Tours of revamped public restrooms in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward were launched earlier this month to dispel the traditional perception of the facilities as being dirty and smelly, giving visitors from home and abroad a unique lens with which to view the city.

A total of 17 public restrooms have been redesigned by notable architects under The Tokyo Toilet project, turning the often neglected spaces to safer and more fashionable structures.

"Many people who join the tour are interested in architecture," said Yumiko Nishi, PR manager of the ward's tourism association, which organizes the tours via shuttle minivan.

Although the tour is still in its infancy, interest from overseas visitors has been trickling in, Nishi added, expressing hopes it will become more popular in the future.

Photo taken in Tokyo on March 7, 2024, shows public restrooms designed by Shigeru Ban. (Kyodo)

While the tours are conducted primarily in Japanese, the project has been promoted in English language pamphlets and websites as well as photo exhibitions in the Japanese capital.

The architects involved in the project include Kengo Kuma, known for the National Stadium used for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in the summer of 2021, and Toyo Ito, a Pritzker Architecture Prize winner credited for the National Taichung Theater in Taiwan.

Other participants have been drawn due to an interest in seeing locations shown in the Oscar-nominated film "Perfect Days," which follows the simple life of a public toilet cleaner in Tokyo played by Koji Yakusho, Nishi said.

The facilities include Ito's "Three Mushrooms," which is meant to resemble fungi that sprouted from the forest surrounding Yoyogi-Hachiman shrine, at the foot of where it is located.

The project was founded by the nonprofit Nippon Foundation and Koji Yanai, an executive at Fast Retailing Co., the operator of the Uniqlo clothing chain.

The first of the facilities in the project opened to the public in 2020, with the final additions made available last year. The restrooms are cleaned three times a day and undergo regular inspections.

Photo taken in Tokyo on March 7, 2024, shows public restrooms designed by Sou Fujimoto. (Kyodo)

The tours are broken into two parts -- the eastern and western route -- and are held simultaneously on Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for 4,950 yen ($32) per person. They last for around two hours at a time, with participants allowed to use the facilities.

"The western route is slightly more popular as it covers many works by famous architects and is a less well-known area within the ward," Nishi said.

The route includes works by Shigeru Ban, who was the sole architect who contributed two separate facilities. The colorful, transparent bathrooms that turn opaque when locked are perhaps among the most well-known.

Ban's design was made to dispel fears around public restrooms, notably whether someone was already inside or hiding within them, Nishi said.

Shinobu Kojima, a participant at the western route tour, said her favorite was Sou Fujimoto's toilet, a bright white facility located in the Nishisando area, due to its "soft curves."

Multiple faucets in the front of the restrooms are placed on one soft slope at different levels, so that people of all ages can wash their hands simultaneously and with ease.

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