright intimidating.

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It started out well. The toilet senses you’re in the room and lifts its lid to expose a familiar-looking bowl. When you sit on the specially contoured seat, I dare you not to exhale an audible ohhhhh of delight. Equipped with an integrated sensor, the seat maintains a desired heat setting of between 30-40 C degrees — very warm, very welcome, after a brisk, windy walk. So far so good, but here’s where things get tricky.

I wasn’t sure just how automated things were going to get. I didn’t realize I had to command the toilet to do its thing, so after I did my thing, I waited. And waited. And waited. Nothing happened. The instructions don’t actually instruct as much as they provide details about the features: hands-free drying offers the ease and comfort of a temperature-adjustable warm-air dryer; the nozzle extends from under the seat, with the touch of a button, giving a soothing, warm-water cleansing… OK, but which button?

The future is now: toilet control panel at Sushi North

I studied that control panel. Under the heading USER at the bottom I found person 1 and person 2 icons. Really? Is someone else coming in? Or does this refer to the elimination you’re about to entertain? No clue. I pressed person 1 and the lights went on. Action time. But no, nothing happened.

I randomly hit a button called REAR with the sub-heading SOFT ON/OFF. Here we go, some rumbling noises. I assumed the toilet was flushing, then sanitizing, then a wand the shape of an electric toothbrush extends from under the rim and suddenly water — also electronically maintained to a temperature of between 30-40 C degrees — begins spraying your nether region. Nice. There are two options for this function: Pulsating, with a plus and minus scale so you can adjust the pressure; and Oscillating, which allows you to tilt the wand to your preferred position.

I thought it would turn itself off after a few seconds, but it kept going. So I waited. And waited. Then for fun I pressed FRONT with the sub-heading WIDE ON/OFF. The directional flow of water changed again. Surely it will stop soon. But no, it just kept spraying. Then I realized I had to press STOP.

With the spray clean finally over, pressing DRYER seemed the next logical step. Whoah!  A lot too hot for me (perhaps the integrated heat sensor was tampered with), and with a sudden jump, I began to harbour genuine fear about what this device could do to me should there be a major malfunction.

Press STOP again. And Bob’s yer uncle. Or something like that. It is unnerving to not use toilet paper, although there is some provided and presumably you could go old skool if you want. I took so long in that toilet that when I came out they’d already squirrelled my sushi order back to the kitchen, having yelled “Laurie, Laurie, thank you for waiting.” to no avail.

When I explained I was having troubles navigating the toilet, we shared a great laugh. I repeated the Washlet experience using my newfound expertise after lunch, with a higher degree of success.

Women love this toilet, Sushi North’s owner assures me. Toto, the company that makes the Washlet — now de rigueur in most public and private Japanese washrooms — had shipped more than 40 million of them as of December 2015, according to a story in the Washington Post about Toto’s new $60 million toilet museum in Kitakyushu. The Washlet is on eBay and Amazon. In fact, friends of mine in Yellowknife just installed one in their home.

Still, given that more than 1 billion people worldwide have zero access to any form of toilet, and 2.4 billion need improved access to sanitation, the Washlet feels particularly bourgeois. I described my experience to a male friend I ran into at the restaurant, after he revealed the men’s toilet is not a Washlet.

“I think it’s a good example of the modern penchant to replace simple, personal responsibilities with technology,” he mused, before adding: “It’s just amazing.” I agree, with both sentiments.

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