Toilet Exhibition at Miraikan

Yesterday Kazumi and I went to an exhibition at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) here in Tokyo. An exhibition on toilets and poo!

This is just my impression, but I think Japanese people are a lot less embarrassed about their bodies than the average American. Families bathe together, getting naked in a hot spring with strangers is a common pastime, and poop is cute and funny. My mom has been a technician in a clinical laboratory since before I was born, so I credit her with making me less squeamish about these things than most people.

The exhibition was sponsored by the LIXIL company in part to promote their toilets. Other than these two signs and a display at the end, there really wasn’t any self-promotion involved, though.

Japanese toilets are definitely high tech compared to what you’d sit on in the States. Automatic seat-warmers and spray nozzles are common in public bathrooms, and I’m told that a majority of Japanese have them in their homes as well. We just have a normal toilet in our apartment, though, so we have to sing our own songs while we poop, like peasants.

The exhibit used the word “feces” in the English translations. The Japanese writing mostly said うんち (unchi), which is more like “poo-poo”.


They had poo samples from a bunch of different animals. The elephant poo was about as big as my head!

A diorama showing the Bristol Stool Scale.

They had little blobs of clay, and encouraged everyone to make the shape of the poo they had that day. The tray is in the shape of a Japanese-style squatting toilet.

A game that’s connected to a urinal. Hit the target and try to fill up coffee cans with your pee! Japanese people drink tons of coffee, actually, but a lot of it is in little cans that are sold in vending machines. Can coffee + samurai yell + pee joke = flawlessly executed oyaji (middle-aged man) humor.

Then they had a place where kids could draw a picture of their ideal toilet. I decided that the Tokyo Miraikan needed a little dose of ‘Muricka in their toilet exhibit. The first three characters are トイレ (toire), the Japanese word for toilet.

Here are two different toilets from the Edo period, back when Western contact was limited. The one on the right wouldn’t be too out of place today, except of course for the lack of a flush handle and running water.

This is a scale model of the toilet that the Shogun would use. The poo and pee collects in the tray at the bottom, which they would then use for “high quality fertilizer”. I guess if it came out of the Shogun, it had to be high quality by default!

Ah yes, and now we prepare for our journey INTO THE TOILET! We got little felt poo hats.

Then we strapped on our hats and went down a slide, into a giant toilet.ittoireWeeeeee!

Afterword, we learned about how waste water is processed, and how human waste is used to make fertilizer.

Space toilet! It must be weird to do a two in zero G.

Various devices for people with incontinence. This is about where I started to think about what a serious and important issue using a toilet can be. The amount of stigma and embarrassment we Westerners have around these things must make life much harder for people with bladder or bowel control issues.

A cute children’s book about poop. You know that the famous children’s book, Everybody Poops, was written by a Japanese man, right? I think it’s good that kids can talk about these kinds of things in Japan and don’t have to be embarrassed. Poop is important!

On a more serious note, what do people do where there are no toilets, or the communal toilets near them aren’t safe? These PeePoo bags are one simple solution.

I didn’t even think about it at the time, but toilets were a big issue after the 2011 East Japan Earthquake. Imagine living in a country where toilets sing and spray your butthole for you, and then suddenly having no access to running water–half of the affected people were without toilets for more than a week!

I really do respect the way the Japanese deal with disaster and constantly plan for it. I wonder what kind of preparations Americans are making for the next big hurricane?

Of course, that’s not all they had at the Miraikan. There were lots of robots, too!

A robot newscaster.

Creepy robots act out your conversation.

All in all it was a really fun outing, and I wish we had gotten there earlier so we could see more stuff. It’s a little out of the way, but if you’re visiting Tokyo, Miraikan is a pretty sweet choice for a day’s excursion.



English teacher, student of Japanese, and aspiring linguist.

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Posted in Not even the vaguest connection to linguistics

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