Shortly after we moved to Japan two years ago, Toto Corporation opened the Toto Museum adjacent to its corporate headquarters. Roughly 112% of my Facebook friends sent me links to news stories covering the blessed event–you know who you are–and Tessa in particular seized on the idea of visiting. Sure, I thought. I’m game. Then I realized which city hosts the museum: Kitakyushu, about 1000 km (620 miles) from Tokyo. While I appreciate the child’s smart aleck streak, I wasn’t about to trek all the way to the other side of Japan for said museum visit. So I nixed the idea pretty quickly.
Fast forward two years. Two months ago another Facebook friend linked to an amazing story about the beautiful wisteria tunnel in Japan. I knew about sakura (cherry blossom) madness but nothing about wisteria until then. Her post caught my eye and I clicked through, learning that one such garden lies near Kitakyushu. The same town as the Toto Museum. I know. I know! Traveling across Japan for one silly museum sounded crazy, but a wisteria tunnel and Toto Museum suddenly made for a splendid girls’ weekend. So last Friday, Tessa and I boarded a shinkansen (bullet train) and off we went.
We arrived at the sleek museum, which clearly took its inspiration from one too many visits to the Apple store. Elegantly dressed staff took our photo for us at the museum entrance in front of a sign with the attraction name and the current date, a feature of pretty much any attraction in Japan. Notably missing was the adorable mascot, which every museum, town, and even government agency in Japan proudly features.
We started wandering the exhibits and learned about the history of modern plumbing in Japan, and of course the nearly-messianic role that the Toto Corporation played in its evolution. Here’s an overview, with a disclaimer. I didn’t take notes during our visit, assuming that I could find a detailed history of Toto online after my visit. But alas, I cannot–at least not in English. So here’s a quick and dirty of how Toto came about, from memory.
The eventual founder of Toto (whose name escapes me, and the Google) visited Europe around 1905. He saw the sleek, shiny ceramic toilets in use and thought, cool–we should do that in Japan. So he returned to Japan and started tinkering around with prototypes in 1912. In 1917 he incorporated the Toyo Toki Company and started producing ceramic toilets and vanities. The only problem? Very few Japanese homes had running water or sewer service, so the company had no customers. So while they waited for demand to catch up, the ceramic kilns instead cranked out Western-style tableware for the Noritake Company, still in business today.
Within a few years demand for toilets went up, especially in public housing and government buildings. Toto found its way into both lucrative markets, and the rest is toilet history.
In the U.S., anyone who recognizes the name Toto likely pictures a super high-end line of luxury cans with heated and self-raising seats, washlets squirting warm water about, and price tags in the thousands of U.S. dollars. While those models certainly exist, here in Japan Toto plumbing fixtures are much more common and pedestrian. Think Kohler or American Standard–solid, respectable brands but not necessarily crazy expensive. All of the plumbing fixtures in our house are made by Toto, and they are pretty ordinary. Solid, yes. But not exactly luxury items. Though yes, all of our toilets feature washlets.
Here in Japan washlets are sold as standalone units that are installed on the separately-purchased toilets, and washlets’ prices start around 20,000 yen, or just under $200 USD. Prices go up from there as you add more crazy features, but installing a basic washlet in Japan doesn’t automatically make you material for MTV Cribs or anything. [Is that show even on anymore? I bet my millenial cousins are rolling their eyes and/or wondering what the %$!* I’m talking about. But I digress.]
So without further ado, let’s stroll through the museum’s galleries, shall we?
So this sink. Gorgeous, right? At least I bet you menfolk think so. This kind of sink makes me absolutely crazy, because I am a woman who has the nerve to stand in front of a bathroom sink (in my home, not this one) and use a hairdryer and put on makeup and stuff. So where do the hairdryer and makeup go? In the sink basin itself, because there is no counter space. I see this All. The. Time. (I’m looking at you, Ikea.) The giant/wide basin looks lovely from a design perspective, and there’s just enough space on the ledge for a toothbrush and maybe a bar of soap–you know, the tools of your average man’s grooming regimen. But women have Stuff, and this poorly designed sink proudly flies the flag declaring that Not One Woman Was Involved in the Design of This Item.
Tessa/Goldilocks gives different sized toilets a go.
I know what you’re wondering: What does the public restroom at the Toto Museum look like? Let’s take a look!
So far so good: a fancy, well-lit, spotless Freshen Up the Makeup Area (with a counter!)…..
….ooh, fancy standalone sinks!
…a toilet that almost/literally scared the [ahem] out of me when I opened the stall door and the seat raised automatically and illuminated the bowl with a slightly menacing blue glow…
….amusing signs labeling the toilet’s functions. Looking great so far…..
…and a miss: the back-of-the-door hook hung so high that I had to hop a little to hang my bag. So close, you guys! You almost had the perfect bathroom.
Next: photos from our visit to the Kawachi Fuji-en Wisteria Tunnel. Stay tuned!