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Japan’s Evolved Restrooms

High Tech, Unique & Beautiful

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Restroom entrance at Meguro Gajoen banquet hall, adorned with opulent decorations, including gorgeous lacquered wall paintings with mother-of-pearl inlays. (Meguro-ku, Tokyo)

Japan leads the world in the development of high-tech restrooms. These days, even regular restrooms in public spaces, such as department stores or restaurants, tend to feature toilet seats that open and close automatically or showerhead attachments. The rationale behind such painstaking service is to provide good hospitality to visitors. As well as the obvious focus on cleanliness, restrooms now feature lavish designs or facilities with music or sweet-smelling fragrances to help visitors relax. These uniquely beautiful Japanese restrooms make you want to visit again.

Switch Room: Freshening up in the Restroom

The most talked-about restrooms in Tokyo at present can be found in the high-rise commercial facilities next to Shibuya station that opened in spring 2012. The "spaces" are called "switch rooms" instead of restrooms because they are designed to give visitors a change of mood. They were designed to suit women aged 25–40 years with different lifestyles. The six different restrooms for women and three different restrooms for men are elaborately designed unlike any restroom you have seen before.


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Left: A sharply styled "switch room" in shopping mall next to Shibuya station featuring art displays and an air shower booth. © Shibuya Hikarie ShinQs
Right: Switch room designed for women on the go. Each cubicle features different wall designs to make visitors feel they have travelled different countries. © Shibuya Hikarie ShinQs

The facilities on level three are designed to allow working women to switch between business and private moods. The restrooms feature sparkling metal fittings, art displays designed to stimulate the senses, and an air shower booth to eliminate pollen or food odors. On level B1, the latest cosmetic products can be seen in a wall-mounted showcase, like an impressive display of miniature objets d'art. The facilities have magnifying mirrors and other fixtures to help women touch up their make-up while on the go. On level four, each restroom cubicle has a different interior design to make visitors feel they have traveled overseas to forests or deep oceans.


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Switch room with comfy sofas and foot massage machines. The room is designed like a luxury beauty salon. © Shibuya Hikarie ShinQs

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The most luxurious space of all is on level five in the "switch lounge" exclusively for the use of holders of a particular credit card. The lounge has sofas, dressing tables with large well-lit mirrors, foot massage machines, an oxygen bar, and mobile phone recharging tables. It looks like the waiting room of a high-class beauty salon.

The other levels have their own style, including aromatic fragrances and 3D background sounds that psychological tests have shown to induce a state of relaxation. The producer was right when he said that restrooms are a key way to draw in customers.


VIP Lounge-style Restroom: Heart of Hospitality

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Left: The impressive restroom at Meguro Gajoen banquet hall with its bright red lacquered bridge. The ceiling is lined with dazzling "bijinga" pictures of beautiful women embossed with gold leaf. (Meguro-ku, Tokyo)
Right: Each restroom cubicle at Meguro Gajoen is decorated with "bijinga" pictures on the ceiling. (Meguro-ku, Tokyo)

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The Japanese-style restrooms at a wedding banquet hall in Tokyo's Meguro-ku are famous for their opulence and traditional Japanese decorations. Visitors are amazed by the entrance styled as a VIP lounge, then marvel at the walls covered with carvings and lacquerware inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The restrooms are spacious, taking up a total of 160 square meters for the men's and ladies' facilities. Take a step inside and you will see a stream running through the room, crossed by a red-lacquered bridge. The ceiling is lined with "bijinga" pictures of beautiful women embossed in glittering gold leaf. The gorgeous design is in complete contrast to the cold, sterile space of most restrooms.

This function center first installed luxurious restrooms in the 1930s. The founder of the venue designed the facilities to provide the best hospitality possible at the time, thinking that restrooms can provide visitors with an opportunity to get away from the crowd and relax for a moment. The beautifully decorated facilities were completely refurbished in 1991, with the restrooms restored to their former glory through the use of works of art from the original building. Many visitors like to take their photos in the restrooms as a memento of their visit.

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Left: The Nakanoshima Hotel, supplemental bedroom next to restrooms as part of the Osaka Canvas Project art installation organized by Osaka Prefecture. The public continued to use the restrooms during the installation, apart from the space where hotel guests could stay only during the exhibition. (Osaka City)
Right: A bedroom in an extension added onto the public restroom facilities. A desk and sofa were installed within the restroom facilities, as seen on the left. The hotel has now been demolished. (Osaka City)

In total contrast to this, Osaka residents were surprised this fall by the exhibition of restrooms where visitors could stay overnight! A Japanese artist now resident in Berlin added on spaces for bedrooms to public restroom facilities in an Osaka park, as part of a series of art installations in public spaces organized by Osaka Prefecture for a limited time. This "restroom hotel" even had a front desk manned by check-in staff. A lottery was held and eight lucky couples got to stay the night. The transformed restrooms were lit up at nighttime, changing the public restroom into a new urban style.


Fantastic View from Ultra-high-rise Restroom

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Left: Men's restrooms in Sky Restaurant 634 on the Observation Deck of the Tokyo Skytree. Visitors get an unbroken view of the surroundings from 345 meters up.
Right: The restrooms on the 12th floor of a department store allow a perfect view through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Visitors can even see Tokyo Station and the National Diet Building. © Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Stores Co., Ltd.

From the 345 meter-high vantage point of the men's restrooms in the restaurant on the Tokyo Skytree Observation Deck, which opened in May 2012, you can see speck-like city buildings directly below and the tip of the Boso Peninsula some 75km away. These are the only restrooms in the Tokyo Skytree with an external view. The men's restroom is like a secret tourist spot, as only restaurant diners can use the facilities. Tokyo Skytree staff says that these ultra-high-rise restrooms with their amazing views are unlike anything else in the world.

The restrooms on the 12th floor of the classic old department store opposite Tokyo Station are known for their view of all the famous sights in the city. The restrooms have always featured floor-to-ceiling windows to bathe visitors in light from the Tokyo sky. Looking out, you can survey famous sightseeing in the spots in the city. These include the rooftop domes on Tokyo Station that were restored to their former glory of 100 years ago in October 2012, the National Diet Building, and the Shinjuku skyscrapers.

Beautiful Restroom, Beautiful Heart

There is an old saying in Japan: beautiful restroom, beautiful heart. If you come across a unique restroom in a Japanese town, you will probably sense the painstaking hospitality of the Japanese who hope that you will come again.

(December 2012)

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