An aspect of Japan that continues to impress and amaze visitors is the high-tech evolution of the toilet—or “restroom” in more genteel terms—from a hole or slit in the floor to stylish high-tech suites that, to use an old phrase, are fit for a king or queen.
Beginning around 2006 new office buildings, department stores and even roadside rest-stop facilities and private schools began to feature upscale toilets that are the epitome of both high-tech and high-design, so much so that many of them actually attract visitors who don’t have “to go”….who just want to see and marvel at them.
Among the most conspicuous examples of these new restroom suites are those on the different floors of the rebuilt Daimaru Department Store, adjoining Tokyo Central Station on the east side.
Each of the basement floors as well as all of the 12 stories above ground of the famous landmark department store have restroom suites that are designed to “fit” or “suit” the products and services sold on that floor—ranging from foodstuffs on the first basement level to “Restaurant Row” on the 12th floor.
Men using urinals in the restroom suite on this floor have spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding area. The women’s restroom could be compared to a presidential suite.
These new lavatories are not just “smart” in their use of high-tech, they are also designed to be “green” in their use of energy and the overall impact they have on the environment. This includes using natural lighting with electric lights that go on, automatically, only after the natural light begins to fade in the evenings.
A highway rest-stop facility for women maintained by Metropolitan Express Company in Kawaguchi north of Tokyo looks like something you would find in a ritziest hotel, and is outfitted with a deodorization system as well as a system that emits aromatherapy oil.
Said a spokesperson for Metropolitan Express Company: “Restrooms that help tired drivers relax and renew themselves just make good sense”—a rationale that is, of course, perfectly rational, but is something that one generally finds only in Japan.
The movement in Japan to rethink and redesign restrooms is rapidly becoming a standard among Japan’s managers who see it as yet another way to raise the corporate image of their companies while contributing to the greening of the country.
Not surprisingly, this movement has given birth to a growing number of firms that specialize in designing toilets. One of the most prominent of these firms is Gondola Architects, which designed the restrooms of Daimaru Department Store. Another prominent toilet designer is Yasui Architects & Engineers Inc.
This phenomenon, which is apparently unique to Japan, is a clear manifestation of Japanese culture—not just a commercial ploy to burnish the image of companies.
The Japanese are culturally imbued with both the desire and the need to design and create things that incorporate the concepts of elegance and beauty as well as function—elements that are characteristic of all of their traditional arts and crafts.
This national trait is, of course, one of the primary reasons why the Japanese have been so successful in designing and manufacturing such a large variety of consumer products that have become worldwide bestsellers—a design influence that has had a fundamental impact on product designers around the world.
There are, in fact, over 50 key principles of traditional Japanese designs that I have identified and explained in my book, ELEMENTS OF JAPANESE DESIGN—Key Terms for Understanding & Using Japan’s Classic Wabi-Sabi-Shibui Concepts.
These design elements constitute the whole framework of Japan’s traditional culture, from the principle of wa (wah), or harmony, to the philosophy of Zen—which teaches one to recognize the difference between illusion and reality.
So the next time you are in Tokyo and have occasion to visit a high-end (no pun intended!) toilet in Daimaru, the NEC Tamagawa Renaissance City or NEC’ss new headquarters building in Tokyo’s Minato War, the Kinrankai Girl’s School in Osaka, or any of dozens of other new buildings throughout the country be aware that they are not just gimmicks. They are reflections of Japanese culture.
Copyright © 2009 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente