Tokyo's Restrooms Evolve Beyond Cleanliness and Comfort

One of the most surprising things for visitors to Japan is its toilets. The country's clean restroom culture has been drawing increasing attention as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to raise global awareness about hygiene. Japanese restrooms have long exhibited cleanliness and comfort, improved accessibility and increased efficiency in facilities maintenance—and now digital innovation is about to take them to the next level.

Reimagining Restrooms With the "Internet of Things"

Japanese restrooms have gained prominence for their advanced toilet technology, like automatic lids and bidet functionalities. In particular, demand for automatic, touchless faucets is rising as handwashing has become increasingly important as a step to prevent COVID-19 infections.

Leading Japan's lavatory industry is Toto Ltd., a major toilet manufacturer that has now introduced "internet of things" technology to create easier-to-use, hygienic spaces for public restrooms. Its Public Restroom Facility Management Support System has been designed to solve problems for both users and facility managers alike.

Users can check restroom availability using their smartphones or via digital displays, offering an effective way to avoid crowding and congestion during the pandemic. Meanwhile, facility managers can also check on equipment errors and supply stocks that may need replenishing on a PC or smartphone, making maintenance work more efficient.

Tokyo's Restrooms Evolve Beyond Cleanliness and Comfort

The first implementation of the Public Restroom Facility Management Support System in Tokyo was at the Nagomuma Restroom, built in July 2021 inside the Tokyo Torch Tokiwabashi Tower, located in front of Tokyo Station's Nihonbashi exit. (The name Nagomuma Restroom translates as "Restroom to Relax.") This advanced restroom, created through a collaboration between Toto and real estate developer Mitsubishi Estate Co. Ltd. is capable of refreshing both body and mind.

Development of the Nagomuma Restroom began in 2017, when Mitsubishi Estate approached Toto wanting to think about the future of public restrooms together. During the course of four years, the two firms held numerous discussions and deliberations about how working styles and offices would change over the next 10 years.

"We've created a variety of mechanisms for office workers based on the assumption that the role of the restroom is not just to relieve yourself but also to relax, refresh and condition both body and mind. I think there's still a lot that restrooms can do," said Maruyama Tomomi, of Toto's special sales division, who is in charge of the project.

Users of the restroom can select between stalls featuring four different styles of interiors, depending on their mood and preference. In addition to the restrooms' distinctive hexagonal shape, the lights and sound effects were also designed to provide an enhanced, relaxing atmosphere. These innovations have helped make the restroom not just a place to "do your business" but also a space for freshening up your mood and rejuvenating yourself.

Do Your Business, Check Your Health

Toto is now working on developing a completely new restroom product: the Wellness Toilet. Yamashita Nariko, a public relations representative at Toto, described the company's vision for the toilet: "The idea is that it will monitor physical health indicators and provide recommendations based on your condition just by your sitting down and doing your business as usual, without the need for any special equipment."

Toto is currently in the midst of research geared toward commercialization. Expectations are mounting for a toilet with a high degree of integrated design and function.

Maintaining a healthy body and mind are major concerns for everyone. Japan's innovative public toilets take a new approach not only to hygiene but also to mental health—to focus on providing a place where one might truly rest.

This article was originally published in Tokyo Updates, the official website of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.