Public toilets with glass see-through walls installed for ‘safety reasons’

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Public toilets with transparent glass walls have given users a shock when they opened in Japan this week.

The bizarre loos opened in five locations in the capital Tokyo as part of a project by the nonprofit Nippon Foundation.

Each cubicle is made from a special coloured "smart glass" which turns opaque when it is occupied, but when it is empty it is completely transparent.

As strange as they may seem, the loos, created by Pritzker prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban, have a very key safety message behind them.

The foundation said the outer walls of the cubicles turn opaque when the door is locked, allowing users to see the interior before they go in.

In a statement, the foundation told The Guardian: "There are two concerns with public toilets, especially those located in parks.

"The first is whether it is clean inside, and the second is that no one is secretly waiting inside."

It also hopes, in the current coronavirus crisis, the new cubicles will make social distancing easier as people will be able to see whether the toilets are occupied before going in.

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As well as supposedly being safer than normal cubicles, the designers hope they will become an attractive bit of street furniture in the Shibuya district of Tokyo.

"At night they light up the parks like a beautiful lantern," the foundation added.

Japan is famous for its high-tech toilets, which have long fascinated visitors to the country.

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Toto, the creator of the washlet range, now markets its toilets – complete with washing and drying modes, seat warming, and lids which open and close automatically – in several other countries including China.

The foundation noted that even though Japanese toilets were famous for their hygiene, many still wrongly believed public bathrooms were "dark, dirty, smelly and scary".

Tokyo Toilet Project, which is in charge of the scheme, hopes to install the cubicles at 17 different locations in Shibuya by next spring.

The Nippon Foundation said it wanted "to build public toilets that can be used by anyone".

It said all its designs were "accessible for everyone regardless of gender, age, or disability, to demonstrate the possibilities of an inclusive society".

As well as toilets, the foundation wants the cubicles to function as shared public spaces and come with rest areas.

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