This Is Why America Doesn’t Have High-Tech Toilets

For both cultural and economic reasons, we're falling behind Japan in bathroom luxury

Toto toilets
America hasn't embraced Toto's $17K toilet, and it's not just the price

If you’re going to flush your money down the drain, you might as be sitting on a heated pad while going about your business.

At NPR’s Planet Money, reporter Greg Rosalsky bemoans the lack of high-tech toilets in the United States, noting that fancy commodes with integrated bidets, dryers and white noise machines are common in most businesses and up to 80% of homes in Japan.

You can trace the embrace of high-end toilets there back to a company named Toto, which launched an electric toilet seat with an integrated bidet back in 1980 and (heh) never looked back.

Sadly, that high-end Toto toilet, the Washlet, never took off here. Instead, high-tech toilets seem to have found more of a home along the (again, heh) Pacific Rim countries. This could be the result of “technology diffusion,” a term used by economists to describe the slow spread of technology across significant geographic distances.

And yet, even in the modern age, where technology diffuses much wider and more rapidly, we’re still not sitting on heated toilets. “Sometimes a technology never diffuses in a given country, even if it is superior to existing technologies,” says Dartmouth College economist Diego Comin.

Toto toilet

So we’re left with subpar facilities. “U.S. toilets are [still] effectively bedpans with a drain,” notes Bill Strang, Toto’s president of corporate strategy and e-commerce here in the States.

Another culprit? Rosalsky suggests it might have something to do with cultural mores, as the Japanese put more of an emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness in their daily lives.

Related: This Company Made an Uncomfortable Toilet to Shorten Bathroom Breaks

If you are interested in owning a toilet from the not-so-future, Toto’s Neorest NX2 dual flush toilet — a hit at the annual Consumer Electronic Show — features a bidet, dryer, temperature control seat, bacteria-neutralizing UV light and automatic opener/closer.

That’ll set you back $17,300.

Dartmouth’s Comin has a suggestion for getting Americans to embrace those luxury toilets: Education, mass production to bring the toilet price down…and marketing, such as a toilet commercial starring George Clooney.

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