Chinese tourists flocking to Japan to buy high-tech “smart toilet lids,” which come with built-in bidets, heat and other functions, are shocked to learn that many of these prized commodes are actually made in China.
A weaker yen has boosted Chinese spending in Japan and recently a lot of that money is going to Japanese appliances like toilet lids as well as rice cookers, believed by many mainland shoppers to be superior in function and design than Chinese-made versions. Chinese visitors spent an estimated 6 billion yuan ($956 million) in Japan over the Chinese New Year holiday last month, also known as Spring Festival.
One of these visitors, a man from Hangzhou with the surname Wang, posted on Weibo that he was surprised to discover that Panasonic toilet lids on sale in Osaka were made near his hometown, in Hangzhou’s manufacturing district of Xiasha. He told Sina News, “I can’t believe I came this far to buy something manufactured on my doorstep. Doesn’t that just make me a porter?”
The news quickly spread throughout Chinese media, earning ridicule especially on social media. One internet user on the microblog Weibo said (registration required), “For those with a lot of money, their butt directs their head.” Another said, “Now that’s irony.” One blogger penned a short poem inspired by the discovery: “The flower blossoms inside the wall but is fragrant outside, national products are made in China but looted overseas…the reasons behind this are worth considering.” (墙内开花墙外香，国货国外被抢光，出口内销不一样，此中原由费思量.)
Li Jianhong, head of Panasonic’s electronics factory in Xiasha, China, told Qianjiang Evening News that they do indeed manufacture toilet lids that are sold in Japan as well as domestically. Upon hearing that Chinese tourists sometimes fight over toilet lids in Japanese duty-free stores, Li said that he and his coworkers found the news ”inconceivable,” because the toilets were already available more cheaply in China. One model sells for 2980 yuan ($475) in China but about 59,000 yen ($492) in Japan, according to Li. The Chinese version even comes with an extra moisture protection function that the Japanese model doesn’t.
The news also highlights one of China’s key struggles as it tries to shift its export and manufacturing heavy economy into one that is more dependent on consumer spending: while Japan is recognized for design and innovation, China is still largely seen as a center for cheap manufacturing. “Designed in Japan, made in China. What could be better!” one Weibo user said.
Or as one couple browsing toilet lids in Hangzhou told Qianjiang Evening said: “Even if they are just made in China and the outside looks the same, oversight is better overseas. You feel more relieved when you use it.”
Additional reporting by Zheping Huang.