Tokyo Toilet project location, public toilets using electrically opaque glass.

#9: Urasando

Vernacular Japanese Architecture


Location #09 is at 4-28-1 Sendagaya, Shibuya. It's underneath an elevated highway, a short distance south from Shinjuku Station.

The industrial designer Marc Newsom, who created it, wrote: "Central to my design is the reference to vernacular Japanese architecture, including the copper Minoko roof. Often found in shrines, temples and tearooms and in rural areas, I wanted the roof form to trigger a subconscious feeling of comfort and peacefulness amid its busy, hypermodern location. The patina on the copper pyramidic roof will integrate the structure into the city over time, so it becomes part of the fabric of Tokyo."

Visiting the Toilet

I had seen four project locations in the morning, and then gotten lunch at one of the many small izakayas in Omoide Yokochō, a network of small lanes off the northwest corner of Shinjuku Station. After lunch I walked south along the west side of the station, waiting here to cross some street-level lines on the south end of the station.

Street level crossing of rail lines on the south side of Shinjuku Station.

After a short walk further south, I spotted the Urasando Public Toilet across the street, under and elevated highway.

Urasando Public Toilet, under an elevated highway.

For me, this picture captures multiple features of Japanese culture that make the country so safe and pleasant. We're looking at the markers where the sidewalk crosses the curb into the street. Notice the sidewalk-street boundary, the yellow tile, and the white painted markings.

'Stop here' markers for pedestrians and bicyclists.

First, there is no curb. Differently colored stone marks the boundary, but there is no ankle-high wall along the outer edge of the gutter. You might worry, "But without a curb, someone might drive their car off the street by accident or on purpose." They could, but in Japan they won't. I took these pictures on the last full day of my fourth four-week trip to Japan, all of them mostly off the usual tourist paths. After sixteen weeks in the country, I have no idea what a Japanese tow truck looks like. I don't think that I have ever seen one, certainly not one pulling a damaged car.

Second, the yellow tile. It guides blind people. Different patterns indicate reaching an intersection of multiple paths, crossing from a sidewalk into a street, and so on. In Japan, this is routine in all cities and towns. In the U.S., it would be disparaged as "wasteful", something the impoverished country never could afford.

Third, the markings. The hiragana とまれ phonetically spells out TO-MA-RE, meaning "STOP". At this corner, pedestrians are to wait on the left of the tile stripe and bicyclists on the right. The usual rule is that bicyclists stay between the tile stripe and the street, and pedestrians between the tile stripe and the buildings. In both categories, travel on the left.

Almost everyone follows these rules almost perfectly. Motor vehicles are seldom delayed because of pedestrians crossing at the wrong time. Foot and bicycle and motor traffic all flow smoothly. People work hard to get along with everyone else, which benefits them because now they can easily walk quickly along any sidewalk without being bumped into, tripped, or run down by bicycles.

More on minokō

Here is the public toilet. Notice its copper roof. The designer used the design and material due to their use in shrines, temples, and other traditional structures. The minokō is often called a "drooping verge" in English. It is often used on gables and hip-gabled roofs in Japan, smoothly joining a gable to the overall roof.

Urasando Public Toilet, under an elevated highway.
Floor plan of Urasando Public Toilet.

The universal toilet is straight in from the entrance. The men's and women's toilets at the far end of either corridor, two urinals are part-way to the back.

The toilet is on a short but steep slope. There is a short flight of stairs up from the sidewalk. But, there's a pedestrian lane within the narrow lane leading up from the main street past the toilet. Follow that pedestrian lane up from the street, turn 180° around the end of the railing, and follow a flat path all the way into the toilet.

Entrance of Urasando Public Toilet.

The interior is entirely finished in a light monochromatic green, one of the designer's favorite colors. It gives the space a clean, almost medical or scientific atmosphere.

Main entrance of Urasando Public Toilet.
Urinals in the Urasando Public Toilet.

Moving on to the Next Location

I walked a short distance north to Yoyogi Station and boarded the JR Yamanote Line south to Shibuya. I didn't visit all the locations in numerical order. But keep following the links on these pages and you will see them all.

Platform at Yoyogi Station.

Next❯ #10: Jingūmae

Tokyo Toilet — Overview and Introduction
#1: Sasazuka Greenway #2: Hatagaya #3: Nanagō Dōri Park #4: Nishihara 1-chōme Park #5: Nishisandō #6: Yoyogi Hachiman #7: Haru No Ogawa Community Park #8: Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park #9: Urasando #10: Jingūmae #11: Jingū Dōri Park #12: Nabeshima Shōtō Park #13: Higashi Sanchome Park #14: Ebisu Park #15: Ebisu Station #16: Ebisu East Park #17: Hiroo East Park

Other Toilets in Japan: