Toilet cleaner flushes away dirty image of janitorial job

Custodian Tomoyuki Oi knew something had to change when he saw his daughter Renon cry after she came home from her elementary school in Okutama in western Tokyo.

"Embarrassing," Renon, a second-grader at the time, told her father in the summer of 2017.

She said that she was ridiculed by her friends at school. They taunted her, saying, “Your dad’s job is to clean toilets.”

Oi thought that Renon must have been made fun of like that repeatedly and that she should not have to endure any more teasing.

At that moment, he decided to change the image of his job, such as it being dirty, smelly or unfashionable.

He set the goal of becoming the "coolest" toilet cleaner in Japan.


Oi, 47, became a custodian in the spring of 2017. He had worked as a cook for many years previously. The last job before he started his cleaning job was managing a bathing facility.

But after he suffered from poor health, he quit the managerial job. While he was looking for work, he learned that the town’s joint public-private venture called Okutama Sogo Kaihatsu was hiring.

After Oi was hired, he found that his job was to clean dirty public toilets in Okutama.

He was forced to work hard while wearing goggles and a mask to keep out the dust. He put topical ointment into his nostrils.

But the ammonia odor was so strong that he often wanted to vomit and sometimes even cried. He lost his appetite and lost five kilograms in half a year.


To make himself "cool" in his daughter's eyes, Oi thought that he needed an original theme song for his work.

He asked a teacher of a nursery school that Renon used to attend for help. Kan Shimazaki, 39, also a performer and musician of a group to revitalize the town, came to Oi’s house, and they discussed what to do from early evening to the next morning.

First, they named the song “OPT," standing for Okutama, "pikapika" (shiny), and toilet.

The song was completed in November 2017.

They released a promotional video featuring Shimazaki singing the song and Oi and other cleaners dancing with children.

The lyrics go: "Refresh the image/ Okutama toilets are different/ Someone must do it/ Cleaning toilets is so cool"


On a recent day, the catchy pop song was coming out of a CD player placed on a windowsill in a public restroom near Okutama Station, the last stop on the JR Ome Line.

Oi started his work day to the accompaniment to the song he helped write, which touts, "Okutama toilets/ No. 1 in Japan.

 Toilet cleaner flushes away dirty image of janitorial job

The song title "OPT" is also the name of his professional cleaning group, which was given the special cleaning mission by the Okutama town.

The town promotes itself with the slogan that it boasts “the cleanest public toilets for tourists in Japan.”

After Oi set his goal to become cool, he changed his attitude toward cleaning. He thrust his hands into thick dirt stuck to a toilet with a strong determination.

Once he overcame his reluctance, he could let go of everything that was holding him back. He just continued working to make toilets “cleaner” every day.

Today, he leads a team of four custodians tasked with cleaning restrooms at 22 locations.

Oi and his team members do not scrub restrooms with machines or brushes. Instead, they crouch down on the floor and even carefully remove the dirt from the spaces between the tiles.

They clean inside toilet bowls, using hand mirrors to check their work.

Cleaning toilet bowls directly with gloved hands makes them "squeak." The work won't make such ear-pleasing sounds if urine scale remains.

More restroom users began to say to him, “It became cleaner,” or “Thank you.” He replied to them, “Good day,” or “Take care.”

At one time, he found a person who was trying to commit suicide in a mountainous area, listened patiently to the person's sad story and ended up saving a life.

Now, his team does all kinds of other work, such as pruning plants and trees, removing weeds and cleaning roads.

Oi sometimes picks up trash left from barbecue outings along the river because he believes that he should clean other places besides toilets.

Many tourists who saw his cleaning efforts in the town posted messages on social media, saying things such as, “I brought this piece of trash home, too.”

Oi has great motivation in his work because he thinks that the toilets in his town are the cleanest in Japan through the efforts of his team and visitors to Okutama.


Oi received good news last year that made him realize his hard work was paying off.

Fourth-graders of the municipal Hikawa Elementary School, which Renon attends, chose OPT as a study topic for researching the town’s pride, and cleaned toilets with Oi's team.

Posters that featured Oi and other members of his cleaning team as models were posted at many locations in Okutama, including schools and eateries.

Renon, now 12, is proud of her father.

“He is working so hard to improve the sense of aesthetics,” she said. “I am glad that my father chose this job.”

On some weekends, Oi and Renon go for walks carrying trash bags to do voluntary cleaning.

On a recent workday, Oi started his shift near Okutama Station at 8 a.m. and after he cleaned up at about another 10 locations, he returned to his starting point to finish his last job for the day.

Other lyrics from the "OPT" song go, "Guys always clean up Okutama town/ We welcome you with such cleanness"

Now, Oi’s new goal is to make restrooms a place where people feel comfortable taking a deep breath.