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With Olympics 4 years away, thoughts turn to ... toilets

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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

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

24 Comments
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Such seemingly minor nuisances – and yet they can spoil your day.

Seriously depends upon one's point of view. When you have to go and the toilet is a mess it is FAR from being a "minor nuisance" and can and has become major. Yet this article seems more about Japanese toilets than what is going to happen with the Olympics.

I sincerely hope that between now and after the Olympics are finished that we are not inundated with articles regarding public services and "what's going to happen?" or "Japanese way..." kinds of articles but I ain't gonna hold my breathe.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

All tourists need to do is hit up a pachinko place. Best toilets ever.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

My friend says he cannot pee with dignity here as the urinals are too close together, and no barriers separating them from the onslaught of eyes of the Japanese guys wanting to compare his endowment with their own. He uses handicap toilets instead now and thinks they are great.

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

My friend says he cannot pee with dignity here as the urinals are too close together, and no barriers separating them from the onslaught of eyes of the Japanese guys wanting to compare his endowment with their own.

It's happened to me a couple of times, but rarely are guys looking and comparing. I couldn't really care less if someone wants to look at my junk though. For someone who does care, I can see how they really wouldn't like the urinals here.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

My friend says he cannot pee with dignity here as the urinals are too close together, and no barriers separating them from the onslaught of eyes of the Japanese guys wanting to compare his endowment with their own. He uses handicap toilets instead now and thinks they are great.

Dude is over-sensitive. Like people follow him into the toilet to watch him pee, right. You want urinals close together, try one at a major stadium overseas sometime, privacy, right....

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Come on! Japanese toilets are generally the best and cleanest in the world. Aside from the occasional unflushed drunken spew, a misfired log in a Japanese-style squat toilet at the station, or some other unflushed surprise, toilets here are amazingly clean.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics only four years away, thoughts turn naturally to… toilets.

Toilets never even crossed my mind while thinking about the Olympics

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Public toilet are shocking in japan, true it is getting better but far from acceptable in western eyes. From travelling all over the country the amount of times I've used a men's toilet where you in view of the outside public is shocking.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Since first travelling to Japan after the Nagano Olympics I have noted significant changes in toilet tech. It depends where you are, of course. The elegant female patrons of Ginza depaato don't have to touch anything. Doors open automatically. Blue light sterilizes the Western washlet seat. Birds, crickets and streams gurgle to offset any noise someone might inadvertently make. And the rooms have wonderful mirrors and lighting to assist with any beauty touch-ups necessary. One or two J-style options may be offered, but I enjoyed jumping the queue to use them as no one else in line wanted to. Bonus.

Of course, certain temples and countryside train stations may offer only one Western stall among the others. You might or might not have tissue or hand wipes available. It's still advisable to carry your own supply. I have been in a line where the delightful ladies ahead of me rolled their pant legs up to the knees as they waited in line. We enjoyed a good laugh together when I muttered wakarimasu and followed suit. We all understood what we were in for--and it wasn't Ginza! Let's just say it was no place for flip-flops.

Travel experiences can be tainted or enhanced by the condition of the facilities. During the Olympics it's important that patrons can proceed quickly. For women especially, the queue can be a horrendous waste of time (unless that's seen as an opportunity to chat people up to find out where they are from). Even so, I have been in World Expo cues that have been much too long. Toilet facilities are a vital part of the Olympic planning process.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Public toilet are shocking in japan, true it is getting better but far from acceptable in western eyes. From travelling all over the country the amount of times I've used a men's toilet where you in view of the outside public is shocking.

What "western eyes"? People with experience tell me that public toilets in southern Europe can be pretty bad. Do a search on "public toilets Greece" or "public toilets Italy" to see what I mean. And, Just remember that Greece and Italy are usually seen as the birthplace of "Western civilization."

As for the public view, has it ever occurred to you that this might be deliberate? It makes camping out for nefarious purposes in a public toilet quite difficult and discourages the use of public toilets for sexual activities. If you don't know what I'm talking about, look up the British term "cottaging."

Finally, be thankful that with very rare exceptions, public toilets in Japan do not charge. For example, in London it will typically cost you anywhere from 20p to 50p to "spend a penny."

3 ( +7 / -4 )

From travelling all over the country the amount of times I've used a men's toilet where you in view of the outside public is shocking.

Well, I for one am glad you are shocked. Maybe you'll learn something, like it's typically westerner's that come to Japan and have all sorts of hangups regarding their body's and privacy.

Penis's, breasts, vaginas and the rest are not "shocking", learn from your experience and maybe get your "mind" out of the proverbial toilet.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

YubaruSEP. 11, 2016 - 12:44PM JST Well, I for one am glad you are shocked. Maybe you'll learn something, like it's typically westerner's that come to Japan and have all sorts of hangups regarding their body's and privacy.

Do you think sexually harassing tourists by forcing them to expose themselves against their will is going to improve Japan's public image in the Olympics?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Public toilet are shocking in japan, true it is getting better but far from acceptable in western eyes

By 'western eyes' you probably mean 'my eyes'. Something tells me you are grossly misinformed about the state of toilets in Japan and in so-called western regions.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Talk about whining for the sake of whining! Japan toilets are ok or at least in line with what's done elsewhere.

Sporting venues? I sometimes wonder if ppl on here have played sports or attended games played in 40-80k stadiums. 10-12m long stainless steel urinals are de rigueur, everywhere, do we like them, no we don't but they are probably the most adapted toilets when thousands of men need to take a P at half time.

I really don't think that too many westerners will be bothered by Japan's public/sporting venues' toilets.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As a "westerner" and arriving in Japan for the first time 3 years ago, my first surprise experience with Japanese toilets was standing at a urinal and seeing an older woman cleaning the urinals to my right. She stopped when she was done with the one next to me and waited until I was done and then started cleaning the one I had just used. The cleanliness is very important and modesty is something that is not. Not having paper towels to dry my hands is something else that you become aware of and just prepare by bringing your own towel. Prior to arriving in Japan for the Olympics, I believe all athletes should be advised of some of the Japanese normal regarding toilets. I will be leaving Japan in one year and will truely miss this great and friendly country and all of it's people.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese toilets are the best, much better than my country's for sure (I am from a western country- southern Europe/Mediterranean area)! They were squeaky clean most of the time (exception at major stations during rush hours in my experience) and free of charge to use (North Italy, some years ago was EUR2 per use. I would end up spending EUR8-10 a day just on toilets)!

I was never (very rarely) scared that I might catch something in Japanese toilets. First time in my life I actually felt happy to use public restrooms! Whenever I am in Japan, I always go to say 'bye' to the toilets at Narita Airport since once I hop into the plane and travel across the world, I know I will be missing them badly.

The only comment is that I would like there to be more hand sanitizers available or at least antibacterical or even normal soap! I am iffy about that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Will Japan provide doors that are easy to kick in, so the USA swimming team won't injure their feet?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

By 'western eyes' you probably mean 'my eyes'. Something tells me you are grossly misinformed about the state of toilets in Japan and in so-called western.

Yeah, I've only spent a total of twenty-five years in Japan beginning in 1971 with an eight-year stint in Europe and a decade or so in the US. But, the biggest gap in my knowledge is that I've never knowingly been in a bog for women.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

but I ain't gonna hold my breathe.**

You might have to Yubaru!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My experience with toilets has been that they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The public toilets which are "Japanese style" quite often are disgusting and have feces surrounding them. On the other hand, go to a convenience store, departement store, or chain restaurant and they will usually have a "western" toilet with a washlet- say nothing of the public free highway toilets which are also immaculate with a washlet.

My personal opinion is for them to get rid of public squatters and install modern toilets with washlets. It would also be prudent to have automatic flush for those people who forget to flush on their own. That would go a LONG way to improving the toilet situation.

My 2 cents.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

On my first ever trip to Japan, I contracted viral gastroenteritis, so I was in and out of toilets like nobody's business....

On that first trip, I experienced everything on the spectrum, from swanky department store toilet in Kobe, to 'boton-benkyo' (pit in the earth hidden by a wooden shack) .

Like it says in Hitchiker's guide, must remember your towel.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Now that I've retired and left Japan, the thing I miss the most is the Japanese toilet and all its functions, both in my home and in public places.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The only thing I really missed about Japan on my recent trip back to the UK, was my washlet...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Barca wrote: "Whenever I am in Japan, I always go to say 'bye' to the toilets at Narita Airport since once I hop into the plane and travel across the world, I know I will be missing them badly."

I try not to miss them, but sometimes... damn the suds! Many public toilets - the Gents at least - have a reminder posted over the urinal: "One more step forward". A little nannyish, but many people have to stand there and someone must mop up. Fooling aside, I agree with Barca. Like Dorothy, I, too, love Toto.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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