Why Tokyo’s new transparent public restrooms are its new latest attraction

The experience of using public restrooms can only be described in two ways: pleasant or nightmarish. People are lucky if they spot a clean one, but most of the time, they come across toilets that are dirty and smelly, especially in a crowded place.

To dispel the negative perception about public toilets, a non-profit charity launched the “Tokyo Toilet Project,” which aims to renovate 17 public restrooms in the parks of Shibuya, the city center known for its busy pedestrian crossing.

Satoshi Nagare | The Nippon Foundation

So far, the most curious design comes from Shigeru Ban Architects, who came up with the idea of installing transparent public toilets. Two new sets of see-through restrooms are now ready for use at the Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park and Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park.

Each unit has three cubicles surrounded by tinted glass walls in yellow, pink, purple, cyan, lime green, and blue. Using a see-through toilet might sound like a bad idea, but this particular installation is cleverly designed.

Satoshi Nagare | The Nippon Foundation

“There are two things we worry about when entering a public restroom, especially those located at a park,” it says in a statement on the Tokyo Toilet Project’s website. “The first is cleanliness, and the second is whether anyone is inside.”

The architects used glass walls to provide a full view of the toilet from the outside. But once a user enters the restroom and locks the door, the walls turn opaque to give privacy.

“This allows users to check the cleanliness and whether anyone is using the toilet from the outside,” reads the statement. “At night, the facility lights up the park like a beautiful lantern.”

Satoshi Nagare | The Nippon Foundation

Recently, CNN Travel visited the Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park to try using the transparent public toilet. They said it was impressively clean, with the interior boasting of a gleaming white and chrome mix. Once inside, a user can’t tell if the glass has turned opaque or not. The walls between the compartment have mirrors, which can make one feel like they are exposed. That’s why users must remember to secure the door lock, which is located just below the handle.

Satoshi Nagare | The Nippon Foundation

Both installations in the park include a women’s toilet, a men’s toilet, and a multi-use toilet.

The Nippon Foundation, a non-profit charity focused on social innovation, founded the Tokyo Toilet Project. Together with Tadao Ando and Toyo Ito, the project aims to build 17 new public toilets around Shibuya. The foundation will cooperate with the Shibuya City government and the Shibuya City Tourism Association to maintain the beauty and cleanliness of these transparent restrooms.

Public toilets get a bad rap even in Japan, where restrooms have a higher standard of hygiene than the rest of the world.

Satoshi Nagare | The Nippon Foundation

“The use of public toilets in Japan is limited because of stereotypes that they are dark, dirty, smelly and scary,” the Nippon Foundation said in a press release. “These public toilets are being designed by 16 leading creators, and will use advanced design to make them accessible for everyone regardless of gender, age, or disability, to demonstrate the possibilities of an inclusive society.”

So far, five facilities have already been opened up, including the two see-through restrooms.

The other three toilets include two inspired by the ancient kawaya, which are huts built over rivers. The design features 15 concrete walls combined to create an “ambiguous space,” which can be both an object and a toilet.

Satoshi Nagare | The Nippon Foundation

The spaces between the walls lead people to three different areas meant for men, women, and everyone. They made it like so for users to interact with the facility, just as they would with a piece of playground equipment.

Twelve additional public toilets will be opened between August 31 and the summer of 2021. So Shibuya residents should be seeing more innovative public restrooms coming in their parks soon.

Watch the video below and tell us what do you think of these public restroom designs?