The Tokyo Toilet Project: An Innovative Public Toilet Design
Exterior view of the toilet at night.
Shigeru Ban designed Transparent toilet at Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park.

Hospitality is a common characteristic in numerous cultures, from the United Arab Emirates to Japan; being hospitable to guests is a typical cultural trait that is given utmost importance to uphold. However, what exactly is considered “hospitable” can vastly differ across cultures and for Japan, the toilet resonates with its widespread hospitality culture. Even though high-tech toilets hold significance within Japanese society, numerous Japanese public toilets have a limited amount of users because they may not have been maintained properly. 

The Tokyo Toilet Project aimed to install intricately designed, clean toilets in 17 different locations that are created by world-renowned Japanese architects. Every toilet design has been carefully thought out, to tackle broader social issues with a touch of elegance and creativity. This includes designing the toilets with the ease of accessibility and inclusivity to people of any gender, disability or age that other ordinary public restrooms may not have.

So, who are the innovative architects and designers behind the creation of these unique toilets?

TADAO ANDO: AMAYADORI

Winner of Pritzker Architecture Prize, Tadao Ando’s inspiration behind the Amayadori public toilet was utilizing small architecture to provide adequate facilities. Amayadori consists of a structured, circular floorplan with a transverse roof and engawa. Due to the cylindrical wall of vertical louvres, visitors can comfortably move through them and feel the gush of wind from the surroundings. The centripetal force of circulation would also build a feeling of safety in this public toilet. Amayadori is built to accommodate disabled users and ostomy patients, too, making it an inclusive public toilet to arise in Tokyo.

SHIGERU BAN: TRANSPARENT TOILETS

Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Shigeru Ban explains how there are two main concerns the public worries about when entering public toilets. The first being cleanliness, the second is whether the stall is occupied. These concerns are solved by the use of up to date technology, where the glass exterior becomes opaque when locked. This allows users to check the cleanliness and whether anyone is using the toilet from the outside. At night, the restroom illuminates the surrounding park. Located in two different locations, these toilets are a must go for the good modern Tokyo experience with a sense of hospitability!

NAO TAMURA: HIGASHI SANCHOME

Cross-culturally experienced designer, Nao Tamura talks about the restroom being an area where we acknowledge physical needs common to all. As Tamura designed Higashi Sanchome, she visualized a society that supports the LGBTQ+ community and creates a safe space for them to feel comfortable. Tamura then realized that the main factors encompassing comfort are guaranteed safety, privacy and urgency. With that in mind, she designed three separate spaces that alter the way a Japanese public washroom signifies personal space. The design of Higashi Sanchome is inspired by Origata, a traditional Japanese method of decorative wrapping. As a symbol of gift-giving, this motif signifies the tradition of hospitality towards Shibuya ward’s numerous international visitors.

MASAMICHI KATAYAMA: MODERN KAWAYA

Interior designer and founder of “Wonderwall”, Masamichi Katayama wanted to create a facility that detaches itself from architectural concepts. In Japan, the original roots of toilets are “kawaya”. Kawaya used to be a hut that stood over the river. These primitive huts were plainly designed, usually made of hardened soil or pieces of wood adhered together. Visualizing the appearance and aura of the kawaya from the past, he built an “ambiguous space”. This space is simultaneously considered an object and a toilet by combining 15 concrete walls at random. This design is a unique concept where users are welcome to interact with the facility like they’re playing with playground equipment.

TAKENOSUKE SAKAKURA: ANDON TOILET

Founder of Sakakura Atelier, Takenosuke Sakakura believed it was essential to create a toilet facility that fulfils the standard requirements of a public washroom and contribute an innovative appeal. The appeal would encourage the general public to make use of the facility. The previous washroom located in Nishihara 1-chome was considered uninviting; therefore, reconstruction of this facility was vital. The new Andon Toilet is constructed to be lively, with hopes of upgrading the image of the restroom and park simultaneously. The centrally located, easily accessible “everyone’s toilet” consists of ostomate facilities and is thoughtfully equipped with a baby chair. Unisex stalls situated on both sides consist of frosted glass etched with patterns of trees that drape the wall; creating a soothing atmosphere.

Head to their website “The Tokyo Toilet Project” to learn more about the upcoming projects.

Photographs by Satoshi Nagare, Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation.