In Tokyo Neighborhood, Artistic Toilets Get Attention 

    12 April 2024

    Tokyo visitors can now join a special tour of one of the Japanese city's modern wonders: its public toilets.

    Penelope Panczuk recently went on the Tokyo Toilet Shuttle for a two-hour visit of artistic public bathrooms.

    Panczuk got the idea after seeing "Perfect Days", the Oscar-nominated film about a toilet cleaner in the city's Shibuya district.

    A person looks around a public toilet during a Tokyo Toilet Shuttle Tour, at Shibuya ward, in Tokyo, Japan April 4, 2024. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
    A person looks around a public toilet during a Tokyo Toilet Shuttle Tour, at Shibuya ward, in Tokyo, Japan April 4, 2024. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

    "In the U.S. or in France where I originally come from, you just don't go," Panczuk said of using public bathrooms.

    She added that in Tokyo, the bathrooms are "extremely clean, they're very safe and each one is so different it feels like it's a new discovery each time."

    The shuttle began in March with visitors coming to Japan in record numbers. A drop in the value of the Japanese yen has made it less costly for many lovers of Japanese culture to visit for the first time.

    Among Japan's most-loved technological exports in recent years are its toilets produced by TOTO. The devices have cleansing sprays, heated seats, music, and more.

    The American animated comedy show South Park recently had a whole program on the toilets. Hip-hop music star DJ Khaled announced on Instagram that he appreciated a gift of four TOTO bowls from the rapper Drake.

    The nonprofit Nippon Foundation started the Tokyo Toilet Project in 2020. It asked creators including Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando to develop new toilets. The goal was to increase accessibility and artistry in 17 public toilets in the Shibuya district.

    The project was not meant to be something foreign visitors would want to see. But Shibuya's government saw a chance to increase interest in the area beyond its famous street crossing.

    "The highlight for visitors is that they can be driven around the less-visited parts of Shibuya and enjoy the entire district while checking out the toilets," said Yumiko Nishi, a tourist association manager for the area.

    People on the tour pay $32.76 to visit nine different toilets, including one with clear walls that turn opaque when users enter. Another is operated by voice commands.

    Takao Karino, visiting from Japan's western city of Osaka, wondered at the wide entrance of a facility created by British designer Miles Pennington.

    "There's nothing else like this in Japa" 69-year-old Karino said about the tour. "It's unusual, it's unique, it's honestly brilliant."

    I'm John Russell.

    Tom Batemen reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    tour –n. a trip taken by people visiting a place on vacation or for pleasure that is led by a guide who tells about the interesting things in the area

    toilet —n. a large bowl attached to a pipe that is used for getting rid of bodily waste

    bathroom – n. a room in a public place with a toilet and sink

    originally – adv. when something first happened or began

    animated –n. a cartoon using imaginative drawings rather than filmed pictures of real people

    accessibility – n. able to be reached or approached

    opaque – adj. not letting light through

    unique –adj. one of a kind, not like anything else