In recent years, Japan has had many advanced and unusual toilets, including some with automatic lids and self-warming seats. Now one area of Tokyo is trying something completely new – public toilets with see-through walls.
To be fair, the walls of the new public toilets aren’t always transparent (see-through). They are made of a special “smart glass”. When someone enters the toilet and locks the door, the glass becomes opaque – it clouds over so that no one can see in. When the door is unlocked, the glass clears up again.
The restrooms were designed by award-winning architect Shigeru Ban. Mr. Ban has also designed houses, large meeting centers, churches, and museums.
The idea of a transparent public toilet may sound unusual, but Mr. Ban believes the see-through walls solve two problems. Without ever entering the restroom, people can now check to see how clean it is, and whether anyone else is using it.
This image has not been loaded because of your cookie choices. To view the content, you can accept 'Non-necessary' cookies.
The smart glass that Mr. Ban chose for the walls has already been used in office buildings where privacy is needed from time to time. The secret to the glass is that a small electric current can change the way the crystals in the glass line up, switching the glass between opaque and transparent.
The new toilets have been built in two parks in Tokyo, which opened to the public this month. Mr. Ban points out that because the restrooms are lit up at night, they help provide light for the parks where they are located. Mr. Ban says the restrooms light up the park “like a beautiful lantern”.
So far, the public has had mixed reactions to the see-through restrooms. Some people are excited to use the unusual, brightly colored restrooms. Others worry that the walls might not work properly, and could allow them to be seen when they’re using the toilet.
Mr. Ban’s transparent toilets are just one of several new public toilet designs that will be installed across Tokyo in the coming months as part of the Tokyo Toilet project. A group called the Nippon Foundation asked 16 designers and architects to come up with new designs to improve the image of public restrooms in Tokyo.
The project follows a huge push by Japan to upgrade public restrooms across the country. Before 2017, around 40% of public restrooms still used squat toilets, which are common in Asia. A squat toilet is like a hole in the floor that you squat over, instead of sitting down on a seat.
Between 2017 and 2019, over 300 public restrooms were upgraded. The goal was to change all public restrooms to include sitting toilets before the Olympics. The Olympics were originally planned for this summer, but because of the coronavirus, the games have been delayed by a year.
For many people in Japan, the important part of improving public restrooms isn’t just about changing styles. It means making sure they are clean and well-lighted.
For now, Mr. Ban’s new toilets are both. And if that ever changes, you’ll be able to tell without even going inside.
Did You Know…?
A common complaint in Japan is that public restrooms often run out of soap. Some people say they would rather have soap than fancy new restrooms.
This map has not been loaded because of your cookie choices. To view the content, you can accept 'Non-necessary' cookies.