Health and safety experts are always warning us of the dangers of tiredness, particularly when it comes to driving long distances on the nation’s highways. And while car navigation systems have built-in announcements reminding drivers to take a break every two hours or so, it’s not always easy to judge how tired your body really is…until it’s too late.
Our reporter Masanuki Sunakoma is known for being a cautious driver who likes to take regular breaks at highway rest stops, particularly the bigger “Service Area” ones, which are abbreviated to “SA“. These stops have everything tired drivers and passengers need to re-energise, with loads of great food options, souvenir stands, and sometimes exciting extras like ferris wheels and onsen hot springs.
▼ One of the nation’s best Service Areas is Kanagawa Prefecture’s Ebina Service Area, located roughly 45 minutes from Tokyo by car.
To give you an idea of just how popular this highway rest stop is, one of the stores on the premises that sells melon breads holds the Guinness World Record for the most freshly baked sweet buns sold in 48 hours.
▼ This store won the record for selling 27,503 buns, totaling 6,329,830 yen.
Now, Ebina Service Area is making news again, this time for a very unusual toilet. Masanuki stopped by to try the new system out, and when he saw a green sign on one of the toilet stall doors that read “Fatigue Measurement“, he knew he’d come to the right place.
Stepping inside the stall, he took a seat and saw a digital display with buttons on the right-hand side for controlling the bidet and running water noises that mask the sounds of you doing your business. On the left-hand side of the panel were the words “Fatigue Measurement” in blue, with a variety of language options beneath it.
▼ Despite not feeling tired at all, Masanuki pressed “Japanese” to begin the measurement process.
One of the first concerns people may have about trying the new system is the fear that cameras may be involved in the measurement process. However, you can rest assured that no cameras are used–instead, there are vibration sensors built into the toilet seat that analyse “pulse fluctuations” which are able to calculate an individual’s fatigue levels.
▼ Before agreeing to use the system, this screen pops up to let you know that it will take roughly 60 seconds to measure your degree of fatigue.
▼ Then all you have to do is choose your age bracket.
▼And answer the question “Do you feel tired?” with either “Not tired“, “Somewhat Tired” or “Tired” (top to bottom).
Having not driven for very long from Tokyo, Masanuki felt as fresh as a daisy, so he selected the “Not Tired” response. While he initially thought that revealing his tiredness levels to the machine would skew the results, he later figured the data was most likely going to be used by East Nippon Expressway Company (NEXCO) to find out how many drivers can accurately judge their tiredness levels.
Masanuki then pressed the “start” button, and followed the instructions to relax while the measurement was being taken.
▼ The image on the left shows the location of the sensors around the toilet seat.
As the measurement began, Masanuki was surprised to see the panel come to life with a wealth of data. The information on the screen explained:
“In a fatigued state, the tension of the sympathetic nervous system increases and the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system decreases, so this toilet measures the fluctuation in beats and analyses the autonomic nervous system.”
▼ Masanuki had no idea what this all meant, so he waited patiently for the results to appear.
As he waited, the screen informed him that drivers should take a 10-20 minute break every two hours when driving, and suggested they use service areas or parking areas to take their breaks.
And then, after the 60 seconds was up, Masanuki received his results, which read: “You don’t feel tired. You’re fatigue measurement is ‘somewhat tired'”.
Okay, machine–way to troll the user for not knowing their tiredness levels! Masanuki felt as if the screen was mocking him for being so incompetent, but hey, who was he to question the results of science?
Masanuki says he can drive non-stop for about five hours without feeling tired if he really has to, so he took the results as a wake-up call to pay more attention to rest breaks, given that his true sense of fatigue may not be accurate.
Either way, a stop at Ebina is a good excuse to enjoy a coffee and one of their famous melon breads.
As he enjoyed his snack, he mused on the cleverness of installing fatigue-measuring toilets at highway rest stops. Not only are they a great way to get people to stop at service areas like this one, and unload some of their money on snacks and souvenirs, they’re likely to reduce the number of accidents on the highways, which is a win-win for NEXCO and everyone using the roads.
Masanuki would love to see these fancy toilets become the norm at all rest stops around Japan, but for now, you’ll have to stop at Ebina to try them. Lovers of motorsports, however, may want to travel a little further down to Mie Prefecture, where you can park your rear on a toilet that looks–and sounds–like you’re on the track at the nearby Suzuka Racing Circuit.
Ebina Service Area Outbound / 海老名サービスエリア（下り）
Address: Kanagawa-ken, Ebina-shi, Oyaminami 5-2-1
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