The first group of 17 new high-design public restrooms in Tokyo’s Shibuya district double as tourist attractions.

By Rachel Chang
August 19, 2020
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Satoshi Nagare/Courtesy of The Nippon Foundation

The Japanese have long been known for their, well, potty behavior. From a high-tech toilet museum to airport dog toilets, bathroom culture has been a top priority.

And the latest addition to Tokyo’s lively Shibuya district this month is designed to change the way people think about public facilities — with two sets of transparent toilets in local parks.

When unoccupied, the inside of the restroom is completely visible from the outside through colorful tinted windows. But step inside and lock the door, and the walls become opaque.

Satoshi Nagare/Courtesy of The Nippon Foundation

The idea is to challenge our preconceived notions, according to the restroom’s architect Shigeru Ban. “There are two things we worry about when entering a public restroom, especially those located at a park,” a statement on the Tokyo Toilet’s site says. “The first is cleanliness, and the second is whether anyone is inside.”

The ability to ensure those precautions provides a functional purpose, and the design also adds fun to doing business. “At night, the facility lights up the park like a beautiful lantern,” the statement continues. The Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park location’s walls feature shades of orange, pink, and purple, while the Haru-No-Ogawa Community Park’s facilities are teal, green, and blue. Each location has a women, men, and multiuse toilet.

Since the two facilities opened for use on Aug. 5, they’ve become popular photo hot spots, as well as an exciting experience — from the inside, it’s difficult to ensure the walls have truly become opaque, especially with mirrors reflecting images from the outside, according to CNN.

Ban’s artsy bathrooms are just two of 17 new facilities being added around Shibuya from The Nippon Foundation’s Tokyo Toilet project. Other open facilities include Fumihiko Maki’s bathroom, nicknamed “Squid Toilet” with a whimsical roof at Ebisu East Park, Nao Tamura’s sleek red structure, designed to embrace the LGBTQ+ community on a triangular lot in Higashi Sanchome, and Wonderwall founder Masamichi Katayama’s concrete facility, as an ode to historic toilets in Ebisu Park.

Another bathroom by Takenosuke Sakakura is scheduled to open at Nishihara Itchome Park on Aug. 31, and Tadao Ando’s Jingu-Dori Park restroom will debut on Sept. 7, with the remaining 10 tentatively slated for 2021.

The Nippon Foundation hopes the new spin will help elevate the nation’s public restroom reputation. “Japan is known as one of the cleanest countries in the world. Even public toilets have a higher standard of hygiene than in much of the rest of the world,” the organization said in a statement. “However, the use of public toilets in Japan is limited because of stereotypes that they are dark, dirty, smelly, and scary.”

Rachel Chang is travel and pop culture journalist who grew up in the California Bay Area and lives in New York City (well, Hoboken, NJ). She’s a solo travel advocate, dumpling addict, and reluctant runner — who managed to finish the NYC marathon twice. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelChang and Instagram at @RachelSChang.