Free toilet paper isn’t worth the potential risks and smells, opponents feel.

The city of Yamato, Kanagawa Prefecture, has a problem. It doesn’t have enough public restrooms.

That’s the conclusion the city government has come to after comparing its roughly 242,000 residents to its mere 46 public restrooms, mostly in train stations and parks. That number of public restrooms has stayed more or less the same for the past 20 years, but while the city thinks it needs more, it’s worried about the price, as it estimates building new public bathrooms would cost, at the very least, several million yen (equivalent to tens of thousands of U.S. dollars).

But then the city planners took a look at another number that gave them hope: 110. That’s the approximate number of convenience stores in Yamato, and so the city government’s new plan is to turn those stores’ toilers into public restrooms.

▼ Under the initiative, convenience stores display a sticker at their entrance marking their restroom facilities as open to the public.

Participation in the program is optional, and Yamato began recruiting interested stores in February. However, while whichever officials are spearheading the plan apparently think it’s a great idea, shop owners aren’t nearly so enthusiastic about it. Currently only seven of the city’s 110 convenience stores have signed on as partners, and with three of them managed by the same person, that makes a maximum of five owners who are willing to serve as public restrooms.

It’s not hard to see why so many are reluctant. For starters, the only compensation participating stores get for their civic contribution is 200 rolls of free toilet paper from the city, broken up into two bundles of 100 rolls each over the course of a year. Any extra cleaning products or time needed to keep the bathroom clean despite increased usage? That’s all on the store and its staff. “We’d have to be cleaning it morning, noon, and night. This would break us,” said one owner refusing to take part.

▼ Public bathroom, but private sector cleaning.

There’s also the unpleasant mental image of having a public restroom directly attached to your store, or, from another perspective, attaching your store to a public restroom. With the high societal value Japan places on cleanliness, shopping for bento boxed lunches, rice balls, bottled tea, and other things to put in your mouth in such close proximity to a come-one-come-all toilet isn’t a particularly pleasant proposition. 200 rolls of free toilet paper isn’t going to be seen by most owners as enough of an economic benefit to shop owners worried about losing customers to one of their dozens of in-city competitors that don’t have a public restroom on their premises.

▼ You can get a 72-roll bundle of toilet paper on Amazon Japan for about 5,500 yen, making the monetary value of the free 200 rolls somewhere in the measly ballpark of 15,000 yen (US$124).

But perhaps the strangest part of the plan is that most convenience stores in Japan already allow visitors to use their restrooms. Technically they’re for customers, and manners sticklers say that you should ask a staff member if it’s OK before you use them, but in general convenience stores are happy to accommodate such requests (stores in bar districts are common exceptions to this, but that’s not much of an issue in Yamato, which isn’t exactly a hard-partying town). Fulfilling the “for-customers” part of the arrangement is pretty easy too. Most stores will consider you a customer as long as you’re legitimately looking at their wares, whether you end up buying something or not. Even if you feel personally compelled to buy something as a show of thanks for being allowed to use the bathroom, every convenience store in Japan has soft drinks, breath mints, candy, and other non-perishables for about 100 yen (US$0.82), and buying one is enough to keep everyone happy.

So in a sense, Yamato’s convenience store restrooms already do function pretty closely to public restrooms, so it’s understandable that they’re not in a rush to lower that societal any further. For its part, the Yamato city government is still hoping to convince 50 stores to take part in the pooping partnership by spring of next year, but given the slow start, they might end up having to flush the plan down the drain.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Yahoo! Japan News via Jin, Yamato City, Amazon Japan
Top image: Pakutaso

Insert images: Yamato City, Pakutaso (1, 2)
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