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Japan’s schools working to upgrade, Westernize lavatories

Chunichi Shimbun

Dirty, smelly, dark, scary and broken are the five adjectives most commonly used to describe toilets in Japan’s public schools.

However, various regions have been making efforts in recent years to make school lavatories an inviting place by converting squat-style toilets into Western-style ones, applying colorful decor and installing tables for students to gather around and chat.

Renovation costs have proven to be an obstacle in some cases, resulting in varying degrees of progress.

Kiriharahigashi Elementary School in Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture, converted the majority of its Japanese-style toilets into Western-style ones with washing functions in summer 2014.

The lavatories were also decorated in different themes for each grade, including the universe and jungle, and painted in bright colors.

In 2015, the school was recognized for having one of the nation’s best bathrooms.

Before the lavatories were built, students were asked to take part in workshops to create the design. They also hand-crafted the mosaic tiles on one of the walls.

Sixth-graders Saho Yoshioka and Wakaba Yoshida, both 12, said they are happy with the new toilets and said they hope to keep them clean for others to use.

Hachiman East Junior High School has set up benches near the entrance of its lavatories for students to put their bags on.

Inside, the toilets are laid out with white tiles, with wooden doors on each stall giving them a clean but warm feel.

The middle of each lavatory also has a table.

“During recess, I look forward to coming here and chatting with my friends,” said Kaede Suetsugu, 15, a third-year student.

The city of Omihachiman said it was prioritizing the renovation of school lavatories as a means to create a better learning environment.

The city believes that uninviting toilets can turn students off, which could affect their health, and can also invite more instances of bullying.

It costs about ¥60 million to ¥70 million to renovate all the lavatories in each school. The city began the renovation of bathrooms in 12 elementary and junior high schools in fiscal 2011.

The city of Toyokawa, Aichi Prefecture, has also incorporated colorful designs on toilet stall doors at Tobu Elementary School. Similarly, Otowa Junior High School has painted its doors in different colors for each grade.

Koyo Elementary School in the city of Toyama has set up benches close to restroom entrances and installed aquariums with Japanese killifish as well as flower pots. The school has also put up paintings and photographs in front of the stalls and urinals.

However, not all municipalities can afford such renovations.

A survey by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on the state of public elementary and junior high school lavatories revealed that only 43.3 percent were using Western-style toilets as of last April.

Schools can receive subsidies for up to one-third of the renovation costs from the government, but they are required to conduct a full renovation in order to qualify.

In addition, the total renovation cost for each school must exceed ¥4 million to qualify for the subsidies.

In the city of Gifu, the rate of conversion to Western-style toilets is 25 percent. For two years through the end of fiscal 2016, the city was installing at least one Western-style toilet on the first floor of the 69 elementary and junior high schools under its management.

Meanwhile, the rate stands at 32.2 percent for Nagoya, which has plans to renovate lavatories when it commences large-scale renovations of school buildings.

“We’d like to make the schools earthquake-resistant, then install air conditioners,” a city official said. “We want to move on to toilet renovations as soon as possible, but there is the issue of funding.”

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published March 18.