New complex in Tokyo refashions its restrooms following public backlash.

On 14 April, a new landmark called Tokyu Kabukicho Tower opened in Kabukicho in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. The 53-floor entertainment and hotel complex is home to restaurants, bars, game centres, cinemas and even a club and live entertainment venue, but ever since it opened there’s been one thing making headlines more than anything else — the building’s gender-neutral toilets.

Like many parts of the world, the topic of gender-neutral toilets has become a subject of debate in Japan, with people wondering where the balance should lie between respecting the rights of transgender people and protecting women’s spaces. In Japan, however, where panty theft, upskirt photography and covert recording in female toilets is all too common, the debate over these types of restrooms is particularly divisive, so although the tower has gender-segregated restrooms on three of its four basement levels, it didn’t take long for members of the public to voice concerns for the safety of women in the gender-neutral restroom.

▼ The tower’s gender-neutral restroom — the largest restroom in the facility — is on the second floor, where many of the izakaya-style tavern-like restaurants are located.

While many have praised the tower for its forward-thinking and inclusive approach to its new bathroom facilities, some people have commented that the public backlash could’ve been avoided if they’d set up three types of separate toilets instead — female, male and gender-neutral, or “genderless” as the term is known in Japan.

When the tower opened, however, the gender-neutral bathroom (pictured below) contained only two types of toilets — “men’s urinals” and “others” (a.k.a “cubicles”), which caused ripples with members of the public.

After being inundated with complaints from the public, the tower made the surprising decision to backtrack on its original design.

For the past month, the usage information panel at the entrance to the gender-neutral restroom has a sign pasted on it that reads: “under adjustment”. 

“Under adjustment” indicates that the toilets are being redesigned, with a temporary fix in place for the moment. And what is the temporary fix?

▼ Partitions.

The existing facility now has a series of partitions segregating the toilets between male and female. This means the men’s urinals remain in operation as they were previously, but now the cubicles have been separated into two types: “female-dedicated” toilets, and “men’s dedicated/all-gender“.

The name “genderless restroom” is still being used, but the new setup means it’s essentially a gender-segregated facility. Aside from the problem of calling the restroom something it technically isn’t, the partitions make the state-of-the-art facility look undeniably cheap.

While the concept of gender-neutral facilities is an admirable one that fits in with desires for a more inclusive and understanding society, it looks like more thought needs to be given to how they’re implemented in Japan to avoid them being eliminated in the face of public controversy.

Here’s hoping Tokyu Kabukicho Tower is able to come to some sort of permanent arrangement that caters to all its customers without causing distress, because, as we’ve seen with other developments in this field, gender-neutral options aren’t always controversial.

Related: Tokyu Kabukicho Tower
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