Unreal Nature

July 28, 2009

The Semantics of Birdsong

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:52 am

Toto, based in Japan, is one of the biggest bathroom- and kitchen-ceramics companies in the world. It earns around ¥500 billion ($5 billion) a year, over one-third of that from lavatories and related accessories alone. It is best known for its “Washlet” range including the Neorest, which in addition to all its other functions hides odours and plays sounds like running water or birdsong to drown out embarrassing noises.

That is from an article, Flush with ambition in The Economist (Jul 23, 2009). It worries me. If these toilets catch on as they have in Japan, will future urban citizens take the sound of birdsong to mean that somebody is taking a dump? Will they be puzzled to hear the sound of toilets when deep in the forest?

Here are more details about the Washlet:

… high-tech lavatories succeeded in Japan for unique reasons. Houses are generally small and many generations live together. Bathrooms are often the only place where there is any privacy, so homeowners are willing to spend more on them. Dwellings are kept cold in winter, so a warm seat is priceless.

… Mr Harimoto also has an environmental sales pitch. The Washlet’s highly engineered tornado-style flush uses 4.8 litres of water, compared with six or more in humbler lavatories. True, high-tech lavatories are energy hogs, accounting for 4% of household energy consumption in Japan — more than clothes dryers or dishwashers. But Toto has developed a fix for that as well: its lavatories boast software that “learns” what the typical pattern of use is in each household, so it can power down during quiet periods.

There are so many things I could say …

Here and here and here are YouTube videos of the Washlet. I couldn’t find one showing the birdsong feature.




  1. Its sure isn’t Kansas..

    Comment by Dr. C. — August 2, 2009 @ 7:38 pm

  2. If they had used opera singers rather than bird singers, I’m there. Especially if they could get the operatic melody to coordinate volume and pitch with my exertions.

    Comment by unrealnature — August 3, 2009 @ 6:17 am

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