Local governments finally getting around to public toilets

November 24th, 2014 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Get down: Public rest room in a park in northern Chiba Prefecture

Get down: Public rest room in a park in northern Chiba Prefecture

Japan is a country of tradeoffs. Though there is an intentional paucity of public waste receptacles, there are plenty of free public restrooms, something that foreign tourists should note with appreciation. What they may not appreciate is the fact that most of the public facilities still feature squat-type toilets, which is certainly an irony since one of Japan’s most famous gifts to the world is the all-service commode, or “washlet,” which does practically everything but pull your drawers up.

We searched high and low for some kind of survey that revealed the portion of public toilets that are squat-type and couldn’t find any, so our claim that most public toilets, whether they be in parks, train stations or just along a street, feature squat type facilities is mainly due to observation.

But it’s obviously a situation that people are aware of. Chiba Prefecture recently announced that it set aside a supplemental budget in order to subsidize local governments and private entities who need to replace older Japanese style toilets under their management with Western style equipment before 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics and it’s assumed lots of foreign tourists will come to the metropolitan area.

In a survey conducted in 2009, the prefectural tourism division asked visitors what they found “unsatisfactory” about their travels, and 25 percent mentioned “an insufficient number of toilets.” Another problem was that the toilets they did use were not clean enough.

Consequently, the prefecture decided to increase its subsidy to relevant bodies from half the cost of toilet renovation to two-thirds the cost. This money will mainly go toward building new facilities or renovating existing ones that can be used by tourists.

Apparently, these bodies have taken the prefectural government up on their offer and spent about ¥200 million in public funds this fiscal year, which is ¥60 million more than they spent last year. However, this money covered only 22 facilities, and since more organizations are asking for help, the prefecture passed a ¥50 million supplementary budget for toilets in October.

For reference, 86 public restroom facilities located at recreational beaches, public parks and sporting grounds were renovated with the help of public funds over the last 5 years. In most cases the money went to replacing older, squat type toilets with Western or so-called multi-use toilets for the elderly and the disabled.

An example pointed out in an article in the Yomiuri Shimbun was a public restroom in the fishing port of Tateyama. The facility was renovated in 2013 and the port received ¥800,000 from the prefecture toward the work, which involved installing Western toilets. However, the local official in charge of the project said they tried to retain the special local character of the restroom. We’re not sure what that means, but apparently it had something to do with the designs on the walls.

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