The ration-ality of toilets — trying to change the ‘plumbing code’


Nomura Holding America Inc., the U.S subsidiary of Tokyo-based Nomura Holdings, Inc. is in the news lately for being the first business to attempt to alter New York City’s “plumbing code” that requires buildings to have an equal number of toilets for both men and women. Oh yay.

The building owners, represented by one of New York City’s oldest real estate companies, wish to install fewer toilets for women on the trading floors which are, apparently, occupied mostly by men. Nomura feels the number of toilets should reflect the proportions of male and female employees who work on those floors, which has historically been 75 percent male and 25 percent female. So Nomura wants to trade women’s toilets in for more men’s — hey, what do you expect on a trading floor?

Keep in mind that this would not affect all 20 floors, or the entire 80,000 sq. meters of space leased by Nomura, so it may be that women will just have to “stay high.”

The name of the real estate company representing Nomura’s request is, believe it or not, George Comfort & Sons. The amount of comfort granted, and to which sex, however, remains to be seen.

No one has given exact details on why Nomura feels the need to make this change. Is the ratio of toilets really a problem, or is it just a political move? Have the male employees complained that there aren’t enough toilets? Are men having to wait in lines? If so, how many minutes and what is the average wait? Could it be the fault of the trading floor, such a vibrant place that men get a little nervous, leading to overactive bladders? Is it possible that the trading floors are under-heated or over-air-conditioned? Are the men drinking too much Coke? Not enough cranberry juice? More details please!

It’s true that the men can’t simply rush in and use the extra toilets in the women’s restroom. Some unfortunate females in the U.S. have found out the consequences of such actions when they have used unoccupied men’s toilet stalls at live concerts only to be later found out and fined. And it’s true that a toilet should provide comfort and security, where one doesn’t have to worry about a member of the opposite sex barging in while you’re doing your business.

I wonder what factors are considered when it comes to deciding how many toilets to put in a building. Shouldn’t they figure in the ratio of toilets by including the wait time per person? Women often do have to wait in line. Men’s lines go quickly, mainly because they can just shimmy up to the urinal, urinate and leave. Women have to do the whole procedure sitting down, which is not such a good position for quick departure. And while you’re there, you may as well check your email. So you’d think women would need more toilets than men, not fewer. Especially if Japanese Toto toilets are installed. The heated toilet seats are enough to make you decide to stay and read a few magazines in there.

According to an article in the New York Post, Nomura officials, mostly men, could not be reached for comment on the details of the proposal. Perhaps they were still waiting in line at the toilet.

A representative from the American Restroom Association said that changes in plumbing codes are usually made by places such as prisons and that this is the first time he had heard of a business requesting such a change. The New York Post article even quoted him as saying, “No American company would dare ask for this.” Now, I’m not trying to equate work with prison but with the long hours, lifetime employment, and death from stress and overwork, you’d think businesses would qualify. We constantly lament that we are “chained to our jobs.” If we didn’t have to work, we wouldn’t do it, so it can’t be all that great.

Furthermore, the restroom is a place where people do their business. OK, it’s mainly concerned with output, not input, but still, it’s a supply and demand type of thing and, as they say, business is business.

The Japanese, who are well known for doing everything by the book and not allowing for exceptions, are now asking for just that. Just when they start thinking outside the box, they are getting chided by the American Restroom Association for it!

But Nomura is determined. George Comfort & Sons signed a “Plumbing Fixture Distribution Restrictive Declaration.” Sounds pretty formal for a change in toilets.

I have a few suggestions for Nomura. If men are having to wait in long lines, maybe one solution would be to clean the toilets less often — that way people would flee them faster.

Another solution would be to make the toilets into completely walled-in cubicles that include a mirror and sink. Then they could be used for either males or females depending on time of day and demand.

Lastly, maybe men’s and women’s toilets could be freely traded back and forth once Japan joins the TPP (Toilet Paper Partnership).

In the meantime, however, men will just have to line up like the ladies do.

Follow Amy Chavez on Twitter @JapanLite.

  • I don’t begrudge a company for making political statements, since they have interests like everyone else. In this case, they are in the development business, so their propensity to encounter arbitrary government regulations is rather more pressing or reoccurring. Might an unregulated world see fewer toilets for all concerned? Hopefully not. Property managers are the natural custodians for the tenant’s interests, and perhaps some businesses need fewer toilets. I would hope that toilet & sewerage systems can be designed sufficiently flexibly to cater for a changing world.

  • Jeff Huffman

    This is dumb and short-sighted planning to the nth degree.

    Unlike moving around walls and electrical, plumbing can’t be changed as easily. Better to “equalize” things now than down the road when it will be more expensive.

    Also, does Nomura own this building or is otherwise planning to be it’s only tenet until the end of time?

    Finally, demographics are against Normura, or any other financial firm, maintaining a 75-25 male to female staff ratio.

  • GregChick

    What about cross dressers? or “Pat” how about equal rights ? why do we insist on separate bathrooms anyway? Do we have separate eating rooms?

  • Gerald Morine

    The thing to do is to add several small unisex toilet rooms and let the traffic decide on the sex ratio. Huge ‘gang” toilets are passe’. Even airports are starting down this road.