The Tokyo Toilet Project Makes a Splash in Shibuya and CannesGuide to Japan Architecture
Spick and Span Image
Since 2020, the Tokyo Toilet Project has drawn attention with its designer restrooms in Shibuya created by such world-renowned figures as Ban Shigeru, Kuma Kengo, and Andō Tadao. In May, the buzz spread abroad with acclaimed German director Wim Wenders bringing Perfect Days, a movie featuring the initiative, to the Cannes Film Festival. Starring Yakusho Kōji, the film tells the story of a simple man of few words who earns a living scrubbing public lavatories. Yakusho won best actor for his performance, becoming the second Japanese actor to do so after Yagira Yūya, who took the prize in 2004 for his role in Koreeda Hirokazu’s Nobody Knows.
In mid-June, Yakusho spoke at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo about his involvement in the movie. Looking back, he described being taken with the character when Wenders offered him the leading part, declaring that “the role called to me.” Sweetening the offer was the chance to work with the legendary German director, an opportunity Yakusho characterized as “an incredible honor.”
The Tokyo Toilet Project serves as a backdrop for Better Days. Conceived by Yanai Kōji, president of Uniqlo clothing chain operator Fast Retailing, the initiative aims to change the popular perceptions that public toilets are smelly, dark, dirty, and dangerous with eye-catching facilities that are accessible to all members of society. Spearheaded by the Nippon Foundation, it enlisted 16 creators to design innovative, imaginative facilities around Shibuya. Yanai also had a hand in the production of Perfect Days.
Yakusho said that he worked closely with maintenance staff of the public restrooms to prepare for his part, including undergoing two days of training on cleaning procedures and consulting with the workers during filming. The actor says that he came away from the experience with a different view of public restrooms, noting that “the facilities help project a positive image of Japan.”
Yakusho admits that he was moved by the joyous reaction of his coworkers on Perfect Days to his winning the best actor award. Looking ahead, he hopes to serve as a guide in bringing up a new generation of actors, saying that “the industry boasts a long history of exceptional talent, and building on this, I want to help create something on par with the golden age of Japanese cinema.”
The Next Phase
The Tokyo Toilet Project’s seventeenth and final restroom was finished in March of this year, with the Nippon Foundation officially passing it to Shibuya at a ceremony on June 23. The project is already having an impact by improving the image of public toilets. According to a survey conducted by the foundation, usage of the 17 facilities by women are on the rise. Compared to before the restrooms were renovated, use of the Hatagaya and Nishisandō Public Toilets have increased sevenfold and fivefold, respectively. Satisfaction with the facilities among users has also swelled from 44% to nearly 90%, while the number of people voicing aversion to public toilets shrank from some 30% to a mere 3%.
The survey also saw a significant drop in respondents indifferent to public toilets, which went from around 30% to 8%, an outcome that Nippon Foundation Executive Director Sasakawa Junpei touts as proof that the project is having an effect. “People who previously didn’t give much thought to public toilets have started to take an interest in the facilities.” The hope is that access to attractive and clean public toilets will boost the image of surrounding areas, with the facilities becoming tourist attractions in their own right.
Recognizing that maintaining the public toilets is key to sustaining their appeal, Yanai looked to the Silver Screen to get the word out about the importance the project places on keeping the facilities in working and pristine condition. “I wanted to portray this concept clearly and realistically,” he says, adding that he was “overjoyed” that the film wound up winning an award.
The Nippon Foundation will be involved in the upkeep of facilities through the current fiscal year ending in March 2024, when Shibuya will fully take over their care. But Yanai says that for his part, he intends to continue supporting the endeavor. “If people use the facilities every day,” he insists, “they’ll need to be cleaned, kept free of graffiti and the like, and have well-maintained equipment. The project keeps chugging along.”
The Tokyo Toilet Gallery
Haru no Ogawa Community Park (5-68-1 Yoyogi)
Yoyogi Fukamachi Minipark (1-54-1 Tomigaya)
Ebisu Park (1-19-1 Ebisu-nishi)
Higashi Sanchōme Public Toilet (3-27-1 Higashi)
Ebisu East Park (1-2-16 Ebisu)
Nishihara Itchōme Park (1-29-1 Nishihara)
Jingū-dōri Park (6-22-8 Jingūmae)
Jingūmae Public Toilet (Jingūmae 1-3)
Nabeshima Shōtō Park Toilet (Shōtō 2-10-7)
Yoyogi Hachiman Public Toilet (Yoyogi 5-1-2)
Ebisu Station West Exit Public Toilet (Ebisu Minami 1-5-8)
■Satō Kazoo/Disruption Lab Team
Nanagō Dōri Park Toilet (Hatagaya 2-53-5)
Hiroo Higashi Park Toilet (Hiroo 4-2-27)
Urasandō Public Toilet (Sendagaya 4-28-1)
■Miles Pennington and UTokyo DLX Design Lab
Hatagaya Public Toilet (Hatagaya 3-37-8)
Sasazuka Greenway Public Toilet (Sasazuka 1-29)
Nishisandō Public Toilet (Yoyogi 3-27-1)
(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Workers clean the see-through toilet at Haru no Ogawa Community Park. All photos © Hashino Yukinori of Nippon.com.)