Fed-up residents seeking tidy toilets demand municipalities clean up their act

By Luke Mahoney, grape Japan

It’s happened so many times.

I have a busy day and a jam-packed schedule with obligations that take me from one side of the city to the other. I rush down the street and into a client’s office. As soon I get there, it's already time to go--the next train is in ten minutes. The train doors close behind me as I push my way on, and in about five stops, I scurry to transfer to the subway.

I have to get back to the downtown area before 3 o'clock. If I timed things correctly, I'll have time for a ten-minute, super-late lunch and an energy drink. What!? Wait, the train stopped. Why aren’t we moving!? Before I even arrive, my break is gone, and I'm still stuck in a packed subway car. Now nature's calling, and I gotta accept the call. The train doors finally open, and I rush to the bathroom before I run across the street to my next client’s office.

Sweating, I swing open the door to the lavatory, and gasp: the sight is unspeakable. Like some septic, nightmarish scene from a 1980s horror movie. The aftermath of The Swamp Thing. Dear God! the chaos...the splatter….the smell...and the horror! I panic and cry out. But no one can hear me scream.

If you Sprinkle When You Tinkle, Be a Sweetie, Wipe the Seatie

I shouldn't put too fine a point on it. If you’ve been to Japan, or are familiar with the culture, then you know how clean this country can be. Restaurants and residents’ homes are often spotless, while city streets are clutter-free. Waste is painfully sorted, and everyone has a role to play. School children clean their school rooms, and signs remind customers to keep facilities spotless. Even public restrooms are usually clean.

Emphasis on usually.

Nevertheless, we all have room for improvement, and municipalities are no different. Nationwide, cities are working on sprucing up public toilets in a bid to support the tourism sector as well as encourage use by local residents.

Japan Tackles Unkempt Toilets

According to The Japan Times, Japan is undergoing a nationwide initiative to improve the condition of its public restrooms. Of particular interest are countless park restrooms. Pit toilets and flush toilets are intermixed in parks throughout the country, but without maintenance, they can become unsightly and foul-smelling.

The initiative is entirely pertinent believes Kohei Yamamoto, a representative of the Japan Toilet Association. “The lack of hygiene in public toilets can discourage people across all generations from going out, and potentially have an adverse effect on tourists’ perception of areas they visit,” Yamamoto told The Japan Times.

Residents across Japan agree. Take the southern city of Iwakuni, for example. Grossed-out residents are putting increased pressure on city officials to improve the sanitary conditions of park facilities. A 40-year-old Iwakuni housewife commented on a nearby park, “the restroom is dimly lit and the pit toilets inside are filthy. My [3-year-old] daughter is scared to go inside and she won’t use it even if she needs to relieve herself.” Many other parents and daycare workers face similar issues.

The mayor of Nagoya, Takashi Kawamura, is definitely onboard with the initiative. In anticipation of a blitz of foreign tourist during the now-postponed 2020 Olympics, Nagoya began an aggressive public facilities campaign back in 2017 to make the city’s toilets “the coolest in the world.”

If you’re unaware, Japan traditionally uses squat toilets, although Western toilets are common in recent years. Here’s a whimsical overview for your viewing pleasure.

Needless to say, some people struggle.

Nevertheless, the effort is nothing to sneeze at. According to the Nagoya government, approximately 1,500 public toilets at sightseeing spots and other common destinations were Japanese-style squats toilets prior to the policy move. The municipal government plans to spend 1 to 2 billion yen on the renovations and will also change restroom flooring in order to limit odors.

LDP member Takao Saito summarized the reasoning behind the plan: “If Nagoya wants to become a major tourist destination, isn’t it necessary to provide first-class hospitality?” Apparently, an increasing number of residents in Nagoya and throughout Japan agree as they appear more than willing to allocate public funds.

Such “political will” is likely entirely necessary. The burden public facility renovations impose on local governments is far from trivial. According to an effected city official, "Each renovation costs about 10 million to 20 million yen.” With such considerable costs, other cities are working with private entities to limit the tax-payer burden. Okayama city, for example, gives naming rights to corporations that cover the cost of renovating lavatories. The companies in-turn hire sanitation workers to maintain clean facilities.

Once the COVID-19 pandemic lifts, hopefully, these improvements will pay dividends as tourism returns to normal. Even if that takes time, children and adults alike can look forward to more recreation time at parks without holding their nose should they need the restroom.

Read more stories from grape Japan.

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-- Poisonous blowfish dissection puzzle lets you safely learn and simulate being a licensed chef

-- Elementary school student creates amazing Infinity Fortress from Demon Slayer in Blender

© grape Japan

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Saw squat toilets in Eastern Europe. Not a big fan. Haven't been to Eastern Asia, although we would love to go. My grandparents still used an outdoor toilet when I visited them, although it had been upgraded with running water and electricity, so no need to get all high and mighty about the superiority of this or that toilet.

As for public toilets, I wish we had more of them here in The States. The toilets in businesses are generally used as public toilets, but some businesses have put on locks, and restricted entrance, due to people with mental health issues (I assume) making it impossible for others to use the toilets. Our local drug store had to put locks on the toilets after someone did things to one of the toilets that it would not be appropriate to describe in this forum.

I can understand and sympathize when a homeless person spends a long time in a toilet, but when a homeless person or a teenager intentionally makes the toilet unusable for other people, I am much less understanding.

This discussion brings back memories of the old public toilets that we saw in the ancient Roman city of Ephesus, in modern day Turkey. The Ephesians had sit-down toilets, and the local river had been partially diverted to run under the public facility, so that the river could carry the human excrement out to the nearby ocean. Not up to modern standards, but it kept down disease, and pretty clever for thousands of years ago.

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I hear it's worse in India.

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Oh boy. Don't go to Paris then. You won't even have toilets to go to. No toilets in train stations. Restaurants either won't let you in or their toilets are locked by a code you get by ordering something.

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Japanese consider outside their own home to be somebody else's problem and accept that it's going to be dirty (among other adjectives I could use here). IMO, those required to clean train station and/or public toilets probably, in the Japanese mind, rank right up there with the eta of days past.

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Japanese Squat toilets are just plan third world! I feel much more comfortable sitting on a log in the woods in comfort on a camping trip than in a narrow stall squatting and worrying about my cloths touching such unsanitary surroundings, and trying to balance while to reaching for the toilet paper...

So disgusting!! Japan should just no longer manufacturer, produce, or sale these Squat style toilets! So backasswards!

I always check places before I plan spending any time at the place if they don't have normal modern toilets, I'll "go" some place (7-11 or Family Mart) before visiting. Many Japanese Temples and Shrines only have Squat toilets. Sad.

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