He thought it would be better if they could do the health tests at home," says Akiho Suzuki, an architect at Daiwa House. Toto's engineers developed a receptacle inside the basin to collect the urine for sugar content and temperature checks, and an armband to monitor blood pressure. The readout is displayed on a wall-mounted computer screen. "With the current model, your data is sent automatically to your personal computer, and then you can email it to your doctor," said Suzuki.
"For now our customers are essentially middle-aged and senior people. But we hope the young generation will also become more health-conscious." The model is the latest advance in a string of sophisticated toilets, known as "washlets" in Japan, which have become ubiquitous in recent decades.
The first models were imported from the United States, where they had been used mainly in hospitals, and quickly became standard in Japan in the booming 1980s, finding their way into at least 70 percent of Japanese homes now. Pioneering Toto designed its first models by asking hundreds of its employees to test a toilet and mark, using a string stretched across the bowl and a piece of paper, their preferred location for the water jet target area. "For the problem of nozzle angle and water temperature, there was a particular development team dedicated to these tests," Kuno recalled.
A portable gadget is available for customers who want to use it on the go, in restrooms far away from home. In most recent toilet models, the lid automatically lifts when a user enters the restroom. Men can then push a button to also flip up the seat. As soon as the user leaves the room, both the seat and lid automatically glide back into horizontal position, a clever feature that can preempt potential conflict between male and female members of the same household. Toto engineer Atsuko Kuno said that the auto-lids do more than promote marital harmony and also have "a real function".
"It takes this type of toilet one week to learn when the people living in the house are using it -- in the morning, at noon or in the evening," said Kuno. So the temperature of the seat is raised only at that time of day." Inax, Toto's main rival, also claims many recent advances, some of which it has proudly showcased at the Japanese pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo. "Until 2001, there was a water tank behind the toilet, but customers were complaining that it was difficult to clean it. Inax was the first maker to get rid of the tank for home toilets," said engineer Ichiro Kojima. Today's models also have a function that raises the seat and cover by several centimetre (inches) for easier cleaning because "we want the customers to know that Inax toilets are clean," said Kojima.