With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics only four years away, thoughts turn naturally to… toilets. Will Japan measure up? Problems in that domain at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this past summer, reports Shukan Bunshun (Sept 1), are a warning against taking too light a view of the matter, remote though it may be from the pomp, glitter, glamour and glory that highlight the occasion.
Toilets failing to flush, or leaking, or smelling evil, were among the issues noted. Such seemingly minor nuisances – and yet they can spoil your day. Anyone whose memories of Japan go back a generation will appreciate how far this country has come in improving its public toilets. They are more sanitary, more comfortable, more attractive, and – maybe most important – more barrier-free than ever before.
So Tokyo's bid to satisfy the hordes of expected visitors, many of whom may use wheelchairs, or have undergone a colostomy, or have myriad other special needs that make using inadequately-equipped facilities an ordeal reminds you just how central a function the humble toilet plays in our lives.
Japan’s “toilet revolution,” says Shukan Bunshun, began in 1994 with legislation mandating barrier-free restrooms in public buildings. A toughening revision of the law in 2000 carried the process farther, so that now, says the magazine, a basic fact of pre-reform life has been all but forgotten – namely, that many people suffering various physical disabilities would often stay home rather than face the necessity of relieving themselves elsewhere. Or, alternatively, they would arduously prepare themselves – by not drinking water for days in advance, for example.
Bunshun cites a shopping complex in the Tokyo suburb of Tama as an example of what public venues can do to make their rest rooms accessible and agreeable. Accessibility comes first, of course, and no special need goes unaddressed here. But agreeableness is nice too, and – well, why shouldn’t rest rooms be themed? On the sixth floor of the complex, for instance, the style is Japanese, with traditional wood carvings suggesting simpler, more relaxed times and generating “a healing influence.” On the fifth floor, the atmosphere is Western – Beatles pics, pro wrestling posters and so on. It’s not something you’ll write home about, maybe, but it just might brighten your mood in ways you’re not even aware of.
Also mentioned with approval are the facilities at Nagoya’s Central Japan Airport. The “toilet revolution” was well underway when it opened in 2005, so the precedents had been set, but there was a particular reason for special care: 60% of the airport’s 10 million users per year are there for sightseeing and shopping – meaning they spend more time at the airport and thus use the toilets more than at, say, Tokyo’s Haneda or Narita airports.
In short, there’s every reason for optimism, looking ahead to 2020. To conclude, here’s one more: Information as to the location of the nearest, most accessible, most barrier-free, most atmospheric rest room is, increasingly, as available as a swift glance at your smartphone screen can make it.© Japan Today