On a recent trip to Europe, I got trapped in a rather shabby disabled toilet at a major UK airport when the door lock jammed. Nobody came when I pressed the alarm, only my wife hearing my pounding on the door alerted staff. Forty-five minutes later, I was freed, airport maintenance staff having finally broken the lock with a sledge hammer!
I remember asking myself if such a thing could happen here in Japan; to be honest, it is possible, just highly unlikely. Certainly, the equivalent facilities at my final destination, Haneda Airport, can put to shame those at practically every airport I've encountered outside Japan.
Airport Public Conveniences
Japan's high-tech toilet facilities are well known, and those in airport restrooms are exceptionally clean, comfortable and convenient. At Haneda, for example, even the regular toilets have wider doorways for wheelchair users and travellers with suitcases, whilst icons on cubicle doors clearly indicate where baby seat and changing tables are available. In addition, each women’s restroom features a urinal for very small boys!
For wheelchair users, the elderly, parents with babies or toddlers, or anyone with special needs, multi-purpose restrooms equipped with every convenience one could ever need can be found at all major Japanese airports.
But superbly designed multi-purpose conveniences are not only found at airports; they can be found too at major railway and metro stations, many tourist locations, highway rest areas, and in some public buildings and department stores. They can even be found on Shinkansen bullet trains! They provide easy wheelchair access and separate ostomates with self-flushing sinks and flexible warm shower heads, specially designed for people with ostomies or CIC catheters. They also offer fold-up baby changing tables, and handy baby-keepers so mums (or dads) can keep both hands free when attending to their own needs.
In many public conveniences, the ostomate is in a cubicle of its own, leaving the disabled toilet free for wheelchair users only, whilst many regular toilet cubicles for men and women have a baby-keeper.
Highway Rest Stop Multi-purpose Restroom / Attribution: by Kambayashi on Flickr
Shinkansen Restroom. Photo by 掬茶 on Wikimedia Commons
Nursing Mums in Tokyo
I live in Tokyo and visitors here always remark on how generally well-equipped, clean, and free of charge the facilities are. Not so long ago, one had to search around to find Western style conveniences, rather than the traditional squat type, but today most public lavatories feature modern, sensor controlled shower toilets with bidet and drying modes that have made toilet paper almost obsolete!
For anyone out and about in Tokyo's shopping districts, I always recommend they use the department store toilets when they need to spend a penny. For example, Shinjuku's Takashimaya Department store has restrooms on the 13th floor offering both clean and modern multi-purpose facilities, and a breathtaking view of Shinjuku outside! It's free of charge too, and very close to the bus terminal, thus offering a great place to clean up before or after long journeys. Another free location is the Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi department store, with multi-purpose facilities, and private rooms for nursing mothers on every floor. One of the most attractive restroom designs can be found at the Yurakucho Marui department store and, unlike many in the Ginza area, it is free of charge. For nursing mothers, the 5th floor has two fully equipped private nursing rooms, clothes changing facilities and, of course, the now ubiquitous shower toilets. With its sophisticated, tranquil atmosphere, complete with potted plants and specially composed background music, the nursing room is a joy for mums and babies alike.
On the left. Baby-keeper in a Men's Toilet! / Attribution: by Bernie Ferrer on Flickr
What Makes Japan's Public Conveniences so Special?
I don't actually need a disabled toilet, being fully mobile, and all my kids are grown up now, but I do travel frequently and have special needs of a sort. So what impresses me is the attention to detail the Japanese apply to their public conveniences, little things like baby keepers, ostomate cubicles, and emergency buttons that actually summon someone! Everything is designed with comfort and convenience in mind, and one's privacy and freedom from embarrassment ensured.
Travelling to Japan is a major undertaking for most people, even more so if you have small children or special needs; isn't it nice to know that finding modern toilet and nursing facilities is one hurdle you won't have to worry about?