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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 28 May 2024

Tokyo toilets flushed with pride, city's new wonderous part after cherry blossoms

Penelope Panczuk was inspired to hop on the Tokyo Toilet Shuttle for a two-hour tour of artistically enhanced public conveniences by Perfect Days, the Oscar-nominated film about a toilet cleaner in the city’s Shibuya district

Reuters, AP/PTI Tokyo Published 06.04.24, 06:52 AM
Representational image

Representational image File image

Along with taking in temples and cherry blossoms, Tokyo visitors can now join a curated pilgrimage of the city’s more modern wonders: its public toilets.

Penelope Panczuk was inspired to hop on the Tokyo Toilet Shuttle for a two-hour tour of artistically enhanced public conveniences by Perfect Days, the Oscar-nominated film about a toilet cleaner in the city’s Shibuya district.

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“In the US or in France where I originally come from, you just don’t go,” Panczuk said of using public facilities.

“Here in Tokyo you’re really happy to go because they’re extremely clean, they’re very safe and each one is so different it feels like it’s a new discovery each time,” she added.

The shuttle began in March with visitors flocking to Japan at a record pace, drawn by a slide in the yen that’s made it affordable for many superfans of Japanese culture to take in its sights and quirks for the first time. Among Japan’s most-revered technological exports in recent years are its toilets — manufactured by TOTO, LIXIL and others — that feature cleansing sprays, heated seats, music, and other functions.

The animated comedy South Park recently devoted an entire episode to them, and hip-hop impresario DJ Khaled gushed on Instagram about a gift of four TOTO bowls from the rapper Drake. The Tokyo Toilet Project, started in 2020 by The Nippon Foundation non-profit, recruited creators including Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando to improve accessibility and artistry in 17 public toilets in the Shibuya district.

The project wasn’t intended as a tourist attraction, but Shibuya’s government saw a chance to broaden the area’s visitor appeal away from its famously chaotic Scramble crossing. “The highlight for visitors is that they can be driven around the less-visited parts of Shibuya and enjoy the entire district while checking out the toilets,” said Yumiko Nishi, a tourist association manager for the ward.

Shuttle passengers pay ¥4,950 ($32.76) to visit nine distinct toilets, including one with clear walls that turn opaque when users enter and another operated by voice commands.

Takao Karino, visiting from Japan’s western metropolis of Osaka, marvelled at the wide, vaulted entranceway of a facility created by British designer Miles Pennington. “There’s nothing else like this in Japan,” Karino, 69, said about the tour. “It’s unusual, it’s unique, it’s honestly brilliant.”

Cherry blossoms

Crowds gathered on Friday to enjoy Japan’s famed cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

Cherry blossoms, known as “sakura” in Japanese, are the nation’s favourite flower. People often have sakura viewing parties beneath the falling petals, where there are also picnics and sake drinking.

Vidyuth Lakshman, 36, a tourist from Canada, said she’d seen cherry blossoms in her homeland but “not on this scale. The scale here is crazy”.

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