In Japan, three out of four toilets include a bidet and many boast other "smart toilet" features.
By contrast, U.S. bathrooms are, um, far behind.
Toilet manufacturers looking to expand their market share in the U.S. are so convinced that Americans are ready to embrace the bidet that many high-end showrooms around Los Angeles — see list — have installed smart toilets so customers can give them a whirl.
We're talking about toilets with lids that open upon approach, play music or offer up white noise for privacy, self-clean and sanitize, glow in the dark, serve up a heated seat, deodorize, wash and blow dry … so why aren't Americans using them?
Perhaps it's our Quaker roots. But bidets, and, by extension, other toilet add ons, are unfamiliar to Americans and bathroom talk is not a popular topic of conversation on the more Puritanical side of the Pacific. "We've been a little more hesitant to embrace the product," admits Bill Strang, president of U.S. operations for Toto, which is a smart-toilet manufacturing giant in Japan, "because when you talk about it people go, 'Oh, that sounds nice, but I don't know … ."
Even converts admit that the first time you use a bidet can be startling.
"I don't think most people have any transfer of knowledge about what the sensation is like," said Viki Yamashita of Long Beach, who used one at a friend's house and then installed a Toto smart toilet of her own when she remodeled. "It's not like you can say, 'Well, it's kind of like …' because there's nothing like it."
Strang and other industry leaders say that once a customer gives it a try, the toilets practically sell themselves. "When you have a chance to sit down and test drive this product, it will absolutely change your life," Strang said.
Shane Allis, a director of marketing at Kohler, said introducing new customers to the product helped increase its smart-toilet market by 50% in the U.S. last year alone.
Bells, whistles and luxury aside, smart toilets are also lauded for their ability to help those with limited range of motion. "Moving forward, we feel these toilets will be important for assisting people who want to stay in their homes," Allis said.
Prices vary widely, but most smart toilets start at around $600 and can easily top $10,000.
Here are a few of the many kitchen and bath supply showrooms that invite you to try a smart toilet:
Kohler's Expressions Showroom, 1916 Placentia Ave., Costa Mesa, expressionscostamesa.com
Ferguson showrooms, 340 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena, and 2600 Marine Ave., Redondo Beach, ferguson.com
Pirch, 3303 Hyland Avenue, Suite D, Costa Mesa, pirch.com
Snyder Diamond, 1399 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, snyderdiamond.com
Toto USA L.A. Showroom, 606 N. Almont Dr., West Hollywood, totousa.com