The bidet (pronounced bee-day) is a personal cleansing method utilising a stream of water, which is more hygienic and beneficial than using toilet paper.
The word 'bidet' was first used in the 15th century to refer to the pet ponies kept by the French royalty. During the 19th century the Europeans developed a porcelain cleaning device for contraceptive and purgative (cathartic) uses; this was called a bidet because you sat astride it, like riding a pony.
Over time, its use has evolved more into a personal cleansing method, parallelling the improved sanitation and the greater awareness of personal hygiene in the modern world.
For many decades now, the bidet has been a welcome addition to the bathroom culture of Europeans and Asians.
Until the mid-twentieth century, the use of a bidet had been limited to a small faction of people mainly because it involved installing another toilet-type unit in the bathroom.
This meant that space, plumbing, and most of all the cost became the limiting factors preventing more widespread use. The practise of using a bidet, has always been very popular in Europe and Asia.
In Australia, bidets are not yet as commonplace as they are in Japan or Europe, but they are receiving an increasingly warm reception. Most people's first encounter with a bidet seat is during a stay in a luxury hotel, usually in Japan. You might recall the scene in the Paul Hogan movie "Crocodile Dundee" where it took Mick a little while to work out what the bidet was used for and then he yells out the hotel window that "it's for washin' yer (bleep)".
It was Hans Maurer, a Swiss inventor, who in 1957 combined a toilet and a bidet in the same unit: basically a retractable bidet fountain was added with an air drier. With the disabled, the aged and infirm in mind, Maurer felt that "cleansing dirt from the body with dry paper" surely must be outdated by the mid 20th century and he set about designing a combination toilet/ bidet that would clean hygienically with warm water. After much frustration and ridicule, Maurer's shower/toilet concept became accepted. The Clos-o-Mat bidet/toilet is still manufactured and installed in large numbers of hospitals, nursing homes, etc. in the UK.
Maurer investigated the express needs of many severely disabled people and he found that one requirement was for a portable bidet that would fit on a standard toilet, so that they could still have some of the advantages of the automatic washing and drying toilet when away from their own house. The first toilet seat bidet (the Clos-o-Mat Junior)was developed as a result. Clos-o-Mat products have been manufactured and distributed all around the world since the nineteen-sixties specifically for the disabled, aged and infirm. In August this year,Maurer's company Closomat AG in Switzerland, went into bankruptcy after fifty years of designing and developing toilet equipment for those less-abled; fortunately Clos-O-Mat in the UK is not affected by the bankruptcy.
The traditional culture of 'washing after toileting' had almost disappeared following the US occupation of Japan after WWII and the introduction of toilet pans (instead of "squat" toilets), flushing cisterns and..toilet paper. Maurer's bidet/toilet seat concepts were further developed by Japanese sanitary ware companies, particularly INAX, initially as another bathroom aid for disabled. This is what we now know as the "shower seat" or bidet seat. For the Japanese, the bidet seat is not seen as an aid just for the elderly or disabled; but as a bathroom necessity for the whole population.
So, when TOTO began marketing the "Washlet" with a slogan translating to something like "let us wash your bum!"; the Japanese enthusiastically welcomed the return to tradition and now, according to Japan's Home Ministry, over 75% of all homes in Japan have a Washlet.
Bidet seats are now popular in most countries of Asia and now western countries are becoming aware of the benefits to one's health,hygiene and general well being provided by the use of a bidet or bidet seat.
You may have seen them on movies such as "Kenny" or perhaps on TV interviews with actor Will Smith who raves about the virtues of "the best toilet on the face of the earth" and how he "started going to the bathroom for no reason at all".
If you travel in Asia, you are bound to come across bidet seats in the better hotels and apartments. Many Aussie travellers are so taken by the clean, fresh feeling of hands free washing after toileting that just about everyone wants to install one at home.