Tokyo’s New Transparent Public Restrooms Take the World by Storm

Credit: Satoshi Nagare

Colorful new toilets have been popping up all over Tokyo.

Before you think “gross” or “ew,” get this: they are actually clean, safe, and even colorful.

Public toilets around the world have a pretty bad reputation for being dank, dirty, and dangerous. But not these new Tokyo toilets. Using “smart glass,” Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban created toilet stalls that are brightly lit, colorful, and transparent. To dispel fears about safety and hygiene, the toilets will allow for people to see into the stalls from the outside before having to walk in or touch anything.

To experiment, toilets were set up in two public parks. The stalls bear tinted walls with colors including mango, watermelon, lime, violet and teal. The stalls are made out of an opacity-changing “smart glass” that is typically used in offices and other buildings to provide privacy when needed. In other words, when a stall is empty, it is transparent, and the inside can be seen from the outside. When occupied and locked properly, the tinted glass toilet stalls become frosted and opaque. When the door is unlocked, the crystals realign in the glass to allow more light to pass through, thus creating a transparent effect.

Credit: Satoshi Nagare

Though innovative and new, the toilets have received mixed reviews. Some shared that they were scared of a possible malfunction, which would keep the glass transparent and someone could see inside even if the stall was occupied. Others said they would need time to get used to the new technology, but would still try it.

The toilets were installed in Japan’s capital this month as part of a nationwide campaign to phase out Tokyo’s old-fashioned public toilets. The new-tech toilets were part of efforts to present the city in a modern light ahead of the now-delayed Summer Olympics.

However, the toilets are also a result of advocates calling for Japanese national government to make restrooms in public spaces more appealing and accessible to residents and tourists.

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