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Why America Is Losing The Toilet Race

Japanese toilets are marvels of technological innovation. They have integrated bidets, dryers and heated seats, they use water efficiently, and they clean themselves and deodorize the air so the bathroom smells nice. Some even have “extras,” such as white noise machines so you can fill the room with the sound of relaxing rain, while others have built-in night lights and music. Everything is customizable and controlled by electronic buttons on a panel next to the seat. American toilets, however, have been described as “bedpans with a drain.” Economists spend a lot of time analyzing how and why technology spreads from one place to another, and what they found is that the biggest barrier to the toilet revolution is not distance but cultural customs. The Japanese highly prize bathing, hygiene and cleanliness, while other countries don’t seem to be that concerned. When was the last time you went to an American restaurant and been handed a hot, moist towel before dinner? Even the streets and subways in Japan are spotless, with hand-sanitizing dispensers everywhere. High-tech toilets can’t be ruled out for Americans, but until there’s a demand, the standard toilet will be what you get when you visit the U.S.