UPDATED June 10, 2024

BY Guest Author

IN Journey to the East

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UPDATED June 10, 2024

BY Guest Author

IN Journey to the East

no comments

The Toilets Of Tokyo

 

Mats Fredrix is the Content Creator on the 2024 Journey to the East Cycling Tour. He takes a quirky look at the toilets of Tokyo.

With 37 million inhabitants, Tokyo is the most populous city in the world. It’s also the world’s undisputed  culinary capital with 194 Michelin starred establishments. Adding up the two of those and Tokyo turns into the world’s capital of… toilets. Yes, that’s right, and Tokyo toilets might just exactly be the right, though slightly unusual, angle you’re looking for to get a grasp of this never ending city when you have just a day or two like we do on the Journey to the East Cycling Tour.

Of the endless variety of tours you can partake in or undertake on your own, thanks to the city’s insatiable need to go next-level, the ‘Tokyo Toilets Tour’ is one that is really making headlines of late.

Toilets in Japan are a thing. Not only are they present in abundance, a not unimportant fact for anyone on a long distance bike tour, sitting on a Japanese toilet is often mentioned as one of the most memorable experiences to have in this country. Toilet seats are pre-heated, there’s an automatic bidet and air drying function, and even soundscapes to help you relax during your time of need. I personally experienced one that played the Studio Ghibli score of My Neighbour Totoro, ‘The Path of the Wind’. These are, of course, private toilets. Public toilets are a different story, also in Japan.

At least, that was until ‘The Tokyo Toilet Project’ was launched in 2020, and the 2023 Oscar-nominated drama ‘Perfect Days’ by German minimalist filmmaker Wim Wenders starring Kōji Yakusho, stole many hearts across the globe. Located in the popular Shibuya district, the project’s intention was to counter stereotypes that public toilets are dark, dirty, smelly, and scary. Now completed, there are 17 toilets that symbolize Japan’s world-renowned hospitality culture, as well as protest social issues.

Designed by renowned designers and architects, they are as diverse as Tokyo’s different trendsetting cultures themselves. Inspired by nature, or history or the LGBTQ+ community, they are all uniquely different. It’s like the most important message in the brief was: as long as it doesn’t resemble a traditional public toilet.

There’s one that’s completely see-through, until you turn the lock, another is entirely controlled by your voice, although this function seemed to be non-operational during my visit (I guess not even Japan is perfect all the time, right?). The toilets aren’t only high-tech and architecturally impressive in their diversity, they are incredibly well maintained and cleaned three times a day, as expertly depicted in Wenders’s ‘Perfect Days’.

The film’s main character, Hirayama, shaves in the morning, cleans toilets, eats, sleeps and takes a few pictures of the same tree at his usual lunch spot every day. But he does so much more than that. In his silent ways and with all his attention to detail and routines, he seemingly strikes a chord of something you can only describe as ‘quintessentially Japanese’ (or quintessentially human?). In Hirayama, Wenders offers a unique insight into the sprawling mystery that is Tokyo. Facing these quirky, colourful gems into which Hirayama pours his entire soul with your own eyes, is an experience on par with Potterheads visiting King’s Cross.

Not only that, visiting these modern shrines on foot quickly turns into a real little pilgrimage of its own, reminiscent of the pilgrims hitting all 88 temples on the Shikoku Pilgrimage route. Very remotely reminiscent, of course. Scattered all over the wider Shibuya district, one of the most frequented areas in all of Tokyo, the route between the different toilets takes you through back alleys, residential areas, tiny shrines and cemeteries as well as hitting big tourist hotspots such as Harajuku and Yoyogi park.

With 30,000 steps still reverberating in my shins, and having covered only 11 of the 17 temples of relief, a thunderstorm announced its imminent arrival, and I was forced to call it a day. I returned to the hotel, satisfied, but mostly relieved with the emptiest bladder I’ve had in years.

Find out more about the Tokyo toilets project.

Interested in ‘Perfect Days’? Here’s the trailer.

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