Toto put on sale its first Otohime product in 1988 to cater to the delicate sensibilities of women and save water at the same time. Before the device was introduced it was customary for women to flush the toilet twice — the extra flush being to mask the bodily sounds.
The company came up with the name Otohime, which literally means "sound princess," to symbolize the shyness and modest of Japanese women, according to Yamasaki. "Most foreigners are amazed at and give high marks to sophisticated Japanese toilets with bidets, warm seats and many other functions. But they don't understand the necessity for Otohime and think it's strange," she said.
South Korea is the only other country where the Otohime is marketed, while Washlets are available around the world. In Japan, the cumulative shipments of Otohime products surpassed 1 million units last August.
The urn, now kept in storage at the Yakage Folk Museum and expected to be put on display there in the near future, has a water outlet in the shape of a dragon. A curator said the urn was originally placed on a platform near the lavatory, which was exclusively for high-ranking guests of the inn and not for family members or servants.
Women who use modern equipment for the same purpose in the 21st century say their shyness is not the only reason they activate the sensor every time they use the bathroom. "I'm more concerned about the unpleasantness for other people if they hear the sounds I make than my own embarrassment at being heard," said a 22-year-old student in Tokyo.
Another student in her 20s said she uses it out of "consideration" for other people. But some are critical of the custom. "I think the Japanese sometimes read too much between the lines," said a housewife in her 30s in Chiba Prefecture. "My own excretory sounds never make me embarrassed. It's much more embarrassing to put on makeup on the train," said a Chiba dance instructor in her 50s.
The toilet flushing sound has also been made into applications downloadable to iPhone, so people can take their handsets into the restroom and play the sound. Among the recently introduced portable products is the Keitai (Portable) Otohime sold by toy maker Takara Tomy Arts. The Tokyo company said the product is selling well, with the initial 30,000 units sold out in trade with wholesalers soon after its launch in late November.
In a survey by Toto on about 200 male college students in 2007, 36 percent said they always or sometimes flush the toilet while "doing the business" in campus restrooms, with 66 percent of the flushers saying they do so because they don't want others to hear them.
Mariko Shibasaki, another Toto spokeswoman, said she has heard that "herbivorous boys" — a catchphrase referring to men who are reluctant to be involved in romance or have sex — are pleased to see such portable devices being sold. One of them said, "I've always wanted something like that." If the trend grows, it could give rise to another catchphrase — Otohime Boys. (JapanTimes)