The Tokyo Toilet Project!

I have previously commented about life in Japan about how often one experiences, sees, hears, tastes or smells something interesting, at times unexpected, unique or unusual.

Today’s illustration is a subject that makes this point –– Tokyo’s “transparent” public toilets! The see-through restrooms, located in parks near the popular Shibuya district’s famous pedestrian crossing, are part of an innovative project.

The Tokyo Toilet Project, founded by the Nippon Foundation, a private, non-profit charity that focuses on social innovation, has partnered with some of the biggest names in the architecture and creative industries.  The recently installed toilets were Initially planned for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics to change people’s perceptions of public toilets.

According to the projects official website, ”There are two things we worry about when entering a public restroom, especially those located at a park.  The first is cleanliness, and the second is whether anyone is inside. The new toilets aim to break the stereotypes of public toilets — that they are dark, dirty, smelly and scary — and to be accessible for everyone regardless of gender, age or disability, to demonstrate the possibilities of an inclusive society.”

Designed by Shigeru Ban Architects, a Pritzker Prize-winning architecture firm, the design tackles these two concerns by offering a toilet with glass walls that — at first — allows the public to see through from the outside. But once a user enters the toilet and locks the door, the walls turn opaque to provide privacy.

When occupied and locked properly, the tinted glass toilets in Tokyo become frosted and opaque.   The new toilet stalls were designed by the noted architect Shigeru Ban, and use “smart glass” to create a transparent effect when not in use. (Photo Credit…Satoshi Nagare/The Nippon Foundation)

At night, the facility lights up the park like a beautiful lantern.  They have become an immediate tourist attraction!

The project captured the attention of the New York Times.  You can read the very interesting article below.

In case you are interested in other stories about toilets around the world, check out these New York Times articles:

  • Is There a Spy Camera in That Bathroom? In Seoul, 8,000 Workers Will Check | Sept. 3, 2018 
  • Paris Turns to Flower-Growing Toilet to Fight Public Urination | Feb. 2, 2017 
  • Is This New York City’s Nicest Public Bathroom? | Feb. 14, 2020


Tokyo Now Has Transparent Public Toilets. Let Us Explain. 

Using “smart glass,” a Pritzker Prize-winning architect created colorful toilet stalls to allay fears about safety and hygiene. The toilets were set up in two public parks. 

By Tiffany May | NY Times International Edition | Aug. 19, 2020 

Public toilets around the globe have a reputation for being dark, dirty and dangerous. Tokyo recently unveiled new restrooms in two public parks that aim to address those concerns. 

For one thing, they are brightly lit and colorful. 

For another, they are transparent. 

This way, the logic goes, those who need to use them can check out the cleanliness and safety of the stalls without having to walk inside or touch a thing. 

Japan has long experimented with toilets, resulting in lids that open and close automatically and seats that warm up. But the new stalls — designed by Shigeru Ban, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect — are made out of an opacity-changing “smart glass” that is already used in offices and other buildings to provide privacy when needed. 

The toilets were installed in Japan’s capital this month, coinciding with a nationwide campaign to phase out the city’s old-fashioned public toilets ahead of the now-delayed Summer Olympics. Set up in front of a cluster of trees in the Shibuya district, the stalls stand out like a Mondrian painting, bearing tinted walls with colors like mango, watermelon, lime, violet and teal. 

When occupied and locked properly, the tinted glass toilet stalls become frosted and opaque. When the door is unlocked, an electric current realigns the crystals in the glass to allow more light to pass through, creating a transparent effect. The toilets were presented as another futuristic and aesthetically pleasing example of the country’s technological advancements. 

The reviews were mixed. 

“I’m worried it will become transparent due to a malfunction,” a social media user with the Twitter handle @yukio wrote in a widely circulated post. 

“It will take time to get used to the idea,” Ming Cheng, a London-based architect, wrote on Twitter. But he gave it a “thumbs up.” 

Serah Copperwhite, a technology worker based in a district south of Tokyo, said that while she normally avoided public toilets, she would be more inclined to use the new ones because they appeared bright and clean. “I trust the science,” Ms. Copperwhite, 28, said in a phone interview Wednesday, addressing concerns on social media about the reliability of the glass technology. 

Advocates have long called for the Japanese national government to make brick-and-mortar toilets in public spaces more appealing and accessible to residents and tourists. Some public bathrooms in Tokyo, particularly in train stations, lack hand soap. A kindergarten in southern Japan stopped taking children to a city park last year because they were deterred by the flies in the squat stalls. The school opted instead to use a park with Western-style flush toilets. 

More than 300 restrooms were refurbished from 2017 to 2019, according to the Japan Tourism Agency. Before that, 40 percent of the country’s public restrooms consisted of squat stalls rather than Western-style commodes. The government had sought to phase them out before the Olympics, which have been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

But while some appreciated the new toilets’ advanced technology, some Tokyo residents said they were misplaced in exposed public spaces and were perhaps better suited elsewhere. 

“I am not willing to risk my privacy because someone wants to make a fancy toilet,” Sachiko Ishikawa, a 32-year-old writer and translator, said in a phone interview on Wednesday from Tokyo. 

Ms. Ishikawa said she was concerned that human error would make it too easy for bathroom users to inadvertently expose themselves. The transparent structure could also make them more vulnerable to assailants, she said. 

“They could be waiting for you if you’re getting out of the bathroom,” she said. “So the argument of protection does not hold for me.” 

Predecessors to Tokyo’s transparent toilets appeared in Switzerland in 2002 and 2015, when the designer Olivier Rambert unveiled two glass bathrooms in the city of Lausanne. They had a controversial safety feature that automatically opened the doors and turned the glass transparent if sensors detected no motion for 10 minutes. That could conceivably help users who fall unconscious and need medical attention, he was quoted as saying. 

South Korea has been plagued by a proliferation of tiny cameras placed surreptitiously in public toilet stalls as well as changing rooms in shops and hotels. The problem became so serious that the government in Seoul, the capital, appointed 8,000 workers in 2018 to inspect the city’s public bathrooms. 

Two billion people, or about a quarter of the world’s population, do not have access to toilets or latrines, according to data published by the World Health Organization in 2019. For World Toilet Day in 2015, a nonprofit organization in New York installed a flushable toilet surrounded by one-way mirrors looking out on Washington Square Park to simulate the experience of relieving oneself in public view. 

Organizers said 200 people tried out the stall over the course of the day. Some of them later said they had felt uneasy even though they knew they could not be seen from the outside. 

In Japan, the Nippon Foundation plans to install toilets designed by other prominent architects at 17 locations by next year. But Thalia Harris, a freelance writer who has lived in Tokyo for seven years, said she did not see the project as a practical solution to safety concerns. 

“Personally, I think this will make people feel even more uncomfortable, especially for women,” Ms. Harris, 29, said in a phone interview Tuesday. 

She said she would continue to use the public bathrooms in Tokyo’s train stations, despite the lack of hand soap. She always brings her own, particularly because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

“I would like them to address that before having these particular magic new toilets,” she said.

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Hi, I’m Paul Myer. Thank you for visiting my website. I hope you enjoy my writing and photography. If you want to stay connected, please subscribe to receive posts via email.

One thought on “The Tokyo Toilet Project!

  1. Very cool.

    But nothing can match a nice Port-0-San that has been used heavily while sitting out in a strong sun.

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