Japan has been working to convert its traditional squat toilets to Western-style commodes to accommodate the growing influx of foreign tourists.
With many foreign visitors puzzled over how to use squat toilets and even shunning them as “unsanitary,” the government has been promoting toilet modernization in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics, when it aims to welcome 40 million inbound travelers during the year.
The nation’s major tourist spots have around 4,000 public toilets. A survey by the Japan Tourism Agency last year showed 58 percent were Western-style and 42 percent were squat toilets.
The agency believes demand for Western-style toilets is high among visitors and began offering subsidies in fiscal 2017 to prefectures and municipalities renovating old Japanese toilets. The subsidies offset a third of the total cost, including expenses for installing multilingual signs and illustrations.
In Nagoya, Mayor Takashi Kawamura unveiled a plan last June to Westernize all Japanese-style toilets in parks, subway stations and other public facilities run by the city.
“I want the city of Nagoya to have the coolest toilets in the world,” he said at a local assembly.
Around half the public toilets used by tourists in the city are squat toilets. The city, which has a population of 2.3 million, plans to give priority to the lavatories at popular Nagoya Castle, municipal officials said.
Kyoto, on the popular “Golden Route” linking Tokyo with Osaka, went a step further in 2016 by providing instructions on how to use Japan’s squat-type commodes through the use of illustrated stickers and explanations in several languages, including Chinese.
The city’s website also offers a “public toilets map” showing where Japanese-style, Western-style and multipurpose toilets designed for people with disabilities, parents with babies and others with special needs can be found.
Although the toilet “Westernization” movement has been gaining momentum in Japan, many municipalities face financial difficulties modernizing despite the subsidies from Tokyo. It can cost several million yen, for example, to renovate an entire standalone restroom facility.