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“Excellent Days”: A Paean to Tokyo’s Bogs That Casts Japanese Architects in a Main Position

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American cities have an issue. Multiple, positive, however this explicit downside impacts practically each one who tries to discover New York, Philadelphia or Chicago on foot. I converse, in fact, of our nice nation’s lack of public restrooms. 

In a 2023 article in Jacobin, Adam Bailey supplied some numbers on this challenge. Talking of New York, he wrote that “In a metropolis of 8.3 million residents and over 56 million annual guests, the town’s present inventory of 1,103 public bogs is paltry.” Residents in want of reduction are sometimes compelled to enter a retailer or espresso store and purchase one thing so as to use the services. This sends a really American message that public house isn’t actually public in any respect. It’s house for commerce — and people who find themselves not shopping for or promoting one thing usually are not actually welcome. 

Yoyogi-Fukamachi by Shigeru Ban | Picture by Satoshi Nagare, supplied by The Nippon Basis

In Tokyo, issues usually are not the identical. The general public restroom services there usually are not solely considerable, they’re well-maintained. (In New York, I usually suppose twice about utilizing public services on account of issues over cleanliness and air flow). 

Tokyo’s dedication to public restrooms is exemplified within the The Nippon Basis’s THE TOKYO TOILET, developed in partnership with the bathroom producer TOTO. Since 2020, THE TOKYO TOILET has erected 17 public restrooms all through the dense and busy district of Shibuya, every designed by a well-known architect, in a step in the direction of realizing a society that embraces variety. The challenge is known as a who’s who of groundbreaking Japanese architects, together with Tadao Ando, Shigeru Ban, Kengo Kuma, Sou Fujimoto, and Toyo Ito, amongst different celebrated designers. 

Nishisando by Sou Fujimoto | Picture by Satoshi Nagare, supplied by The Nippon Basis

Every architect has taken a singular strategy to the query of public restrooms, contributing services that aren’t solely purposeful, however add to the character of the town. Certainly, as somebody who admires public house and public structure, the challenge is nothing in need of inspiring. It displays a really democratic ethos, as Tokyo strives to materially enhance the on a regular basis expertise of city dwellers — even when they don’t seem to be spending any cash. 

THE TOKYO TOILET Undertaking has captured the world’s consideration this 12 months, as these services are featured prominently in Wim Wenders’s latest film, Excellent Days, which has been racking up awards and nominations around the globe. 

Yoyogi Hachiman by Toyo Ito | Picture by Satoshi Nagare, supplied by The Nippon Basis

Wenders’s movie is certainly lovely, an ideal synthesis of kind and content material. Kōji Yakusho stars as a cleaner for THE TOKYO TOILET named Hirayama, a person in his sixties who brings care, consideration and dignity to his work. Hirayama lives alone and leads a humble, quiet existence, spending his free time biking, visiting bookstores, and listening to cassettes in his van. The construction of the film is episodic, following Hirayama’s each day routine over a number of days from morning to nighttime.

Hirayama carries himself with a quiet magnificence. His job could also be humble, however his interior life is advanced.  He enjoys pictures, utilizing an previous Holga digicam to doc the canopies of timber in native parks, paying cautious consideration to altering mild and wind circumstances. His music style is impeccable. Like a personality in a Haruki Murakami novel, Hirayama prefers American music from the Sixties and 70s. At one level, he introduces a younger lady to the tune “Redondo Seaside” by Patti Smith. She is smitten with the tune, as if it opened a brand new horizon of artwork and tradition for her. That is simply one of many significant interactions Hirayama has with folks whose paths cross along with his. Whereas he doesn’t appear to have shut relationships with pals or household, his life isn’t completely bereft of human contact. 

Nabeshima Shoto by Kengo Kuma | Picture by Satoshi Nagare, supplied by The Nippon Basis

One other tune that’s featured prominently is Lou Reed’s “Excellent Day,” from which I assume the movie derives its title. This choice is price attending to, because the tune is considerably mischievous and famously misunderstood. Like Inexperienced Day’s “Good Riddance,” an unintentionally ironic staple at proms and graduations in every single place, “Excellent Day” is a bitter tune that masquerades as a sentimental one.

On the floor, Reed’s “Excellent Day” looks like an ode to easy pleasures: “Only a good day / Feed animals within the zoo / After which possibly, a film too / After which dwelling.”  Pay attention extra intently, although, and a melancholy, even threatening undercurrent emerges. The chorus goes like this: “It’s such an ideal day / I’m glad I spent it with you / Oh such an ideal day / You simply preserve me hanging on / You simply preserve me hanging on.” Many have speculated that the “you” right here refers to heroin, which Reed was hooked on on the time. The outro is solely chilling, as Reed croons “You’re going to reap simply what you sow” 4 occasions over hovering strings and a twinkling piano. 

As with the tune “Excellent Day,” the movie Excellent Days ends fairly in a different way than it begins. Within the remaining scene, Hirayama drives to work in his van whereas listening to music, on this case Nina Simone’s tune “Feeling Good.” The digicam focuses on Hirayama’s face, bathed within the delicate orange mild of dawn, as a glimmer of a smile provides option to tears. Cue credit. 

Jingu-Dori by Tadao Ando | Picture by Satoshi Nagare, supplied by The Nippon Basis

The previous scene, which takes place the night earlier than, is the place the cracks within the façade start to indicate. Up till this level, there are solely slight glimpses that Hirayama’s days aren’t “good.” Certainly, for many of the film, he actually does appear to be content material along with his easy lifetime of cleansing, photographing, biking and listening to music. When his teenage niece runs away from her rich household, she spends a day with Hirayama and is ready to discover peace in his routine and his outlook on life. To her, Hirayama looks like somebody who has discovered knowledge, who has found learn how to stay. Now, although, after she has left, issues appear totally different. I can’t spoil it, however I’ll say that he buys a pack of canned cocktails at a comfort retailer and downs them subsequent to the river so as to suppress his feelings. 

So Hirayama’s life isn’t good. Whose life is? The previous cocktail by the river trick is one thing I’ve tried, and I’m positive you will have too. The true query is whether or not Hirayama’s life is the perfect he might handle on this imperfect world, full of stress, disappointment and loss.

Ebisu by Masamichi Katayama Picture by Satoshi Nagare, supplied by The Nippon Basis

Hirayama’s sister doesn’t suppose so. When she visits his residence to select up her daughter, she asks incredulously if he was “actually cleansing bathrooms,” implying that this job is menial. However why ought to we settle for this characterization? As THE TOKYO TOILET exhibits, public bathrooms are an necessary a part of civic infrastructure. They’re one thing that individuals use daily, and by making them lovely, the challenge brings nice structure right down to a human stage. These buildings influence extra folks, extra usually, than museums, live performance halls, and the opposite sorts of “status” buildings which can be normally designed by well-known architects. Hirayama, by taking his function as a cleaner significantly, displays the values of THE TOKYO TOILET, doing his half to enhance the town each single day. That is greater than may be mentioned for many individuals with excessive paying, prestigious jobs. 

No matter else one may say about him, Hirayama is deeply moral, and the way in which he lives his life challenges the capitalist worldview that disparages sure types of needed labor like cleansing and care work. He’s a humble man, and as I mentioned, he won’t be blissful. However there’s something radical about him. 

This brings me again to structure. Like each day routines, buildings are the frames during which we stay. What occurs contained in the body, nevertheless, is topic to elements outdoors our management. No one has actually found out learn how to stay. Nonetheless, the hassle to construct the lives we wish, and the cities we wish, is one thing that should be undertaken with care and sensitivity. That is what Hirayama does, and it is usually exemplified in THE TOKYO TOILET’s dedication to creating life just a little bit simpler and extra lovely for the thousands and thousands individuals who navigate the town daily. Whereas “good days” could also be an phantasm, higher days are potential.

Architizer’s new image-heavy each day e-newsletter, The Plug, is straightforward on the eyes, giving readers a fast jolt of inspiration to supercharge their days. Plug in to the newest design discussions by subscribing. 


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