From squeaky clean to technologically bizarre, much has been said and written about Japanese public restrooms. And while some of it is hyperbole and sensationalism generated by an overly zealous foreign press, Japan does lead the world in toilet technology. The country also takes great pride in cleanliness and restrooms are one of the first places to begin.
The public restroom has largely been shunned as an architectural subject in the western world but in Japan it stands as its own archetype. Here are some recent public restroom designs in Japan that have been turning heads for reasons other than an uncontrollable bladder.
Halftecture OO by Shuhei Endo (2006)
Halfitecture OO is 1 of 3 public restrooms that architect Endo Shuhei designed inside the Osaka Castle Park. Reminiscent of a Richard Serra sculpture, the truss-shaped walls are made of a single sheet of anti-corrosive steel that holds up its own weight. Underneath the steel sheet is a white box that holds the actual lavatory facilities.
Tokinokura Lavatories by Shuichiro Yoshida (2009)
Located in Chikusei City (Ibaraki), a region known for their historical stone storage buildings (ishikura), a group of citizens operate Tokinokura – a storage building converted into an event space for hosting exhibitions. In 2008 the group selected Shuichiro Yoshida to design a much-needed lavatory for staff and visitors. It was constructed in a narrow alley behind the building, hence the high ceilings.
Absolute Arrows by Bunzo Ogawa (2009-current)
In 2009 Bunzo Ogawa of Future Studio was selected to design a series of public restrooms to be designed in public parks across the city of Hiroshima. Ogawa proposed three repeatable designs that could adapt to the different sizes of parks. (By law, Japanese public restrooms cannot encompass more than 2% of a park’s surface area.)
The concept of the restrooms were to embed the City of Hiroshima with an “absolute axis,” similar to the horizontal and vertical axes of the planet, with all arrows pointing North. In Essence, the arrows create a place that is no longer pinned down as a city within Japan, on a map, that was destroyed by nuclear weapons. Instead, it is now part of a grander space and transcends towards a coexistence with the planet. And I suppose those encountering the restrooms have an even greater sense of this. It helps them imagine what is beyond the park fence, or the neighbors wall, or the city’s high-rise buildings.
Kikuchi Pocket Park Restrooms by Takao Shiotsuka (2012)
Connect the town – this was the seemingly simple yet lofty goal entrusted to Takao Shiotsuka Atelier as they set about designing a park and public restroom in the middle of historic Kikuchi City in Kumamoto. The result was 3 different parks and restrooms, each with their own theme, that weave throughout the town. One of the restrooms is reminiscent of an abstract rock placed within the center of a Zen garden. Another forms from curved metal pipes that define the pathways and then create circular restrooms.
The World’s Largest Public Restroom by Sou Fujimoto (2012)
In the middle of Chiba’s Boso peninsula is Itabu Station, a lone, unmanned station that sits on the Kominato Line. Trains come and go about every 2 hours and, on average, deliver about 6 people. In stark contrast to the very quiet nature of the station sits a facility that makes a very bold statement: “the world’s largest public restroom.”
Completed in 2012 by architect Sou Fujimoto, the grand lavatory – a clear glass box sitting in the middle of a lush flower garden – encompasses an area 200 sq meters (about 2150 sq ft). It is indeed larger than the train station it accompanies.
The lavish, larger-than-life-lavatory, which is encompassed by a pervert-preventing black wooden log fence, was designed to both attract visitors but to also be part of an art fair happening this year. Indeed, those statistics I quoted earlier were as of 2010. We’ll just have to wait and see if foot traffic picks up.
Note to visitors: The restroom is for women only. Guys will be asked to use a much more modest bathroom nearby.
Hut with the Arc Wall by Tato Architects (2013)
Part art installation part functioning public restroom, “Hut with the Arc Wall” was created by Tato Architects for the 2013 Setouchi Triennale. Located on Shodoshima Island, the architects drew inspiration from the large cedar barrels originally used to make soy sauce on that exact site. And the roof is made from a mixture of opaque and transparent tiles, which allows sunlight to filter in during the day but also creates quite a spectacle at night.