Tokyo's public toilets are a unique tourist attraction for visitors

Tokyo's public toilets are a unique tourist attraction for visitors


Tokyo's public toilets are a unique tourist attraction for visitors

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Along with taking in temples and cherry blossoms, Tokyo visitors can now join a curated pilgrimage of the city's more modern wonders: its public toilets.

Penelope Panczuk was inspired to hop on the Tokyo Toilet Shuttle for a two-hour tour of artistically enhanced public conveniences by "Perfect Days", the Oscar-nominated film about a toilet cleaner in the city's Shibuya district.

"In the U.S. or in France where I originally come from, you just don't go," Panczuk said of using public facilities.

"Here in Tokyo you're really happy to go because they're extremely clean, they're very safe and each one is so different it feels like it's a discovery each time," she added.

The shuttle began in March with visitors flocking to Japan at a record pace, drawn by a slide in the yen that's made it affordable for many superfans of Japanese culture to take in its sights and quirks for the first time.

Among Japan's most-revered technological exports in recent years are its toilets -- manufactured by TOTO, LIXIL and others -- that feature cleansing sprays, heated seats, music, and other functions.

The animated comedy "South Park" recently devoted an entire episode to them, and hip-hop impresario DJ Khaled gushed on Instagram about a gift of four TOTO bowls from the rapper Drake.

The 2023 race saw ticket sales to overseas visitors jump four-fold from before the global health crisis.

The Tokyo Toilet Project, started in 2020 by The Nippon Foundation non-profit, recruited creators including Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando to improve accessibility and artistry in 17 public toilets in the Shibuya district.

The project wasn't intended as a tourist attraction, but Shibuya's government saw a chance to broaden the area's visitor appeal away from its famously chaotic Scramble crossing.

"The highlight for visitors is that they can be driven around the less-visited parts of Shibuya and enjoy the entire district while checking out the toilets," said Yumiko Nishi, a tourist association manager for the ward.

Shuttle passengers pay 4,950 yen ($32.76) to visit nine distinct toilets, including one with clear walls that turn opaque when users enter and another operated by voice commands.

Takao Karino, visiting from Japan's western metropolis of Osaka, marvelled at the wide, vaulted entranceway of a facility created by British designer Miles Pennington.

"There's nothing else like this in Japan," Karino, 69, said about the tour. "It's unusual, it's unique, it's honestly brilliant."