• Social Series

Amazing Nippon / Japan’s Public Toilets and Vending Machines Impress Tourists

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An Australian tourist poses for a photo in front of the “see-through toilet” at Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park in Tokyo.

This is the fifth and final installment of a series exploring places that attract overseas visitors, allowing them to deepen their knowledge of Japan’s charms.

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On a trip to Japan from Australia in mid-July, Ben Radewell was amazed when taking a video of his friend stepping into a glass-walled cube that sits in a corner of a park in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. The walls fogged up as she entered, making her invisible from the outside.

This cube, located in Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park, is a public restroom that was installed by The Tokyo Toilet, a project launched by the Nippon Foundation to change the image of public restrooms as being gloomy and dirty.

The walls are made of special glass that is transparent when the restroom is vacant but once the door is occupied and locked, the glass becomes opaque. Internationally acclaimed architect Shigeru Ban designed the cube to alleviate concerns of cleanliness and safety as one can see whether anyone is already inside.

Upon completion, the restroom drew interest as a “see-through toilet” and even became a tourist attraction among foreign visitors. In fact, Radewell learned about the cube via social media. He said he was surprised by how beautiful and futuristic it is, adding that the toilets everywhere in Japan were wonderful, including those with warm toilet seats that one can control via remote.

Sophia Marino, 40, came from Italy on a family vacation, and her kids couldn’t stop laughing at the novelty. According to Marino, public restrooms in Italy require payment or are dirty. She said she was envious that restrooms are clean everywhere in Japan.

Convenience and cleanliness seen in Japanese daily life is remarkable to many foreign tourists. Japan was ranked first among 117 countries and regions in the 2021 Travel & Tourism Development Index released by the Swiss private research institute World Economic Forum. By category, Japan received high marks for its transportation infrastructure, public safety and cleanliness.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Haneda Airport has a reputation for cleanliness. International flight facilities at Terminal 2 reopened on July 19 after closure caused coronavirus pandemic.

One of the cleanest public facilities is Haneda Airport. In an annual ranking published by a British rating agency, Haneda Airport has been named the World’s Cleanest Airport for eight consecutive years since 2016. Will Bailey, 49, who arrived from the United Kingdom, said that disembarking at a clean airport always makes him feel welcome. He also wondered why there was so little garbage on the streets despite there being so few trash cans in Japan.

Foreign tourists find the large number of vending machines dotted throughout the city, including at train stations and major facilities, unusual as well. Lucinda Ward, 29, from the United States was happy as she could buy water anywhere especially when going sightseeing in the hot weather. There are vending machines in her country, she said, but the drink selection and their locations are limited. In Japan, they could be placed anywhere because it is safe, she said.

Japan is ‘like a theme park’

“Convenience stores being open 24 hours a day and trains running on time are all fresh and amazing for foreign tourists. The whole country is like a theme park,” said John Daub, an American who produces a YouTube channel promoting Japan.

A resident of Japan for over 20 years, Daub, who was interviewed in Japanese, said the country has been getting cleaner and more comfortable through the renovation of public facilities and the increased Wi-Fi access.

“Even little things that Japanese people take for granted in their daily lives can be a tourism resource. It would be a good idea to take advantage of the perspectives of foreign tourists to emphasize Japan’s appeal,” he said.