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Japanese toilet industry agrees to standardize complex bidet controls (theverge.com)
290 points by prostoalex on Jan 19, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 229 comments

> The government has recommended removing the Buddhist manji symbol from maps aimed at foreigners, for example, for fear of unintended associations with the Nazi swastika.

Does anyone else think this is a shame? When I've been to Asia and seen "swastikas" everywhere I've found it in a way joyful. The hate symbol has no power here, I thought; it's a positive thing. Why should one culture change their own iconography just because it was perverted in a different culture? It seems like a mild example of self-inflicted cultural imperialism.

Maybe I'm just being very philosophically naïve.

I agree with you. One culture's horrifying misuse of a symbol should not censor it for all and forever.

My roommate for the first two years of college was raised as a Jain[1], and a swastika with four dots is an important symbol for them. He liked to sketch, anything and everything, but also this swastika.

As his art was all over our walls, the expressions people had when they entered our dorm room for the first time were priceless. Sometimes it took some real explaining to convince them that I'm not a Nazi, and it was my Indian roommate who was drawing them and not me. ;-)

Beautiful artwork though.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jainism

It's not just Jains (it's almost all Hindus as well), and the original Swastika [1] really doesn't have anything other than a positive connotation. It's considered to be an auspicious symbol, something which brings luck, prosperity etc. Even now if we buy something big (like house/vehicle etc.), the first thing religious Hindus do is get the ceremony done for making it 'auspicious' (by a Hindu priest), and drawing Swastika on that property is an important part of it. The people in US, if you visit any famous Hindu temple there, you might observe a priest doing the same ceremony with someone's new flashy car.

The symbol is also used in almost any important life event in Hindu culture.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika

You'd be surprised at how many times I have had to explain that it was for good luck and not some kind of evil logo

Even if they think Nazis' symbol is bad, ideally they should easily be able to see the difference between that and the Indian symbol which is almost always red, vertically upright, and with four dots.


Actually, we (Indians) say that Nazis lost the war because they rotated the Swastika symbol

kuch bhi, khudka anecdote country pe mat dal

I know you probably meant that tongue-in-cheek, but the early German success wasn't luck, but the results of a hyper-focused industrial base and technically superior weapons (amongst other things).

Aww the Jainism tenets looked great until they got to chastity. Why do so many religions and movements associate sex with sin? It is a beautiful, wonderful thing.

Before good birth control, extramarital sex meant single mothers. And if it's hard to be a single mom today, imagine being a single mom in a world where there were a fraction of the job opportunities outside the home for a woman.

Surely we need to fork the religion.

It's not exactly with sin, but sexual activity is correlated with the power of creation. So "misusing" a "big bang" is often painted as something "bad", be it a sin or simply considered an act of layman's ignorance.

Brahmachary is often translated as chastity, but an alternate translation widely accepted in other spiritual traditions, like Bhakti, is fidelity within a committed relationship and conservation of sexual energy. So that might mean not masturbating every day, but conserving that sexual energy to bond with your partner (sexually or otherwise).

Islam, actually, does not. Sex between a husband and wife is considered worship.

And sex between a husband and wives is considered greater worship, but sex between wife and husbands is a sin.

You sound like you're mocking it, and I almost didn't respond, but here goes (hoping you'll take this in good faith): people in the west like to nitpick on this, but you have to understand that Islam was born in an incredibly sexist environment where when your dad died, you could inherit your stepmothers as wives. Women weren't allowed to own property or inherit. So compared to that, Islam was incredibly progressive (women allowed to own businesses, inherit, entitled to all sorts of benefits in case of marriage, divorce, etc that simply did not exist before). So strictly speaking polygamy is allowed in Islam (man->women, not women->man) but that is not an obligation by any means. As times have changed, culture has changed, people have just stopped doing that as much.

I grew up in a conservative, Muslim-majority country and in my 18 years there, I did not meet a single person with multiple wives. I heard of one person though - a man from a village who worked in the city had one wife in each location. I never met this man, but a distant relative knew of him. That's it. Every other person I met was monogamous. I'm not trying to justify something you think is wrong, just giving you a bit of perspective that I hope you'll consider.

Civil (and informative) comments like yours are why I come to HN.

Your phrasing is curious. You're "not trying to justify something that [I] think is wrong." I would have removed the italicized section entirely. Do you not also think it is wrong that you have heard of a man with multiple wives but not vice-versa?

> Islam, actually, does not. Sex between a husband and wife...

So far true for Christianity as well according to my reading and what I have been told. The worship part however I can't relate to.

Really? I thought several denominations of Christianity frowned on non-procreational sex.

Saying "Christianity believes X" is likely to be not true for some denominations for any X other than "Jesus is the son of God"

Even if you restrict yourself to Protestantism in the US, you will have trouble generalizing too much; the doctrine of Sola Scriptura[1] is probably the only other universal there.

With regards to sexuality, there is very broad agreement that extramarital sex is sinful, but not much more agreement beyond that. Most protestants are accepting of contraception within marriage; Roman Catholic doctrine is opposed to any use of contraception (to the point of the official stance being that HIV positive married persons should never have sex rather than use a condom), however somewhere between "more than half" and 90% of western Catholics disagree with this.

James Dobson (A well known Evangelical Protestant psychologist) gets plenty of angry letters any time his stance that masturbation is a normal and healthy part of developing sexuality comes up.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_scriptura

They see sex as equally procreative and unitive -- so if you explicitly block either aspect, you're misusing it. (Catholic perspective, anyway, and probably significantly over-simplified).

The US council of bishops has a document giving more details: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/n...

Not sure why child post from aidenn0 is flagged dead, the way I read it it was correct and unoffensive but for what I know it might have been changed after flagging or I might have misread it.

Shame about the rest of the attitudes towards women.

Eh, I think there's a lot of room for progressivism out there. Problem is that a lot of Muslim-majority countries out there are very much in the dark ages, where the orthodox religious institutions have a chokehold on society, and that is what the world sees. If you actually go and observe Western muslim society (beyond newsmedia fearmongering), women are much much more so on equal footing here, and society thrives for it. I, for one, am very excited to see what direction this new generation of Muslim millenials in the West take the cultural development of Islam.

(based on my experience in the US; may not be true of Europe)

For Europe, at least where I am, it goes both way, in some parts the women are on equal footing to men, but in other parts it's the opposite, with women seen as inferior to men.

You may like Tantrik Hinduism. ;)

Does it have the caste system?

To be honest I'm happy just figuring out my own beliefs.

Geospatial Information Authority of Japan heard public comments and have finally decided NOT to change the symbol for temples. Their official statement is at http://www.gsi.go.jp/common/000138869.pdf. (It's written in Japanese. I couldn't find out English one.)

I'm part Jewish but I also live in Asia and I see the "swastikas" here all the time. Completely different meaning, no negative connotation. It's not the symbol that matters, but what people are trying to represent with it.

It's just like the word "hacker" that meant scary things in the 1990s and "cool and hip" in the last 5-10 years.

Also see: Pepe the Frog. Some people tried to brand it as a hate symbol because a very small group of bad people were using it, but it's just a cartoon frog.

I absolutely agree. I find the manji symbol highly aesthetically pleasing and would love for it to be 'reclaimed' from its evil connotations globally/ in the Western World.

Please do not self-censor, Japan!

In fact, one could even argue that the symbol on the maps might have an interesting secondary effect on many unaware foreigners, shocking them when seeing it the first time (What are all these Nazi symbols doing here? Ah, it must be because they were Axis allies?). Only for them then to realise that in fact, a symbol at its core, is just that: lines in a certain constellation. Meaning is ascribed by the observer.

What can stand for pure evil one place, might be synonymous with sacred temples of peace in another.

Perhaps... If Japan hadn't had been the military ally of the people who perverted the symbol, I'd probably agree.

Yes, because the symbol hasn't been used for tens of thousands of years before the Nazis adopted it.

India should be able to use it as much as they want. I would imagine it would be harder to make that case for a former Axis power.

Why? It's a religious symbol. Their use is completely (as in, totally, 100%) unrelated to WW2, and it was in use far before the war.

So, with all that said why should their status in that war affect it at all?

Japan is not a person. No people should be held responsible in its entirety for a mistake of the political organisation governing them. Even in most democracies, minorities get to decide on cases concerning the people in its entirety, and during the WWII, an absolute monarchy with religious powers was in effect in Japan.

My parents were not yet born and my grandparents were grade school children when the US interned Japanese-Americans but their tax money was still used to compensate those people for the injustice done to them.

You inherit everything, good and bad, from those who came before you. It's your choice of what to keep and what to drop.

Given the symbol is not inherited from Nazis, there is no heir and no heritage here. It's just a similarity here.

This line of thinking is just basic collectivism.

>Maybe I'm just being very philosophically naïve.

Possibly, more culturally naive than philosophically so.

World War 2 and the Holocaust had a profound impact on Western culture, and Westerners have identified that symbol with the Nazis for almost a century. The impact of Buddhist or Hindu symbology in the West, in comparison and response, has been practically nil.

For Westerners, who may never have been to an Asian country prior to Japan's Olympics, to see a manji and mistake it for a Nazi symbol is perfectly reasonable, if that is the only context in which the symbol exists for them.

The change in icons makes sense, if you (you being some hypothetical Japan) want to communicate specifically to those tourists and encourage their engagement with local businesses and culture. Why use a symbol on maps specifically for foreigners to use which would probably confuse them?

You could just keep it there and say "those ignorant foreigners just need to learn what it actually means" ... but that would show hostility towards to your guests, be bad for business and an impractical way to design a map.

Edit: Apparently they decided not to change the iconography for the maps. It will be interesting to find out what impact if any that appears to have on engagement during the Olympics.

I think you're wrong here.

I'm all for acknowledging and sympathizing with people who mistakenly identify this symbol as a swastika. I'm certainly not in favor of looking down on them. By all means, gently explain to them the difference. Turn it into a positive thing.

But it seems thoroughly wrong to me to actually change the symbol based on these feelings. When I was studying Arabic I quickly came across the verb to be, which, when conjugated for the first person perfect is Kuntu (MSA pronunciation) and Kunt (colloquial pronunciation). This is quite close to one of the only words left in English that still carries taboo. Still, we got on with it. This is far from a perfect analogy, but the point is that these kinds of situations are quite common, and it's irrational to try to avoid them.

> Why use a symbol on maps specifically for foreigners to use which would probably confuse them?

If everywhere is the same, why travel? Local color like this makes destinations more interesting, not less. Hiding culture and heritage makes the value proposition weaker.

/German living in Seoul

> For Westerners, who may never have been to an Asian country prior to Japan's Olympics, to see a manji and mistake it for a Nazi symbol is perfectly reasonable, if that is the only context in which the symbol exists for them.

Well then it seems like the obvious answer is to expose oneself to all the contexts in which the swastika has been used throughout history. We do have the world wide web after all. It's the duty of the ignorant to reduce their ignorance not that of others to cater to it.

Additionally there is a significant link between Nazi Germany and Japan.

Why travel if not to learn about new cultures? Maybe you add an explanation to the map rather than changing the symbol.

I think it's a matter of unnecessary friction. People traveling to Japan to see the Olympics might not bother to get out of their comfort zone, leave the hotel and see something interesting if the maps seem to discourage them from doing so.

>Maybe you add an explanation to the map rather than changing the symbol.

That's a fair compromise, but now you have to explain it in every possible language that a foreigner might use. Which is probably why you considered changing the symbol in the first place, because well designed icons theoretically speak to everyone.

> It will be interesting to find out what impact if any that appears to have on engagement during the Olympics.

You don't have to wonder, Japan has hosted the Olympics many times before this.

I agree with you. Serious question: I wonder how far you take that. For example, for me, the Confederate US flag represented a favorite TV show as a kid (Dukes of Hazzard), the south (which meant cool accents and hospitality). Until 5 or so years ago I didn't know anyone still associated it with slavery. When will it be cleared for use again?

In other words, what is the bounds where a tainted symbol can or can't be used? Geopolitical border?

I grew up with the Dukes of Hazzard on TV and I have pretty much always associated that flag with the racist elements of the American south. I have pretty much always had a negative visceral reaction whenever I see it. Most of the African Americans I know have the same feelings about that flag. What has changed is that recently, non-black people have been paying attention to how we feel.

The swastika has been used as religious symbol for millennia before the Nazis adopted it. The Confederate flag was created specifically to represent a secessionist movement aiming to maintain the practice of slavery. The two situations are not nearly the same.

The situation with the Confederate flag I think is much much more complicated than the situation with the swastika.

How so?

Southerners still cling to the notions of "states rights" and "war of northern aggression" and other bullshit.

it's a traitors flag. They committed treason to try to protect their institution of slavery.

Whenever I see the confederate battle flag it looks like the nazi swastika to me. Perhaps this is because I didn't grow up with it normalized.

> When will it be cleared for use again?

The south has been using it to celebrate their treason and slavery for a while. Only recently have people started to say "maybe don't use that".

It took the murder of nine innocent people to finally convince the SC General Assembly to remove the Confederate flag from the state house grounds.

Note that it's for maps aimed at foreigners, a lot of which are westerners. They're not removing or going to remove the symbol from temple themselves.

Also, to be truthful, a lot of foreigners wouldn't know what the svatiskas on maps point to.

> Also, to be truthful, a lot of foreigners wouldn't know what the svatiskas on maps point to.

Exactly. This is the main reason for the change. The changes were based on surveys where they asked foreigners "if you saw this symbol on a map, what do you think it would mean?". Not "is this offensive?" You can find a PDF of the survey results online, it also included stuff like hotel symbols which foreigners thought meant hospital or helipad.

Honestly, one of the things I liked about visiting Japan was that I had to adjust my preconceptions a little to accommodate a developed culture with a non-western foundation. Changing things to adapt to western preconceptions takes that away a little bit.

These seem like little UX things :) . It'd be tough to imagine changing their core cultural tenets in order to accommodate tourists.

But in this case, that little UX thing forces the understanding that a symbol that is taboo and has an offensive meaning in your home country is understood totally differently in Japan.

That means it's bad UX. "Make me think" is a totally different book.

God forbid we use this as a chance to educate people on the long history of this particular symbol.

This is similar to American cryptographic literature and libraries (and who knows, maybe some British ones too) using the word "nonce".

In the UK that word means ... well you can look it up.

FWIW, I've lived in the UK my whole life and I had no idea that had any meaning apart from the crypto one.

I think it's quite an old fashioned bit of slang... I think I've come across it more frequently in 1970s/80s police dramas than anywhere else.

Google has it pinned as being primarily a UK search term so there must still be people using it, unless this is just an echo caused by a special offer on boxed sets of The Sweeney.

Well, it is prison slang, but, I believe, in broad circulation. Maybe it is a bit dated.

Wikipedia says it's in the OED: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonce_(slang)

Two way street here so since you used the general term "Asia", I feel obligated to point out that in large part of Asia, the symbol is known and when liked it's exactly for what it's seen as in the west.

Which parts? Anywhere with Buddhist or Hindu populations will use it like the Japanese.

I'm thinking of parts if south east asia, notably I've seen a lot of it in Cambodia and Vietnam (stores selling it openly, being wearing or doing nazi salutes, ...).

Then there is Thailand as how simple ignorance leads to the symbol being used as a representation of the nazi but without quite understanding what they are/were ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_imagery_in_Thailand ). It got so bad their government is now moving hard to push nazi/holocaust into their education programe to solve that, after a seemingly continuous serie of events like this:

> In 2011, during a sports day parade, students of a Catholic school in Thailand dressed and marched in SS uniforms. The school later apologized after international outrage."

I too found that enjoyable in Japan. The elimination of the Swastika from Western cultures as a response to the atrocities of the Nazi regime makes sense to me, eliminating it from Eastern cultures just seems to be giving the Nazi's an extra bit of power 80 years after the fact.

Agreed. They're even different symbols (manji for temples is left-facing "sauwastika", while Hakenkreuz is right-facing); although both have the same origin.

It's not just throughout Asia, it's visible in north and South American aboriginal ruins and culture. And in Ancient Greek art, though likely the same people who brought it to India brought it to Greece and Persia.

Agreed. This symbol existed before the swastika. Also, knowing that war crimes denial is still a thing in Japan, this decision doesn't seem the most appropriate to me...

It's a demonstration of how powerful a good propaganda campaign can be. 80 years later and still swastikas=bad.

A more recent example : Just Say No. All these 40-somethings who never did drugs, never will, just hate them and can't really explain why.

> It's a demonstration of how powerful a good propaganda campaign can be. 80 years later and still swastikas=bad.

Yes, 60 million dead is powerful propaganda.

Mao Zedong killed 65 million, Stalin killed 23 million and Hitler killed 17 million.

But it's Hitler that we remember. It's Hitler that gets cited by right-thinking fellows on the internet. It's Hitler's logo that gets banned from the tshirt stores. Why?

Hitler's crew had strong propaganda, that's why.

Propaganda is what rolls around in the media, and the public mind, for centuries. Not reality.

I guess "marketing" is the more common term.

Marketing can turn black into white and day into night. It is powerful.

Who has forgotten Stalin? Or Mao?

Think of it as as meme. The Hitler meme is big, the Stalin and Mao memes are not so big. You can look them all up on google but it's Hitler that gets cited in convo.

Ok but to be fair, Hitler is a 'western' meme. Stalin and Mao didn't kill westerners.

> Mao Zedong killed 65 million, Stalin killed 23 million

In their countries.

> and Hitler killed 17 million.

You have to include the WW2 deaths.

It's very common in Japan to pander to foreigners (read: "non-Asians") when they never asked to be pandered to in the first place.

It's unlikely anyone ever complained about the symbol but someone probably brought it up a meeting and the slightest chance that a foreigner would be offended was enough to push it through.

Special treatment for foreigners is not new. [1] Recently they rent-a-car agencies have started putting a "foreigner driving" sticker on cars rented by non-Japanese people. Interestingly the sticker says "Foreigner driving" in Japanese but "I love driving in Japan" or "Friendly driving" in English, with no mention of the 'foreigner' part.

[1] http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160416/p2a/00m/0na/005...

> It's unlikely anyone ever complained about the symbol but someone probably brought it up a meeting and the slightest chance that a foreigner would be offended was enough to push it through.

The changes were based on surveys that showed that many tourists had no idea what the symbol represented.

If you want an illustration of the problem, here's one sourced by the very scientific method of finding the closest men's restroom:


There are over 20 individual controls on that unit (which is, FWIW, common and reasonably expensive). If you do not read Japanese, good luck at finding flush... and finding it will not help you finding it on the next machine you use.

I've never seen this unit nor anything even remotely this complex in a public toilet. The vast majority of toilets I've seen are the basic washlet features and a few give you the added option of spray pressure. The pressure options I've only ever seen in hotels. Not only that, but the vast majority of public toilets are auto-flush.

Having said that, the "bidet" label on the "ladies" button is highly misleading ;-)

This use case (use by people who are not literate) is one of those few circumstances where worse-is-better, because public toilets (like one might find in a train station or department store) are typically either mechanically operated (trivial to use) or the lowest-scale models.

That said, this is not a rare, exotic toilet in Japan; it's something which would be unremarkable in an office building or a restaurant that you could reasonably use for date night.

Living as I do in the inaka, I am rarely blessed with such things. Sometimes I think Tokyo is a different world ;-)

Don't you like the washiki toilets? ;) (seriously, I live neither in a big nor a small city, but there are way too many of them still, in this century)

I don't :-) But that's the reality of the izakayas around here. Actually the virtually brand new (7 years old???) onsen near me has exclusively washiki toilets (very nice new ones). Apparently the older patrons like them. They have handlebars on the wall too, which is a nice usability touch.

I see one like this in nearly every Tully's and Starbucks in Kyoto. They don't have as many bottom-washing options, though.

Still waiting for someone to explain the difference between "bidet" and "behind"...neither one seems to function in the advertised manner.

Behind is for anyone's rear end. Bidet is for women. Not sure I want to explain more fully ;-)

It.... takes some experience... But definitely worth it in my experience :-)

Yeah, I figured that's the theory, but in practice I've found no consistent aiming for either function. Also, most washlets with both also have an independent forward/backward function.

Besides all that, is there some targeting system going on down there? Machine vision? Lidar?

None that I know of. A combination of adjusting yourself and using the forward back buttons usually works. There are also some with pulsating streams for extra scrubbing power.

> Machine vision?

God please no. Don't give people ideas, lest we want to have a cloud-connected startup doing just that...

There's also that Adult Swim infomercial... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJklHwoYgBQ

It's going to happen sooner or later. I'm pretty sure the $8000 models employ some kind of computer vision to adjust the sprayer to the correct "human output interface".

A cloud toilet that examines your feces and urine probably isn't far off (and is probably already in the works).

So I guess that beyond Cloud-to-Butt, we'll have a Butt-to-Cloud extension...

The rise of self-aware bidets will end poorly...

Just wiggle your behind around until you get the right spot

On the majority, if not all of Japanese toilets I remember using, the actual flush was just a normal flush. The buttons were just for the various washlets mounted in the toilet seat, and could be safely ignored.

Obviously you have more experience than my one holiday, but it seems surprising that I wouldn't have encountered this problem if it's widespread?

> The buttons were just for the various washlets mounted in the toilet seat, and could be safely ignored.

Unless they were shared toilets and some asshole had cranked the seat heat all the way up, hot enough that it felt scalding.

flush is the leftmost button on top of the remote, to the right side of it is also flush, if you only need small amount of water. To the right of that "little" flush, is even more "eco" flush.. This is why they need standardization.

I've been to Japan recently and saw all kinds of toilets. I encountered types like that as well and honestly it's not that difficult. I don't speak Japanese but you'll quickly figure out that the dots represent the water amount for flushing, that there are probably two bidet functions per gender (water more spread out or not), that the "sliders" control the pressure etc. There are other buttons for deodorization, sounds and whatnot but well, that's just the cherry on top. I miss them!

I don't read Japanese at all, but it seems pretty obvious the the three buttons on the top left are big flush, middle flush and eco-flush.

Yep, as soon as I seen 'eco' you could figure out what is flush.

If eco wasn't there I can see how it would be confusing though.

Confusing Japanese toilets were my favorite part about visiting. I don't mind having to it a few random buttons. But yeah having standardized iconography for visitors is probably a good thing.


sym for big is up, sym for small (urine only) is down - I see them right away on your image at the top, usually the flusher is not on the seat controls itself either.

I'm having a chuckle imagining Mr. Magoo getting sprayed every which way as he tries to figure out how to flush the toilet.

The slightly grimy buttons give me the heebeegeebees.

What does the button with the orange square do? What does the button with the 9 dots do?

When you tap the rear/front cleaning button, water doesn't stop until you press the orange one, which means "stop". The 9 dots is the biggest flush.

The orange square is to stop the current bidet function. The 9 dots is a big flush, as opposed to the one beside it which is a small flush and then an even smaller 'eco' flush beside that.

> finding it will not help you finding it on the next machine you use

流す is just as much as an arbitrary pictogram as anything else. And it didn't even need a standardization process.

Yeah but the odds you can read it if you aren't from East Asia are pretty low.

Also Japanese writing has gone through multiple standardizations.

Oh, come on. It's pretty obvious that "eco 小" with the three dots means eco flush. It's also one of the larger buttons. Which means that the four and nine dots mean larger flushes. Which means that "流す" means flush. There you go, problem solved. Just take a note of 流 on a piece of paper, if you're not good at remembering symbols.

Oh, oh, and let me guess: A home FTP account with curlftpfs and cvs is just as good as Dropbox.

Please stop blaming the user for UX issues.

The user is expected to be able to read basic Japanese. You are of course welcome to use the product without that prerequisite; just experiment.

If you are a lady not much can go wrong; for us blokes… well you might get your ball-sack rinsed, but that, while surprising and slightly awkward, is fairly harmless on the whole.

What's the fun in being a tourist if you understood everything around you.

I'm inclined to agree. Convincing someone to use a space-age toilet for the first time without giving them instructions is hilarious.

Not everyone attempts to flush while sitting down on the toilet.

I believe most models will refuse to turn on any washlet function if there's no pressure on the entire seat (not sure exactly what the predicate is, but something along those lines). Certainly my model[0] in SF is that way.

[0] - https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007HIKPQC

What are you talking about? The user is always to blame, when the functionality is there in the first place.

UX is just a fancy term to invent new jobs, or to sell more products to dumb people.

The Design of Everday Things is a fantastic read that disagrees almost entirely with you on that.

This is the dumbest coherent thought I have ever read. Edit Look, I don’t know you, but if I presume you are a smart young hacker… your own attitude toward technology as something that can and will be understood, conquered, and mastered will serve you well, but you must also come to realize that your own creations will never matter unless they work for an entirely different audience. And no, you don’t have to be dumb for a poorly designed interface to confuse and disorient you.

Oh, how badly I wished Americans had a clean way of cleaning their ... bottoms during my 8 years of stay there. Thankfully, Amazon had nice portable bidets which you could fit in your home toilets, but everywhere else it was still the same.

I have a washlet on my home toilet (Canada) and when I had a several months client onsite in London, UK I have typed into Google, out of desperation the magic words travel washlet and learned it exists! Yes, Toto makes travel washlets so you can carry civilization with you everywhere. You can find one on Amazon or eBay for about 75-80 USD, right now it seems eBay is cheaper when you consider shipping. It uses one ordinary AA battery, I use a rechargeable, it works just as well.

Here's two SFW videos on how to use https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDcS0IAkRIw https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBAY1GWjjaQ

I suppose this is one realm of technological attainment in which we're just a bit, uh, behind.

Totally agree. After three months here I'm not looking forward to no longer having the wash feature when I get back to Canada. Such a nice feature to have.

You can buy a Japanese-style washlet (also available on Amazon) and install it in your home if you are so inclined.

I just bought one recently.

Worth it. Heated seat alone... so good.

There's soft wipes (not the paper type). Nothing can beat that.



Or for a more humorous account: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgHVO-RZ8c4

In short: They're not flushable, regardless of what the packaging says. Soluble dry paper or water works. Japan's got it right.

Which screws up the sewage system (yes even the "flushable" ones)

Bidets are the way to go, aside from being harmful to the plumbing system, soft wipes still require you to, well, wipe which is kind of barbaric once you get used to cleaning your bum with a jet of water and simply drying yourself after. It also saves a lot of money on paper costs if you use a towel to dry off.

A) saving money. It would take quite some time to recuperate the expensive toilet. Probably at least 10 years.

B) DON'T flush them.

C) I really don't feel as clean from a jet spray. And I don't like it. Especially if the toilet is not mine.

D) You can bring your wipes everywhere. They will work in a desert, the forest, or ISS...

I buy baby wipes for the purpose... They are awsome.

A year ago I bought a Luxe bidet attachment for my wife as half-joke. We basically fell in love with it. Bought it for friends of ours to be funny. They thought it was hilarious, waited months to install it, then installed it and fell in love with it. Now they want to buy it for friends. We bought it for family members for this Christmas. Uproarious laughter, and then... you guessed it, they fell in love with it, and thinking of who they might buy it for. For Americans, this is truly one of those things where you come away thinking "Holy moly, why did we not do this sooner?"

It's $60 for the deluxe version, cheaper if you don't want hot water (and you actually don't need the hot water). It's a subtle-but-massive improvement in quality of life.

Hopefully this standardization should help the Japanese toilet export market. They are very quality goods that are hindered by poor UI/UX.

I just got back from South Korea. Toilets were a definite highlight for me. Nothing else feels as sanitary. Wish we got them in South Africa.

I was hoping that along with the standardization we'd get an explanation (in english) as to what these symbols mean.

I mean it's nice to know that we can standardize to:

- a pair of line wobblers

- two tornadoes of different intensity

- two different fountain rides with different camera angles and zooms

- getting mauled by a three-toed sloth, and

- the all important black box

but maybe for people with less inductive skill some words would help too.

The one in the second paragraph is not good enough?

> The icons in the image above mean (from left to right) raise the lid, raise the seat, large flush, small flush, rear spray, bidet, dry, and stop.

I think they were referring to english language lettering on the toilets. Because we're not going to carry around a print out from the verge.

One read of the explanations and the icons make sense. They should be memorable after that. Of course hurricane is flush – it's the swirly result. Forever memorized.

For those who don't know, you don't actually have to use the bidet when you go to Japan. The most complicated thing about toilets in Japan is that the flush button is on the wall sometimes (and the emergency button is often on the wall, too).

... there's an emergency button?

And in what circumstances would one use it? What does it do? Who does it call?

So many questions...

It's for old people who get stuck. Someone from the tenant or building will come and help you.

You've never been in a handicap toilet in the west?

I have - and I've never seen an emergency button in one.

Interesting. I've often seen emergency buttons in handicap toilets in the EU. Where are you?

New York. Used to live in Palo Alto and Toronto, and I've never seen emergency buttons in disabled washrooms in hose cities either. Perhaps it's an EU regulation?

Examples: http://wheelchairsteve.com/2014/emergency-cord-in-accessible...

Contrary to what he writes, I've seen them in a couple of places in the UK. I rarely use the accessible toilet though, typically only in small but modern offices where the only toilet is accessible, or on trains.

In the US, I've seen them in just about every toilet in a hospital or health care facility, but never anywhere else.

I grew up in a Dutch house with a flush button in the wall, then saw it at a German friend's house as well (different type, but still a wall button). Not sure it's a Japanese thing.

The wall flush-buttons are common here in Norway as well - at least in public or office toilets. They usually (but not always) have a choice of a big or little flush.

Do you mean wall as in the flush button is part of the wall above the toilet, or wall as in the flush button is on a remote completely separate (often on the side or in front of) the toilet?

Because the latter is what you get in Japan, see what patio11 posted above.

It is definitely built into the wall instead of a sort of unit. For reference, the little stainless steel panel above this toilet are the flushing buttons, the sizes representing the amount of flush you give.


Yeah that's a fairly standard "integrated" toilet (where the flushing system is hidden into the wall), it's really quite different than the experience you get in japan.

I always figure that Japan's toilets are unique: Enough so that if, for some weird reason, I ever become rich, I'll get a Japanese toilet.

Behind, slightly next to and above in both of my cases. Besides would be odd but understandable; opposite... I guess I'd be looking for it.

> Behind, slightly next to and above in both of my cases. Besides would be odd but understandable; opposite... I guess I'd be looking for it.

Probably not, it's basically in front of your face, I've mostly seen it in business hotels where the entire bathroom is an integrated unit.

You might not have to, but you definitely should.

It's nice that these companies have come together to standardize their icons.

I don't see the intrigue in this story, though. Can someone explain it to me? Is it the iconography design? The "wow Japanese toilets are complicated!" reaction? People just upvoting anything that has to do with Japan?

It's not something you'd think needs standardizing. And yet here we are.

Different manufacturers have different iconography, because there is no need to standardize. This is true with microwaves, washing machines, ovens, etc. You buy a washing machine, learn how to use it, and then never think about it again.

Public utilities standardize their iconography because many people use them. That's why every sign directing you to a restroom, or an exit, or a drinking fountain looks largely the same.

Japanese bidets are alien to most foreigners, Japanese tourism is growing rapidly and will have a big spike in 2020, and since bidet toilets have basically become public utilities, the industry came together and created a standard.

It just seems like a logical conclusion without any intrigue to me. Even sticking with the Tokyo Olympic theme, the stories about the hotel shortage, the mess with Tsukiji, and the conflicts about what to do with Golden Gai are far more interesting.

> Different manufacturers have different iconography, because there is no need to standardize. This is true with microwaves, washing machines, ovens, etc. You buy a washing machine, learn how to use it, and then never think about it again.

Cars have standardized their dashboard iconography

> It just seems like a logical conclusion without any intrigue to me

Dunno. Most buttons I've seen on a toilet was 1. Flush. The really fancy ones have a split button for "small flush" and "big flush".

The thought that toilets are complex enough to even consider talking about standardization is, I think, completely alien to anyone outside Japan/Asia.

What's in 2020?

EDIT: Nevermind, figured it out. The 2020 Summer Olympics are in Tokyo.

It's the fact that this is alien to most of us, and so mildly amusing and interesting.

I think the real problem is lack exposure to such miraculous devices outside of Asia-Pacific.

As an American who has used Japanese toilets I can testify that they are solving a very real problem.

My favorite thing is not the complexity, but that you can operate the toilets without touching them. I wish we had foot controls for cover, flush, water cleaning faucet and soap mandatory everywhere.

Alexa, clean my bottom!

I could probably build that. The remote for the washlet is just IR, bet it would be easy enough.

If you have any ambitions to HN (and reddit!) superstars of, do it (and write about it).

It would be a wonderful conversation starter.

At the risk of sounding completely uncultured, what exactly is a rear spray, and how does it differ from the bidet functionality? Is the bidet targeted and the rear spray a delightful misting?

bidet has a female icon, spray is gender less. angle (and spread) is different accordingly.

source: on vacation in japan right now, pressed the bidet button first, wrong angle.

Ah - interesting. I always thought that "bidet" was gender-neutral. Good to know!

Bidet is gender neutral. This must be the japanese interpretation of the word.

It's about hygiene. Picture yourself picking up feces with your bare hands. Would you then rather wipe your hands using paper or wash it off with water? The same applies to your rear end.

Serious question: WHY can't the computer industry do this for USB-C cables and ports? It's desperately needed and shameful that they haven't done this.

Think back fifteen years and think about how you used to charge your phone. The mobile phone industry standardized on using USB for charging, mostly because the EU mandated one standard for charging.

And the USB port actually has been standardized with USB-C. Problem with USB-C nowadays is that the connector is not tied to the functionality. Sometimes you get high throughput, thunderbolt, or a high charging port, sometimes you don't.

Right, and that's exactly what I'm referring to. See this article that got a lot of attention:


Or just look at the USB-C cables sold by Apple.

There should be standardized icons on the cable denoting what the cable is capable of doing.

You mean for charging or for connecting to peripherals?

It's going to happen for peripherals, but it's an ecosystem with two sides; you'll have laptops adding more and more USB-C ports as more support arrives, but it'll take time.

WRT charging, see e.g. this [1] year-old article - the implementations are going to take a while to get uniform enough for it to be a truly "standard" charger. But a wide variety of vendors are experimenting with it, and the future is bright.

For both. There should be standardized icons on USB-C cables denoting what the cable is capable of doing so that people don't fry their devices by using the wrong cable.

Because what's the incentive?

In this case, the incentive was pressure from the Government to make life easier for tourists coming for the Olympics.

The incentive is not give USB-C a bad name by having people fry their computers and devices by using the wrong cable. Try googling "usb-c cable won't damage". There should be standardized icons denoting what the cable is capable of doing.

The era of USB-A was a golden age - an almost mythical period of time when everyone against all odds actually agreed to converge into one universal way of attaching peripherals. Alas, nothing lasts forever. Now it's back to how it usually is with standards [1].

[1] https://xkcd.com/927/

I have devices with ports in USB-A, USB-B (printer, hubs, hard drive enclosures), Mini USB (ewwww), and Micro USB. I expect I'll still have all of those by 2022, except maybe mini USB if I've ditched my PS3 (doubt it). But by then I'll probably also have a handful of USB-C devices (maybe 2 or 3—I have none right now) and likely a semi-compatible USB-C-2.0, plus USB-D and USB-F will be out and claiming to be the Way Forward, too.

What's wrong with miniUSB? It's a superior connector to microUSB: it's thicker and far, far sturdier, and doesn't wear out so easily like microUSB always does. Most of the microUSB cables I've used eventually get really loose and don't lock into the socket correctly; this never happens with miniUSB. I honestly wish the industry had never invented microUSB and had stuck with miniUSB instead. As a bonus, the extra thickness of miniUSB would have prevented phones from getting so thin, so we'd likely have thicker, sturdier phones too with greater battery capacity. (But oh no!! These phones might weigh 0.2 ounces more!! That's too heavy!! /s)

> The Micro plug design is rated for at least 10,000 connect-disconnect cycles, which is more than the Mini plug design.



Anecdotally (and probably relatedly), my mini-usb plugs always wiggled in the socket, while micro-usb does not. They also seemed to require less force to unplug, and so popped out accidentally more often.

That's really weird, because anecdotally, that's exactly the opposite of my experience. I've gone through a bunch of microUSB cables that got loose and wouldn't stay plugged in, and I've never had any problems with miniUSB cables and connectors at all, ever. I've never seen a miniUSB plug that wiggled in the socket, but this has been par for the course with microUSB. Besides older devices like cameras (which I no longer use), I still use miniUSB on my Microchip PIC programmer and my Fender guitar amp.

It's a bigger, bulkier connector than microUSB, with a much thicker and more robust metal shield. I really don't see how wiggling would be more of a problem on miniUSB than microUSB because of this factor.

As for force, again my experience is exactly the opposite: the miniUSB connectors require a lot of force to both engage and disengage. Not as much as full-size USB of course, but a lot more than the wimpy little microUSB connectors.

And it was still a period of transition from other interfaces to USB. And there was still a lot of proprietary charging cables/connectors for mobile devices. And USB-A didn't work reliably a decent chunk of the time.

USB was a great improvement for attaching many peripherals to computers but it really wasn't a golden age.

When was this "golden age"?


Because Apple, who created a much better connector (Lightning) than both Micro-USB and USB-C, years before the latter was even invented, prevented other companies from using it.

So the answer to your question is: GREED

Lightning is a more convenient alternative to Micro-USB, but that's it. It's only USB 2, it is not a USB-C replacement.

The 12-inch iPad Pro has USB 3 speed through the Lightning port.

Looking into it, you're correct, but I think it must be using additional pins (and interestingly the included cable isn't USB 3). At that point, Apple might as well switch to USB-C.

Ah, maybe they upgraded it then. I know that so far it had only been USB 2.

Are these used outside of Japan?

I'm from Denmark (Europe). Looked into it recently. They are extremely expensive. You are easily looking at 2000 USD for a cheap setup. I saw a couple of premium ones for around 14k USD. At this point, I think the problem is that here is not a big enough market to warrant investment. A Catch 22 until some big company decides to enter the market and others follow.

It's a shame really. Cultural habits like toilet use are very resistant to change, even if there are health or hygiene benefits. You don't know what you are missing until you've lived in Japan with a Toto Washlet installed.

You use a lot less toilet paper, and while the heated seat may seem decadent, it is actually very relaxing in the colder seasons — ostensibly a good thing when voiding your bowels. The best thing though is when you are ill and have diarrhoea. On a Western toilet the toilet paper feels like 80-grit sandpaper after the fourth time you go. With a washlet you've still got diarrhoea, but at least you leave the bathroom feeling clean with your skin not nearly as irritated.

Got one recently for my parents in Europe for €230 delivered. Its just an attachment seat to an existing toilet.


The cheap option is a "bidet shower". I had a rented house, owned by a Muslim, which had them installed.

They are presumably cheap to buy, but they need a proper water supply, and plumbers in Denmark are expensive...


Are you not allowed to buy yourself a few fittings and a wrench and do it yourself in Denmark?

I have no idea, I've not lived here long enough to find out.


If you factor in the savings on toilet paper and anti-depressants you can raise the bottom line a little..

Wow, is most of that the cost to import in small volume? They aren't super popular in the US, either, but you can get a basic model (with seat warmer) that attaches to an existing "normal" toilet for around $400 from Toto.

Those were the prices for domestic dealers. I saw some seat-only products outside of Denmark, but many of them only fit certain toilets and some don't say which or how to know if it'll fit. Eventually I gave up since I simply don't know what toilet I have amongst the other unknowns.

I was recently looking to get one, and cheapest I could find for Europe was Korean Quoss (model 5300) brand. Don't know however if you want to go for cheap stuff for this item (there are risks, like being electrocuted). On the other hand, I think lifespan is also very limited, even for the top of the line stuff, so you would need to get one say every 5-10 years.

I've seen them at Google.

The base model Washlet is about $400 in the US.[1] You must have a 120V GFCI-equipped outlet within 3 feet of the unit.

[1] https://washlet.totousa.com/product/a100

I've found options that don't require electricity and are easy to connect (no plumbing experience required) albeit with fewer features than a Toto. https://www.tushy.me/ is an affordable one like this

Just when I'm reading about that product, a pop-up appears, "Enter your email for free shipping (and "news" that won't clog your inbox"). There's no way to dismiss the pop-up. I was considering buying the product before that happened. It's such a strong signal that the site operator is a scumbag that I won't deal with them. It means the site is about collecting e-mail addresses, not selling and servicing products.

The popup is coming from "justuno.com". They're in San Francisco. They have a CEO with a beard, as if they were cool.

Add to block list.

I got mine as part of a broader bathroom renovation but the plumbing by itself is pretty straightforward. That said, you do need an appropriate electrical outlet near the toilet and, based on earlier research, smaller (round) toilet bowls are not ideal for being retrofitted.

in japan its not super cheap either unless its already installed.

Ours was around ¥13,000 / US$115 when the landlord replaced it last year

You can buy them, they are not so common though. Toto are the most common export brand, they have showrooms in major cities.

I looked into getting one for my bathroom but it was going to be £3000 to get a decent model plus a compatible toilet bowl (and IIRC that didn't include getting it plumbed in and an electrician to wire it in).

Edit: List of USA models, the most expensive being $3,300: https://washlet.totousa.com/view-all-products

Pretty common in South Korea.

Pretty common in India. Though the tradition of 'washing' instead of 'wiping' has been here forever, but a lot of the modern homes now have an inbuilt toilet bidet.

have seen similar stuff in the more upmarket hotels and condos in China

this is tantamount to cultural genocide /s seriously though, one of the peculiar joys of being in japan and having a very poor grasp of the language is the inescapable urge to play with the bidet buttons. you will inevitably start spraying water all over the bathroom, get yelled at by a nice robot voice, and panic a great deal.

All those different symbols were a real shitshow and people just couldn't deal with that crap, now that they are going to sort this out it won't be a pain in the ass anymore with them flushing their old way of doing things away.

To me... for a an industry standardization, those icons are pretty elegant. Just thinking of standard restroom signs and then looking at these.

This standardization makes it clearer that there's a button that blasts you into the air.

What are the chances that they'll standardise on the Three Seashells system?

So they watched Why him?

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