Four of My Favorite Product Designs in Japan

I subconsciously evaluate everything I touch and use. Its presentation, efficiency, ease-of-use, and all the emotions I feel by interacting with it. Living and traveling in Japan for a month, I found that here, even some of the most mundane and inconspicuous everyday products have been labored over to tailor to my needs.

Check out some of my favorite examples of modest and brilliant product designs that I was really impressed with.

Smart Toilet Systems

Let’s start with the toilet. Americans don’t obsess too much over their bathrooms. You install a toilet, a shower, some shelves and a sink and just call it a day. You get in and out, finishing your business as quickly as you can. In Japan, bathrooms seem to receive the same respect and care as your bedroom.

I’ve heard about the influx of Chinese tourists who bring back Japanese bidet seats, but during this trip was the first time I have used one. On the premium end of the spectrum, you have a completely electronic toilet and a wall-mount remote panel that controls everything.

The lid opens automatically so you can keep your hands clean. Before you sit down, the seat is already pre-warmed for you. As you go on about your business, you can turn on some nature soundtrack to cover up the embarrassing noises. And if you feel like it, a deodorizer is also available. Reaching for the toilet paper? Hold on, turn on the pre-warmed bidet jet to clean yourself. The jet arm is adjustable, can pulsate, and even does “water-massage.” It works for both men and women. Now that you’re clean, reaching for the toilet paper again? Stop. It comes with a dryer for your butt. As you get dressed, the lid closes slowly and softly so there’s no worry of making a loud bang. Oh, did I mention how the bowl is pre-misted so your produce doesn’t stick to the bowl?

image.jpeg

I feel like some people might think this is all overkill and makes no difference to them. Maybe. But for the same reason why people choose premium cars over entry-level ones, just because “it runs” doesn’t mean it’s a car you’ll enjoy driving.

You might also suspect that this is only a luxury and most people don’t have access to these fancy systems, but I’d argue that even most public toilets are equipped with basic versions of this. Some might not come with a dryer, some might not have an automatic lid, but the basic functions of a bidet system is ubiquitous, and that’s something I appreciate a lot.

image-2.jpeg

(PS: I actually found the dryer to be too slow, so I end up using the toilet paper anyways, out of habit, also for mostly mental reasons, so I don’t feel like “I didn’t wipe myself” when I come out.)

Bath Systems

Their shower + bath system impresses me no less. the entire shower room is enclosed in plastic floor and ceiling, doubling as a cloth-drying room in smaller apartments. Behind those plastics is an array of electronics that oversee your entire bathing experience.

A typical Japanese family reuses bath water, since they only bathe for pleasure, and shower beforehand to clean. You can set the temperature and capacity you desire beforehand and the computer system will take care of filling, temperature-keeping, and notifying you via a separate gadget in the living room. When you hear the jingle and “your bath water is ready,” you can wash yourself and enjoy the clean and hot tub.

Because of the complete separation of restroom and shower room, your washing experience feels like going to a sento, so much that I think the entire system was designed after it. The Huffington Post also published an article titled 5 Genius Gadgets From Japanese Bathrooms That Americans Should Borrow. This is the ultimate comfort you get to enjoy after a day of notoriously tiring business obligations of a salaryman. Gokuraku gokuraku.

(Check out this adorable video of a girl introducing her bathrooms in channel called “Life Where I’m From.”)

Convenient Stores

Oh how I love them. You can…

  • buy your typical Walgreens stuff
  • buy daily cooked meals and lunch boxes that actually taste good
  • copy, print, fax
  • enjoy a variety of freshly baked bread
  • buy concert tickets, train tickets
  • pre-order stuff
  • do your banking
  • charge your metro card
  • buy books, magazines, and other newly released literature
  • throw out your sorted trash
  • send your luggage to airport (if you don’t feel like dragging them)

…and more that I haven’t tried. These sophisticated convenience stores (Seven Eleven, Lawson, FamilyMart) are everywhere. Sometimes two on the same block. They are organized so well that all these facilities can fit into a small shop that is typically the size of a McDonald’s in the city.

image-3
A ticket machine. You can wire money, buy bus/train tickets, pre-paid cards, etc.

Water-Saving Toilets

Everybody washes their hands after No. 2. So why not save those hand-washing water to flush the toilet next time?

image-5-1.jpeg

Ingenious.


Right now, you can purchase one of those toilet systems from TOTO on Amazon. But the rest, especially their convenient stores, are unique products suitable for Japan. Products are born out of people’s needs. Even though I live in a suburb in the states, I still look forward to the day where I can work and live in a big city like Tokyo and enjoy these urban luxuries.

Donny Reynolds

APM at Google, designer at heart. Courage of an entrepreneur, brain of an engineer (twitter: @dovizu)

Leave a Reply