Tokyo Unveils Public Toilets With Transparent Walls

  • There’s good ideas, there’s bad ideas, and then there’s whatever this is.

In the public mind, Japan is often perceived as a place where weird stuff goes down. The stereotype is not entirely misplaced, what with all the drive-through haunted houses and men-only naked festivals.

But this time, they may have crossed some border of good taste. A group of artists and architects from Japan has designed a bunch of public toilets… Some of them with transparent walls.


The 17 toilets from the The Tokyo Toilet project are situated in different spots across the city’s famous Shibuya entertainment district. Most of them are still under construction, but five – including the two see-through ones – have already started operations.

According to the creators’ website, the specifications of each toilet vary, but all are wheelchair-accessible. How nice.

“Ostomate facilities are available at some locations. All toilets are also equipped with Washlet,” the website said.

That’s great and all, but how about answering one small question. Why would you build a toilet with transparent walls?

Public toilets the way they’re supposed to be. Non-transparent.

Good Intentions

Alright, let come clean in the name of honesty. The colorful walls are only transparent when the toilets are unused.

Once you enter and lock the door, the walls will become frosted and visibility from the outside is blocked. From the inside, though, you can’t tell the difference.

So how do you know if the walls have turned opaque? You don’t. You just have to lock the door and pray that the system hasn’t malfunctioned.

I’m sorry, but who thought this was a good idea? What on Earth is The Tokyo Toilet project trying to accomplish by having people wonder whether they’re exposing themselves in public?

Well, believe it or not, the team does have decent intentions behind the project. Architect Shigeru Ban, who’s company designed the see-through toilets, told NPR that the idea is to build trust in public lavatories.

Wait, they’re trying to build trust in public restrooms by making the walls transparent? I’ll just… I’ll just stop questioning this logic.

“There are two things we worry about when entering a public restroom, especially those located at a park,” said Ban’s firm on their website.

“The first is cleanliness, and the second is whether anyone is inside. Using the latest technology, the exterior glass turns opaque when locked.

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

Alright, I’ll give, at least you’ll see immediately if someone is using the toilet. Especially if they forgot to lock the door and are now sitting on the can for all to see.

Only the Best Care

The Tokyo Toilet project at least seems serious about keeping the artistic lavatories clean, true to Ban’s vision.

“Public toilets must stand the test of time. In addition to our focus on designing impressive facilities, we at The Tokyo Toilet believe that providing a comfortable user experience through cleaning and maintenance is equally important,” their website reads.

The project has partnered with the Nippon Foundation, the Shibuya City Government, and the Shibuya Tourism Association to provide first-class maintenance services for the facilities.

“We will also work with professional toilet inspectors to periodically survey the toilets to ensure we are providing the best user experience,” they added.

That’s a relief. You really don’t want these ones to start malfunctioning.

The public has taken to the see-through toilets with a mix of bewilderment and amusement. CNN Travel noted that when their reporter was in the area, a steady stream of visitors came to take pictures of the restrooms.

Some must’ve been brave enough to use them, since CNN also said that one person forgot to lock the door during their visit, drawing laughter from the gathered crowd.

All I can think of is whether the person forgot or “forgot” to lock the door. Maybe it’s best if none of us knows.

Improving Toilets for Everyone

The Tokyo Toilet project’s ultimate purpose is to change the way people think about toilets.

“Toilets are a symbol of Japan’s world-renowned hospitality culture,” the project said. The remaining 12 of The Tokyo Toilet project’s artistic outhouses will be built by the end of the summer of 2021.

The rest of them have good old-fashioned opaque walls. Some, such as the Squid Toilet in the Ebisu East Park by architect Fumihiko Maki, actually look pretty nice.

“The use of public toilets in Japan is limited because of stereotypes that they are dark, dirty, smelly, and scary,” explains the Nippon Foundation.

“These public toilets … will use advanced design to make them accessible for everyone regardless of gender, age, or disability, to demonstrate the possibilities of an inclusive society.”

Fair enough. By all means, I’m on board with making public restrooms more pleasant places. In fact, it’s about time, they should do this everywhere.

But I still can’t help but repeat: why would you build a transparent toilet? Seems like they’re just begging for literal **** to hit the fan.

What do you think? Would you use a see-through public toilet or would you steer clear? Let us know in the comments!

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