You might call Japan a toilet-obsessed country. The nation is chock-full of pleasant public facilities dotting its streets, parks, and stations. But a newly-opened outhouse, billed as the world's largest toilet, offers a breezy new way to take care of business.
Visitors to Japan are often struck by the abundance of public lavatories. The capital, in particular, is so rife with loos that P-Vine publications released a Tokyo Toilet Map in 2010 highlighting the 20 most stylish restrooms in the Japanese metropolis.
Tourists often describe a Japanese stall as a boxed-in paradise due to its array of gadgetry that allows you to play music, spray water, and warm your thighs. Japanese gadget gurus Toto Ltd. even hold the Guinness World Record for envisioning the toilet with the most functions.
A new public toilet in Japan would hardly be news if it wasn't billed as the biggest public toilet in the world. This got the Japanese press buzzing.
Local station NHK ran a video report, as did Asahi on ANN News. Several other national newspapers also ran stories on the curiously commodious commode.
Most agreed that the cheeky title is a bit misleading because the world's largest toilet is no larger than your average porcelain bowl. It does, however, sit in a transparent booth on a 200-square-meter garden, making it the largest plot of land for a single toilet, or so its owners claim.
The women's only public toilet opened last month in Chiba Prefecture's Ichihara City, located an hour's drive across Tokyo Bay from the capital. The little-known industrial city has few notable attractions outside of cherry blossom season, but city officials hope the toilet will help draw crowds from Tokyo for the opportunity to be one with nature while answering its call.
There used to be no public toilets suitable for tourists' use, an official from the Ichihara City Tourism Promotion Department told Japan Times. The official said he hoped the toilet will become a popular stop for visitors to next year's Ichihara City Art Festival, currently in its planning stages.
Critics, however, have called the ¥10 million ($127,000) project a waste of space and funds.
Sou Fujimoto designed the luxurious loo. The renowned designer gained global fame with his winning proposal for the new Taiwan Tower, the 21st Century Oasis.
Fujimoto told Japan Times the toilet reflects a harmony with the natural landscape.
I thought it would be quite interesting. Public lavatories are something both private and public, so designing them can be a very motivating challenge for architects, he explained. I was also enthusiastic about the fact that Itabu Station is surrounded by such wonderful wildlife. I thought it was a great opportunity to rethink the relationship between architecture and nature.
The scenic toilet is conveniently located next to the Itabu Station on the Kominato Railway Line, making it easily accessible to visitors who wish to take care of business in the middle of a spacious Japanese garden of flowers and potted plants. An optional curtain and two-meter-high fence keep peeping toms at bay.
Though the architect himself has not actually used the glass-encased toilet, he reportedly sat on it during the opening ceremony in April.
I could enjoy the spectacular view while still feeling protected, he said. No other toilet would allow you a feeling like that.