Japan has solved the public restroom problem

YouTube

As a general rule, I don’t use public toilets that are standalone. I am happy to use public bathrooms in restaurants or other businesses but those public toilets that are in many parks or on the side of the street, are a no go. I think I am not alone in this rule. The reasons are simple. The standard of cleanliness in these toilets can often be incredibly low. The standard of safety is often very low as well. The homeless (rightly) often use these public toilets as a refuge from the cold weather and slowly they become areas where you get the feeling you are not welcome. Some public bathrooms are so bad that from the outside you can’t tell if they are still operational, have been abandoned, or are just really filthy. Japan is trying to solve the problem.

Japan is well known for its strange inventions. The innovators of Japan have a willingness to think outside the box that is unmatched anywhere in the world. Take a look at the shoe umbrellas, designed in Japan, as an example. These are mini umbrellas that fit on top of your shoes and aim to keep them dry and resistant to splashes. Very strange, yet somehow it makes perfect sense.

Well, the public bathroom problem is nothing that the Japanese can’t handle. A new solution has now been rolled out in some of the public parks near Shibuya, the commercial part of Tokyo. You may know Shibuya because of the famous four-way crossing in the center of the commercial district with as many as 2,5000 people crossing at one time. Yet it may soon become famous for something else, toilets.

Two parks have been fitted with see-through toilets. The idea is very simple, if you can see into a toilet through transparent class you can inspect how safe and clean they are from a distance. If it doesn’t look clean you can stay away and if you see someone sleeping inside or waiting in there you can keep clear as well. Privacy is an obvious problem with see-through toilets of course but this is where the solution is clever. The transparent glass is brightly colored. Some are pink, some are green, some orange. When someone occupies a toilet and locks the door, the transparent glass becomes opaque. This provides users with the privacy they need.

Another nice feature of the toilets is that the brightly colored glass is back-lit. This means that they act as lanterns in the public parks at night which will hopefully keep shady characters away. There is one issue with the toilets so far. Once a user locks a door and the glass turns opaque, they are inside, free to do their business. Yet from the inside the appearance has not changed and there is supposedly no way to tell if you can be seen or can’t be. I’m not sure if this is because the inside is always transparent or always opaque but it does appear a flaw in the design.

If the switch is ever faulty a lot of people could end up accidentally going to the toilet in public view. Even if it does not fault, if it is always transparent on the inside pranksters could approach a window and wave (even though they can’t see anything). This would be a great way to turn people off using the toilets.

The new toilet innovation is a fun idea that has a great practical side. If they can tweak the inside view then it may be the perfect solution to using public restrooms. For now, though, I think I will continue to hold it in just a little longer.