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Tokyo’s transparent public bathroom has a neat trick up its sleeve

The idea of using a public bathroom with transparent exterior walls would likely cause most people’s sphincters to twitch in horror.

So it may surprise you to learn that such a facility was recently installed in a park in Tokyo, Japan. In reality, using the bathroom isn’t really as daunting as it may at first seem, as the see-through walls automatically turn opaque when you go inside and lock the door. Just don’t forget to lock the door.

The unique restroom has been installed as part of the Nippon Foundation’s Tokyo Toilet Project. The initiative is aimed at improving the reputation of public bathrooms, which, according to the foundation, many people consider to be “dark, dirty, smelly, and scary” places.

Sixteen prominent architects have each been assigned a public bathroom in the city’s bustling Shibuya district and given the freedom to renovate it any way they like.

The bathroom featuring transparent walls is the work of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban.

“Using the latest technology, the exterior glass turns opaque when locked,” Ban said. “This allows users to check the cleanliness and whether anyone is using the toilet from the outside. At night, the facility lights up the park like a beautiful lantern.” Indeed, considering the banal design of most public bathrooms, Ban’s extraordinary creation must surely be one of the most striking efforts to date.

Japan has built a reputation over the years for its high-tech bathrooms, which often delight and confuse overseas tourists in equal measure. Aware that the panel of controls that come with the advanced toilets can sometimes befuddle, leading toilet makers in Japan teamed up a couple of years ago to create a set of unified symbols that subsequently gained official recognition from the International Organization for Standardization. See how many you recognize.

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Trevor Mogg
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