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click opera - Japanize your ass!
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Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 08:30 am
Japanize your ass!

During the Showa period (1926-1989) Japan had three different toilet styles:

1. Kumitori (basically a hole in the ground that you squat over)
2. Suisen (a Western-style flush toilet with a seat)
3. Washlet (a computerised bidet toilet that squirts hot and cold water and air, and provides electronic sound effects)



Kaori Shoji, in an article for the Japan Times entitled The Showa Days: were they really that good?, interviews an 82 year-old lady, Tani-San:

"In those days, there were no such wondrous things as hybrid cars, disposable diapers and the Washlet (the automated toilet few Japanese seem able to live without)," she says. "Showa living was a lot of hard work, not to mention those inconvenient toilets!" Tani-san divides Showa into three distinct periods: the surrender, which made her weep with relief; the first day in the postwar, black market years when she was able to eat three meals consisting of ginshari (pure white rice, so rare during the immediate postwar years as to be compared with gin, or silver), and when the family toilet was converted from kumitori (cesspit-style) to suisen (flush)."

It was only in 1977 that suisen toilets overtook sales of kumitori toilets in Japan, according to Wikipedia. A mere three years later, in 1980, the advanced washlet was launched. Sales of the high-tech toilet really began to take off from 1985 onwards. "As of 2002," says Wikipedia, "almost half of all private homes in Japan have such a toilet, exceeding the number of households with a personal computer. While the toilet looks like a western style toilet at first glance, there are a number of additional features, such as blow dryer, seat heating, massage options, water jet adjustments, automatic lid opening, flushing after use, wireless control panels, heating and air conditioning for the room, et cetera, included either as part of the toilet or in the seat. These features can be accessed by a control panel that is either attached to one side of the seat or on a wall nearby, often transmitting the commands wirelessly to the toilet seat. The most basic feature is the integrated bidet, a nozzle the size of a pencil that comes out from underneath the toilet seat and squirts water. It has two settings: one for the anus and one for the vulva. The former is called posterior wash, general use, or family cleaning, and the latter is known as feminine cleaning or feminine wash." (Wow, a toilet that knows that different genders have different genitals! How... sexist!)

As someone familiar with both British outdoor toilets (many flats in Aberdeen still had communal stair toilets when I was a student) and the squat toilets in Parisian bars, I'd experienced Western equivalents to Japan's retro toilets. What I hadn't experienced was anything like its future toilets. I had my first washlet experience in 1998. It was somewhat Tatiesque. I was at 3D Corporation, the management company of Kahimi Karie and Cornelius. I parked my bottom on the toilet seat then jumped: the seat was warm! That felt tactile and welcoming, but at the same time a bit alarming. Electricity in the bathroom! Apart from the odd low-voltage shaver outlet, that's a taboo in the West. Next thing I noticed was the Star Trek-style electronic control panel with an LED display. All the buttons were in Japanese! Which one flushed it? I pressed a button at random. A jet of warm water hit my anus. Oy vey! I pushed another button. A flushing sound filled the bathroom, but nothing happened in the water below. This was totally surreal. Had I just put a real poo in a 3D virtual toilet? How could I link up the dimensions in such a way that my virtual poo got carried away by a virtual flush, or my real poo by a real flush? I left the bathroom in confusion, my clumsy gaijin turd still floating in the bowl. Only later did I realise that there was a "real" flush on the tank, and that the "virtual" flush on the control panel was just a sound effect to cover embarrasing noises. Wikipedia again:

"Many Japanese women are embarrassed at the thought that someone else can hear them while they are doing their business on the toilet. To cover the sound of bodily functions, many women flushed public toilets continuously while using them, wasting a large amount of water in the process. As education campaigns did not stop this practice, a device was introduced in the 1980s that, after activation, produces the sound of flushing water without the need for actual flushing. One brand name commonly found is the Otohime (Japanese: 音姫), which literally means Sound Princess, and is named after the Japanese goddess Otohime, the beautiful daughter of the sea-king Ryujin."

During my two months as artist in residence at the Future University in Hakodate earlier this year, I shuttled back and forth between a freezing wooden house and a super-futuristic university which resembled nothing so much, in its mountain setting, as a terraforming biosphere. I developed a daily ritual of visiting the big disabled loo down by the library and spending several minutes enjoying its soothing jets of hot and cold water and warm air (yes, I used both the "anal" and the "vulvic" settings). It was like having a mini sento dip in the middle of the day: I felt so clean and refreshed afterwards. I began to wonder when I, too, could have one of these devices in my home.

In fact, three Japanese technologies began to become indispensable to my idea of a "civilised life": the washlet toilet, the denki poto (a thermos kettle which allows you to have continuously boiling water for your green tea) and the vibro-massage chair. These technologies, familiar fixtures in most Japanese homes, are (like Japanese institutions the love hotel and the sento) the direct result of Japanese ways of thinking about the body, rather than anything specifically technological. The washlet was actually invented in Switzerland, although it never caught on there as a consumer item. We have all the same technologies in the West; what we don't have is the philosophical orientation or the consumer demand to make these things economically viable. These lacks are connected: we don't have the consumer demand because we don't have the Japanese attitude to the body, or cleanliness. As Wikipedia says, "historically, Japan has had a much higher standard of hygiene than, for example, Europe, and the orderly disposal of human waste was common, while in Europe, sewage was simply dumped on the streets throughout much of the continent's early history."

But how do you "go back" to lower standards once you've experienced higher ones? For instance, once you've got into the habit of separating your burnable from recyclable trash, how do you revert to the New York habit of just throwing everything into a black bin liner and dumping it on the street, knowing it'll either get turned into acrid, black smoke or end up in a Fresh Kills, Staten Island, landfill site?

The fact is, it's very difficult, once you've been Japanized, not to want the whole world to Japanize. I can't conceive of my ideal home now without a massage chair, a denki poto (I've got one here in Berlin, but the transformer I need to run it is more expensive than the kettle itself) and a washlet toilet. I can't conceive of my ideal city without picturing love hotels and public baths on every block. Like a man who's been on holiday to 2050, I can't help finding the West a little, well, backward, especially when it comes to the body, hygiene, waste, and sex.

79CommentReplyShare

transient_poet
transient_poet
Transient Poet
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 06:48 am (UTC)

According to Alan Dundes of UC Berkeley, the Germans have a highly developed obsession with toilettes, anuses and fecal matter as evidenced from their folklore which tends to gravitation disproportionatly toward those subjects. It seems your various cultural fetishes are meeting eachother in some interesting ways.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 06:52 am (UTC)

It's one of the secret keys to the history of the Protestant West that Martin Luther was constipated. Luther was "in cloaca", or sitting on the toilet, when he got the idea that salvation is granted because of faith, not deeds.


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dzima
dzima
ralf dziminski
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 07:23 am (UTC)
3 comments

1-Up to this day people dump their rubbish anywhere in the streets of London, don't they?

2-Western Capitalism is very rational and advanced when it comes to raising profits and such but when it comes to public transport, services, toilets, etc., it's very irrational.

3-Another fundamental item for Japanized people you forgot to list is the rice cooker. How can people in the West not like to have sticky, automatically and properly cooked rice?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 07:46 am (UTC)
Re: 3 comments

Totally agree with your points 1 & 2. As for 3, yes, I forgot the rice cooker! I have one here in Berlin. I guess I take it for granted. At least you can buy rice cookers in the West quite easily, thanks to the Chinese or Thai or Vietnamese stores there are everywhere. Denki poto is much more difficult to find.


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whumpdotcom
whumpdotcom
Bill Humphries
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 07:26 am (UTC)

So a friend of mine got one of the washlet toilets in his Silly Valley home. (Part of a program where companies place lifestyle products in high tech executive homes in hopes they will blog about them and do other buzz-generating things.)

When I was faced with the artifact, it was at a party. Lots of people, lots of full bladders, and not a time when you want to sort out the UI on the thing.

You don't want to be guessing at it when pressing the wrong button might spray water all over your host's bathroom.

General grumble about poor use of icons in UIs.

I recently bought a water dispenser that accepts three and five gallon jugs, and can provide hot and cold on demand.

It looks like we foreign devils can get a denki poto at a big-box housewares store.


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sarmoung
sarmoung
The Empire Never Ended
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 07:31 am (UTC)

The wonders of the modern Japanese toilet are something my own arse gets very nostalgic for. I have occasionally wondered about importing the thing but the cost seems rather prohibitive. I suspect we may never see them in Europe for reasons other than price. Shame. I can get a European voltage denki poto or rice cooker in a Chinese edition, but they're never as lush or feature-rich as the Japanese versions. For many years in Britain, we promoted that the idea of luxury in the bathroom was a shagpile carpet on the floor. Only now are a few people beginning to put drains in the floor so you don't have to worry about overflows and spillage.

As far as I understand it, one Tokugawa custom was that overnight visitors were expected to provide an amount of urine and "night soil" that could be used (or sold) by the household as fertiliser. This use of human excrement as fertiliser is one thing that promoted public hygiene at the time since it was a valuable commodity and therefore never discarded with the same casual abandon as in the West.

Possibly, this tentative Slow Life tendency you sometimes mention can find a meeting ground between the two and the use of night soil can be encouraged again: I take a shit in a department store and watch a live camera feed of the farm that I am helping to maintain. "237 grams!" the screen displays. Yoku dekimashita... the animated farmer bows. And just maybe, rather than disguising toilet sounds with water noises, productive crapping becomes a matter of some pride. I can see it being bigger than pachinko.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 07:52 am (UTC)

Yes! I think the Wikipedia article talks about human excrement being used to feed pigs, until very recently, in Japan. (These days livestock is more likely to be fed beer and suchlike to make it taste better. Rather that than animal offal containing cow brains... a case of mad and bad recycling if ever there was one!)


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand







(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 08:16 am (UTC)

The Japanese toilet company TOTO tried to sell washlet lids and seats in the US but it never caught on. One of the problems was that American bathrooms do not have built-in wall plugs next to the toilet to plug the seats up. Long extension cords are an electrocution hazard.

I love the washlet. I am sitting on one right now.

Wait a minute, (flush), yoku dekimashita!


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 9th, 2008 09:35 pm (UTC)
weird toilets

I reckon TOTO should put these toilets free of charge in public places this way the general public would get used to it.:)
http://www.loostime.com/top7weirdestloos.html


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 08:25 am (UTC)

I forgot another element of my ideal city: cool sugarfree green tea dispensed from machines on every corner. Why don't we have this in the West? Because Western inequality means the streets are full of poor people who would smash the machines for the coins inside. Also, Western people like sugar, and sugarless drinks would quickly be discontinued for lack of sales. As with all these things, it's not a question of importing Japanese technology, but of importing the Japanese mind. What's more, while you can have a few of these things in your private home, ultimately the West cannot have them until they can exist in public space.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 08:51 am (UTC)

Hmmm. Japan also has penniless people but they turn to collecting and reselling magazines amongst other activities...

It's not solely impecunity that's to blame.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand





(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 09:47 am (UTC)

I have never liked Washlet. What if someone's dirty thing splashes back to the nodule and the water is contaminated afterwards...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 09:55 am (UTC)

You may be interested in this conversation between two theologians, Brother McInnes and Brother Pearson, on this very issue. They split pubic hairs over this important point of dogma (does the nozzle get dirty, or is it next to Godly?) in their seminary, the Vice Mission, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn late last year.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 10:41 am (UTC)

there is a chance to have quite a similar toilet in Europe and for not so much money- just look for a model for the hadicaped people /i know roca has it for sure/ ...


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martymartini
martymartini
martymartini
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 10:55 am (UTC)

I never tested it, but could you tell me what`s the major difference between "posterior wash" and "feminine wash", I mean, is one`s nozzle softer than the other, is it it entirely interchangeable or is it possible to hurt yourself?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 11:19 am (UTC)

One points directly into your anus and, as it were, comes from the back, the other hits you from the front. Also, one is warmish, the other coolish.


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mckibillo
mckibillo
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 12:52 pm (UTC)

I luuuuuuvvvvvv toto-chan.

And congratulations, you got through an entire pro-Japan posting without invoking your favored bogeyman of the West, America, as it's evil anti-twin. Except for the sideways swipe at NYC, which you'll be glad to know has re-instated it's curbside recycling program. Now only color coded bags will be dumped in Fresh Kills to survive till the next Ice Age scours clean the place again.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 01:39 pm (UTC)

This excrellent subject has fertilized my mind, so I want to drop some more points into the bowl.

1. The washlet appeared a mere three years after the "Western-style" toilet started dominating the Japanese market. It "leapfrogged" all existing Western toilets. It also appeared in the 1970s, the high point of nihonjinron writings. Can we assume the advanced design is some kind of nihonjinron concept "written" in industrial design? Just as Schoenberg insisted that Serialism "would ensure the triumph of German music for another 100 years", did this toilet ensure the triumph of Japanese hygiene for the next century? But if this is the case, mightn't we also see Japanese national pride as being something internationally beneficial? In which case, wouldn't it be counter-productive for everyone to attack "the myth of Japanese exceptionalism"?

2. The history of civilisation is largely people doing things which may not seem necessary (introducing money instead of barter, cotton clothes instead of animal skins, etc) but which force others to either embrace or reject them. The washlet is a challenge to us all. Are we dirty if we don't wash our genitals and anus after each use? Do we (as some in this discussion already have) dismiss this as some kind of hygiene hysteria? Or do we (eventually) embrace it? I remember my Sociology lecturer at Aberdeen, David Oldman, doing a very funny lecture about ideologies of personal hygiene. How many times a day does a "normal person" change her underwear? What amount of soiling is acceptable between showers? Are these standards rigid, or can they change?

3. One reason the washlet happened in Japan because there are many old people there with big savings, who are also not gadget-averse. See also the recent stories about the robot baby seal being sold as a mechanical pet to old people in Japan. Comments by Westerners on that seal tended to be of the type: "Old people in the West would never buy robots."

4. I once saw a Japanese man counting several thousand dollars' worth of yen in front of me on a subway train in Tokyo. I wondered at the time why he would do that in front of a foreigner, but now in retrospect I see it as a kind of "civilisation machismo": it was as if he wanted to say to me "You couldn't do this in your own country, could you?" Now, it seems to me that that argument applies to all the Japanese technologies mentioned here. They're not technologically impossible in the West, but they're socially impossible there because we don't have the necessary safety and trust. In fact, we don't even aspire to have them. We find it hard even to conceive of that as a virtue. We start talking about Singapore, that "Disneyland with the death penalty", as soon as low-anomie public life is raised as a desireable thing. We seem oddly threatened by the idea of empathetic and consensual public space, and oddly reassured by the idea of an ambience of violence.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 03:09 pm (UTC)
bidet benefit

it's a pity that the installation of the bidet as a part of the bathroom equipment isn't so common in germany as it is in the south of europe. since i got to know the true promise of this invention during stays in hotels and private houses in portugal i've learned to admire the benefits of the bidet.

a denki poto (I've got one here in Berlin, ...

where did you get it? since we discovered the merits and pleasures of japanese green tea we're looking for something like that.

...but the transformer I need to run it is more expensive than the kettle itself)

how much? isn't there a cheap multi-system solution / international-jet-set-power-plug-converter?

have to sign off here ... have to hurry to the cold euro-loo ... side effect of too much japanese green tea ...

eRiC


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 03:14 pm (UTC)
Re: bidet benefit

I brought my denki poto back from Hokkaido. But it needs a transformer capable of handling 650 volts of 220-110 power stepdown, and even Saturn doesn't have one like that. When I tried it with a smaller transformer there was a bad smell of smoke and melting plastic!


ReplyThread Parent
robotar
robotar
huckleberry conquest
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 03:21 pm (UTC)

It's so interesting: the more I read about Europeans' bathrooms and their habits, the more and more I am amazed. For example, the lack of electricity in Western bathrooms; mine has at least three outlets. The lack of free public bathrooms; I've never been in an American bathroom and had to pay money (I used one in London in embarassingly didn't know I had to pay the... porter(?)) but that might also answer for the complete abuse of them as well. I've never ever seen a Turkish-style toilet (you know, the hole in the floor), even when I was in Paris, England, Scotland, Holland, Belgium, Spain.

I guess the funniest part is that the Washlet seems very odd to me, but not nearly as much as a simple hole in the floor. Talk about uncomfortable! Of course, in rural Appalaichia, from whence I hail, we still have many outhouses which are odd in themselves. And the latrines at boy scout camp were certainly not very welcome. Give me a Washlet any day of the week, please!

Some day I'd very much like to do a sociological study on different cultures' bathroom habits.


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antebellumcafe
antebellumcafe
ante bellum cafe
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 04:29 pm (UTC)

What does the text around the blue button say?


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 04:48 pm (UTC)

it says "oshiri" which means...

bum
bottom
arse
brown-cake-escape-hole


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blue button text - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 06:23 pm (UTC)

Have there been any studies on the rates of constipation and hemorrhoids since the introduction of western-style toilets to Japan? Squatting is the natural human method of evacuation (just watch a toddler bend at the knees and waist and grunt). The upright, seated position requires extra abdominal strain that the human body doesn't always adapt well too.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 06:54 pm (UTC)

Hisae tells me that the cartoon in my blog today makes reference to an anal disease popularily called ji in Japanese (hemorrhoids, in fact) which used to be common before the washlet, but has been much reduced thanks to the new toilet.


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bempi - (Anonymous) Expand

bla bla bla - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 06:56 pm (UTC)
What about weird German Toilets

Have only read two or three levels deep into the comments, so forgive me if this has been posted before, but Re: German attitudes towards toilets, what about the so-called "viewing shelf" found in various Continental toilets. Picture and article to follow:

Picture:



Article: German Toilets (http://web.archive.org/web/20041124052835/http://www.spies.com/~scott/misc/toilet.htm)


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 06:58 pm (UTC)
Re: What about weird German Toilets

Hm, didn't like my archive.org link... but you can cut and paste it if you want.


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loosechanj
loosechanj
LooseChanj
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 08:40 pm (UTC)

They may know how to crap, but japanese sexuality still freaks me out.


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k9d
k9d
STRPSE K9D
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 09:38 pm (UTC)
i want a "denki poto"

warm tea is such a luxery, at work i have an electric cup warmer and a nice tea-cup with a top (thank you grandma :)

but at home i'm always wishing for a convienient solution ...

i couldn't even google anything about these ... is there another name? an item seriously not for export?!


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mongoltrophies
mongoltrophies
yasser mohammed apoplipo
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 10:36 pm (UTC)
Follie Aprilis

Apple Japan made an annoucement about a toilet seat which they later withdrew (as per Apple's MO), but it looks to still be coming out in a few weeks. You plug your iPod into it and it plays music to cover embarrassing sounds. Takes care of smells, too.


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polycat
polycat
polyhymnia gene marie mundactyl
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 10:46 pm (UTC)

nyc has been recycling for years (yes, there was a brief respite of glass and plastic recycling recently, but it was only a year or less, i think, in 02), and fresh kills has been closed since 01.


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eveninginmadrid
eveninginmadrid
two or three vowels
Thu, Apr. 7th, 2005 11:33 pm (UTC)
Just an FYI

In the buildings of the Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA they have imported and installed Japanese washlet toilets in the stalls of the men's and women's restrooms! This means we can enjoy all that pleasure and freshness, every day on the job!


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sparkligbeatnic
sparkligbeatnic
Fri, Apr. 8th, 2005 07:41 am (UTC)

Given the choice between "chair" and "squat" public toilets, all else being equal, I will take the "squat" toilet every time. In addition to being more hygenic, squatting seems like a much more natural way to defecate and it feels like one can evacuate one's bowls much more completely and efficiently than when sitting in a chair. In more "primitve" parts of Asia you'll often find that a trough of water and gourd are provided so that one can give one's private parts a splash, which does just as well if not better than a bidet.

At the same time squatting provides my lower back and legs with a pleasurable and healthy stretch. It's an example of how an old technology is actually much higher tech than a novel one in its suitability to the human condition.

Having used squat toilets for some time in various old houses I stayed in, I began to feel that the "chair" toilet reflects a culture out of touch with human physiology.

Another example of "low" tech sometimes being higher tech than "high" tech is the bicycle. The bicycle is much higher tech than the automobile when considered from the human and social standpoints.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Apr. 8th, 2005 08:50 am (UTC)

Kraftwerk seem to have come to the same conclusion. They 'evolved' from songs about cars, to songs about trains, to songs about spacelab, to, finally, songs about bicycles.


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sparkligbeatnic
sparkligbeatnic
Fri, Apr. 8th, 2005 08:06 am (UTC)


A related anecdote. When I was a student, I rented rooms from an upper-middle class Latvian Jewish couple who had managed to escape to and settle in Canada. The husband was obsessed by the Japanese hi-tech bidet toilets and had collected pamphlets from all the major makers. His dream was to introduce these toilets to the North American market. He doesn't seem to have gotten very far with putting this into practice.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Apr. 8th, 2005 08:49 am (UTC)

Instructions: first replace American population. Then replace American toilets.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Apr. 8th, 2005 04:50 pm (UTC)
Denki Poto USA

That thing sounded awesome to me too, so I did some googling and found a Japanese Manufacturer (Zojirushi, no surprise there...) So I then looked up their English language site, expecting to be disappointed (as when I looked for a non-boring looking electric kettle in the states last year) but lo and behold, I present to you: Electric Dispensing Pots!

http://www.zojirushi.com/elepots.html


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Apr. 8th, 2005 06:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Denki Poto USA

Another example of hygiene AND creative recycling:

From the Zojirushi USA site:

Helpful Hints!

"Used tea leaves as deodorizer"
If you feel your shoes smell bad, you can use used tea leaves that've been dried in the sun for one day. Put them inside your shoes and leave them overnight. Dried leaves will help get rid of the smell.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, May. 19th, 2005 07:52 pm (UTC)

The autor of japanize your ass !!

Dear Sir or madam,

you wrote a very fine newspaper articel.

Theres a German Homepage for this products you told from.
They deliver all item in 220 V versions.

If you want you can visit:

www.japanische-toilette.de

Perhaps you can add this to your article.

Yours sincerly

Robert


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 2nd, 2005 01:18 pm (UTC)
www.japanische-toilette.de

The prices at www.japanische-toilette.de are ludicrous! Better to buy from America or Canada or Japan and pay the postage costs and buy a transformer....

Anyone know of somewhere in Europe/Britain selling these wonderful things at a more reasonable price? I spent a couple of years in Japan and fitted one in my flat. I really liked it and would love to have one here.


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hello - (Anonymous) Expand