Is That Art? Nope, Just Tokyo’s State-of-the-Art Toilets

Tokyo’s newly designed toilets, which all come equipped with washlets, aim to make bathrooms barrier-free and pretty.
June 30, 2021, 9:26am
toilet, japan, olympics, bathroom, hygiene, clean, design
At night, these transparent toilets light up. Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Nagare, provided by the Nippon Foundation

Transparent, clean, and fancy are certainly not the adjectives that come to mind when thinking about public toilets.

But in Japan, where cleanliness has been long associated with its culture, a series of newly renovated public bathrooms are set to be exactly that. 

Initially part of Tokyo’s efforts to improve the city’s infrastructure before the 2020 Olympic Games, the Tokyo Toilet Project has been revitalizing public bathrooms in its Shibuya Ward with the help of 16 designers.

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The 9th toilet in the 17 bathroom series. Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Nagare, provided by The Nippon Foundation

Though the coronavirus pandemic postponed the games to 2021, the project has steadily been underway. Last week, it revealed the 9th out of its 17 bathrooms, located in Shibuya’s lush Nabeshima Shoto Park. The bathroom was created by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who designed the new National Stadium, the main venue for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

Opened just a month before the Tokyo Games are set to begin, the toilet aims to emulate the park’s greenery with a “Toilet Village.” The bathroom consists of five huts, all connected by artistically angled cedar boards. The toilet’s design can be enjoyed by walking through the park’s woods. 

toilet, japan, bathroom, design, olympics

Inside the recently opened toilet in Shibuya’s Nabeshima Shoto Park. Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Nagare, provided by The Nippon Foundation

In addition to encapsulating the forest’s nature vibe through structural design, Kuma also aimed to make using the bathroom a “walk in the park” for everyone. 

Each of the toilets in the “Toilet Village” is designed to meet a special need, whether it be child care, wheelchair access, or personal grooming. The bathrooms come equipped with specific appliances that make public restrooms barrier-free. 

toilet, japan, bathroom, design, olympics

At night, lights illuminate a path through the bathroom structure. Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Nagare, provided by The Nippon Foundation

In Haru-no-Ogawa community park and Yoyogi Fukamachi Minipark, the new bathrooms are colorful and transparent.

Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, the exterior glass turns opaque when the bathroom is locked, making it easier for people to tell when it’s in use. The toilet also lights up at night, which the architect likened to a “beautiful lantern.”  

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toilet, japan, bathroom, design, olympics

The transparent toilets in Shibuya that went viral on social media. Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Nagare, provided by The Nippon Foundation

toilet, japan, bathroom, design, olympics

At night, the toilets light up like a "lantern." The glass turns foggy when the bathroom is in use. Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Nagare, provided by The Nippon Foundation

toilet, japan, bathroom, design, olympics

The opaque glass inside a transparent toilet. Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Nagare, provided by The Nippon Foundation

The Tokyo Toilet Project was launched by Nippon Project, a nongovernmental organization, in cooperation with Shibuya’s local government and the Shibuya Tourism Association.

All 17 toilets come equipped with washlets and are expected to be ready for public use by March 2022.

toilet, japan, bathroom, design, olympics

The renovated bathroom located in Shibuya ward's Higashi-Sanchome. The design was inspired by origata, a traditional Japanese method of decorative wrapping. Photo: Courtesy of SS Co.,Ltd. Hojo Hiroko

toilet, japan, bathroom, design, olympics

Architect Tadao Ando hoped to create a "safe and comfortable" environment with a circular structure. Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Nagare, provided by The Nippon Foundation

toilet, japan, bathroom, design, olympics

Inside the circular bathroom. Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Nagare, provided by The Nippon Foundation

toilet, japan, bathroom, design, olympics

Architect Masamichi Katayama envisioned Japan's traditional "kawaya" (bathrooms) that date back to 10,000 BCE. Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Nagare, provided by The Nippon Foundation

toilet, japan, bathroom, design, olympics

This toilet's design was inspired by New York's Washington Heights Dependent Housing, a large housing complex built by the U.S. in 1946. Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Nagare, provided by The Nippon Foundation

toilet, japan, bathroom, design, olympics

Designer Takenosuke Sakakura hoped to create an open and inviting bathroom. Photo: Courtesy of Satoshi Nagare, provided by The Nippon Foundation

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