The city of Ito in Shizuoka Prefecture was a pioneer in restroom reform. City officials realized that public toilets could create a lasting impression among tourists, so they promoted the construction of one sparkling facility after another. The restrooms don't even look like toilet facilities at first glance. Tourist reaction has been excellent.
Private companies and store owners across the country got involved, too, asking local residents for their opinions, and constructing aesthetically pleasing restrooms that would attract customers. After Japanese National Railways was privatized in 1987, one offshoot, East Japan Railway, launched a "Green Campaign" to improve user services, targeting toilets that had long been ridiculed by passengers.
In another response to demands for better facilities, the Japan Toilet Association was established in 1985. The Association's mandate is to promote innovative restroom design in coordination with local governments, various organizations and private individuals. The Association calls for the "development of toilet design consciousness." It also forges ties with similar associations in other countries, and offers assistance for those promoting its goals.
Each year the Association gives awards to the "10 Best Toilets." The Grand Prize for 1998 went to the town of Koshi-machi in Kumamoto Prefecture. It all started when new restrooms were planned for a park next to a housing complex. People in the community and town officials came to this consensus: public toilets have to be managed effectively, and user etiquette and regular cleaning are essential. It was decided that a lavatory should be a place where everyone can feel comfortable, and that one way to achieve this is to ask people to remove their shoes and put on slippers before entering, just like everyone in Japan does at home.
Yoshida Michiro assisted in the project from the planning to design stages. He says, "Taking off your shoes and putting on slippers gives you the feeling you are in someone else's house using their bathroom. So of course you'll want to keep it clean."
Once the restrooms were up and running, local volunteers took on the job of managing them.
When I asked Mr. Kato of the Japan Toilet Association to predict how public toilets will evolve in the future, he said, "Now attention has turned to school toilets, and to the development of lavatories that anyone can use, including, of course, people with disabilities. And the sewage system should not have a negative impact on the environment. Work on the next generation of toilets has already begun."