Tourists visit Hida Folk Village in Gifu prefecture. Japan works to convert its traditional squat toilets in public places to Western-style sitting ones amid the influx of visitors. (Photo by Melalin Mahavongtrakul)

TOKYO: Japan has been working to convert its traditional squat toilets in public places to Western-style sitting ones amid the influx of foreign tourists who are not familiar with the Japanese style.

With many foreign visitors puzzled over how to use squat toilets and even shunning them as “unsanitary,” the Japanese government has been promoting modernisation of the toilets in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020, when it aims to welcome 40 million inbound travellers during the year.

Japan’s major tourist spots have around 4,000 public toilets. A survey by the Japan Tourism Agency last year showed 58% of them were Western-style and 42% were squat type.

As the agency believes demand for Western-style toilets is high among foreign visitors, it began to offer subsidies to local governments renovating traditional Japanese toilets in public areas in fiscal 2017, shouldering one-third of the total costs, including expenses to put up multilingual signs and illustrations.

In Nagoya, central Japan, mayor Takashi Kawamura unveiled a plan last June to replace all Japanese-style public toilets in parks, subway stations and other facilities run by the city with Western-style ones. “I want the city of Nagoya to have the coolest toilets in the world,” he said at a local assembly.

Around half of the public toilets used by tourists in the city with a population of 2.3 million are squat type. The city plans to give priority to modernising toilets at Nagoya Castle, a popular tourist spot, municipal government officials said.

Kyoto, on the popular “Golden Route” linking Tokyo with Osaka for inbound travelers, is not only renovating its traditional toilets but also instructing visitors on how to use the squat type by putting stickers with illustration and explanations in several languages including English and Chinese from 2016.

The Kyoto city’s website also offers a “public toilets map” indicating the locations of Japanese-style, Western-style and multipurpose toilets that can be used by the disabled, parents with babies or others.

Although the toilet “Westernisation” movement has been gaining momentum in Japan, many municipalities face financial difficulties in renewing their toilets despite the central government’s subsidies. It costs up to several million yen to renovate an entire toilet building.

News Reporter

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