• Wednesday, 24 July 2024

Who's in? Tokyo Offers Tourists a Tour of Toilets by Renowned Architects!

Who's in? Tokyo Offers Tourists a Tour of Toilets by Renowned Architects!
Kengo Kuma’s Walk in the Woods public loos in Shibuya, Tokyo, is built of cedar planks to blend in with the background. Photo: Toto Ltd

SEAToday.com, Tokyo-Japan's high-tech toilets have long wowed visitors who praise their heated seats, bidet functions, automatic flushing, and even background noises to mask unwanted sounds that can accompany nature's call.

Now, international interest in Japan's public conveniences is growing thanks to German director Wim Wenders, whose film Perfect Days, about Hirayama (Koji Yakusho), a Tokyo toilet cleaner, was nominated for Best International Film at Sunday's Academy Awards.

Authorities in the Shibuya neighbourhood, whose toilets appear in the film, capitalised on the publicity by offering tours of 17 facilities designed by renowned architects, including Tadao Ando and Shigeru Ban.

Our first stop was Nabeshima Shoto Park, where a toilet with a wooden structure designed by Kengo Kuma attracted a lot of attention from tourists. Many tourists took pictures of this toilet because of its uniqueness.

Kuma, who designed the main stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, used cedar planks to make the facility blend into the surrounding park.

The architect describes his creation as a "toilet village", with five huts catering for men and women, families and wheelchair users, and another for "dressing and grooming". The forest theme of Kuma's Walk in the Woods continues inside, where the walls of the cubicles are adorned with cross-sections of tree trunks.

"We are trying to change the image of dark, dirty, and dangerous public toilets," says Yumiko Nishi of the Shibuya City Tourism Association.

Cedarwood structure toilets aside, one of the toilets that received the most media attention was Shigeru Ban's coloured "smart glass" toilets, whose walls turn opaque when the toilet cubicle is in use.

The Pritzker Prize-winning architect says he was inspired by two concerns people have when they approach public toilets, especially in dimly lit parks.

"The first is cleanliness," he says, "and the second is whether there are people inside."

Moving on to another toilet, the Andon toilet, where users are greeted by a bright green cubicle door. Each toilet is cleaned three times a day and inspected monthly by a "toilet consultant". All are wheelchair accessible.

The two-hour tour ended in front of the stunning white walls and undulating curves of Sou Fujimoto's Vessels and Fountains - a combination toilet and public washing facility positioned at different heights to make it easier for children to use.

Yuriko, a tour participant said the unusual attraction was worth the ¥4,950 fee.

"I don't know why, but I've always been fascinated by toilets," she said, adding that she was particularly impressed by Kazoo Sato's touchless toilet.

"When I saw this tour mentioned on the Tokyo Toilet project's Instagram account, I knew I had to come. Not only are the toilets clean and modern, they are also stylish."

Cities in other countries can only look at Tokyo with envy. The Japanese capital of 14 million people has 53 public toilets for every 100,000 residents. In contrast, London has only 14 toilets for every 100,000 residents. (DKD)


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