Bathroom designs rooted in Japanese water rituals

“No experience is too lowly to be taken up in ritual and given a lofty meaning,” writes Mary Douglas in Purity & Danger, a book that attempts to make sense of all the forms and meanings of dirt and disorder in our lives. For Japanese company Inax, the rituals of washing your hands and using the bathroom exist both as extensions of Japanese culture, and as special sacraments in and of themselves. A long time manufacturer of toilets, sinks, and other sanitary ware, Inax has elevated the bathroom experience to something semi-religious.

Shinto shrines in Japan invite you to “purify” yourself before you pass through the entrance. It’s a straightforward exercise, marking the sacred space from the regular world.

Inax hopes to do something similar with its washlets, sinks, and ceramic tiles. It believes that cleansing the body is a ritual of import, and that Japanese culture has a deep affinity for water and bathing.

Washlet

Just last month, Inax participated in Milan design week, showcasing two new collections of products. Their Cerafine ceramic sinks have thin, sleek edges meant to resist the buildup of dirt, and showers come with an “Intelligent Control system” that allows you to set your shower preferences.

Cerafine ceramic sink

The new tile designs pay homage to Japanese things: one such design resembles a masu, a cup used to measure rice, while another recalls the soft shapes of yokan. But they’re more than just attractive shapes. The clay-like mineral of the Ecocarat ceramic is designed to “freshen the air and adjust humidity, enhancing comfort in the home.”

Many of the tile designs get their inspiration from traditional Japanese things such as roof tiles, cast iron tea kettles and many more artisan pieces.
Tiles inspired by masu, a cup to measure rice (left). Tiles inspired by traditional waveform roof tiling (right).

Inax’s expertise in tile-making and wash basins has a long, rich history. In 1918 one of the founders of the company was commissioned as technical advisor in producing the tiles for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Inax also launched Japan’s first “shower toilet,” a toilet with a warm water spray and dryer function in 1967. It was the most cutting-edge invention in bathroom technology at the time.

In 1918 Chozaburo Ina was appointed as technical advisors to produce the tiles for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel.
The Imperial Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

Through the years they’ve continued to astound the design world with their innovations: self-powered faucets, toilet seats with antibacterial technology, ceramics that control odor. Yet Inax has never strayed far from a basic philosophy of purity.

Inax remind us that bathrooms – like rituals – divide up our world into the clean and unclean, sacred and regular. Their products turn even the most basic human experience into something transformative.