49 The Tokyo Toilet
Public toilets are more than a matter of convenience. They’re an essential part of making cities cleaner, healthier, more accessible and more tourist-friendly. Yet they’re often treated as an afterthought, left dirty and in disrepair—if there are even any to begin with. No matter how many cities invest in improving the state of public restrooms, perhaps none can do it with the elevated style of The Tokyo Toilet.
A creative collaboration by The Nippon Foundation, the Shibuya City Government and the Shibuya Tourism Association, the project recruited 16 creators—including high-profile architects and designers—to dream up their own take on public water closet installations. Scattered throughout the busy Shibuya district, they all prioritize accessibility, ensuring wheelchair access and a gender-neutral option, but each one also makes its own design statement.
"Just as Shibuya is a cultural center of fashion and music, I hope that the project will send a message to the country and world about a new style of public toilets,” said Ken Hasebe, the ward mayor.
Japan is an established global leader in toilet technology, so designer Kazoo Sato used that familiarity to dispel the idea that public restrooms are dark and dirty. After three years of research, planning and design, the Hi Toilet was unveiled in August as a hemispherical building that allows people to control everything—from doors and toilets to sinks and musical speakers—with their voice.
A Walk in the Woods
The restroom at Nabeshima Shoto Park isn’t just a restroom—it’s a “toilet village,” said designer Kengo Kuma. Five separate huts are swathed in cedar board louvers and connected by a roving path that cuts through the park’s landscape. Each one focuses on a different set of needs, such as families with children, wheelchair access, and dressing and grooming (allowing people attending the park’s many events to easily change clothes).
Toilet in the Round
“It was vital for me to make a space that was comfortable and safe,” said Tadao Ando, of the cylindrical restroom he designed for Jingu-Dori Park. The entry to the circular floor plan is surrounded by an engawa, a traditional exterior hallway, which lets in light and air from the cherry tree-dotted environs.
For a pair of park facilities, architect Shigeru Ban addressed two primary concerns—whether a toilet is occupied and how clean it is—with one ingenious design trick. The smart-glass exterior makes it easy to peek inside before you enter and turns opaque when you lock the door.
Streetwear legend and recently named Kenzo artistic director Nigo describes his Jingumae project as a “friendly, house-shaped facility that feels casual and inviting.” Located at a bustling Harajuku intersection, the room includes an ostomate toilet designed for people with ostomy bags as well as a baby chair to keep little ones safe and secure while caregivers use the facilities.