Shinjuku’s Kabukicho Tower discontinues genderless toilets

One of the most-profile experiments in genderless toilets in Japan has ended quickly rather ignominiously.

When Tokyu Kabukicho Tower, the latest example of the gentrification of Shinjuku’s red-light district, opened in the spring, its decision to have genderless restrooms on the second floor immediately attracted attention — largely in terms of concerns over female safety. The toilets are all in stalls but the hand-washing station was shared by all users.

Soon social media was flooded with footage of men loitering around the entrance and wash basins for seemingly no reason than perhaps to try to pick up women using the restroom. After all, despite the presence of the Godzilla hotel and tourists, this is still Kabukicho, a district infamous for its host clubs, brothels, and for bordering several blocks of love hotels that connect Shinjuku with Okubo.

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Though genderless toilets were not new in Japan, the Kabukicho Tower initiative seemed (in the eyes of some) to signal the arrival of a new “woke agenda” imported from the West, which also included non-gendered school swimwear.

The issue with something like the setup at Kabukicho Tower is less the gender-neutral nature of the toilet stalls (though having men and women using stalls side by side could lead to incidents of secret filming, etc.) but more the shared wash area, since a lot of female users visit the facility to check or touch up makeup and so on (perhaps especially in Japan, where almost all women wear makeup, and even more so in a district like Shinjuku). A shopping complex’s restroom is a vital space where women want to feel safe and enjoy privacy, aware from the gaze of suspicious guys watching them.

Despite the fanfare, or perhaps because of it and the backlash it sparked, Kabukicho Tower’s genderless restroom policy changed. The building tried to respond with increased security guards a mere five days after opening, then with ugly-looking partitions and signs encouraging men to use separate “dedicated” stalls (rather negating the purpose of a nominally gender-neutral setup).

As of August 4, gender-neutral all-stalls restroom has underground renovation and is now fully segregated into separate stalls for men and women (and two accessible toilets for all genders).

From what we understand, the wash area is still shared by all users, which was a major sticking point for people, so the jury’s out on whether Tokyu has solved the problem by backtracking in this way.

While a lot of restaurants in Japan, especially small ones, have pretty much always had unisex restrooms (mainly because they only had one in the building), the Kabukicho Tower experiment seemed far more like a conscious choice to do something new and “with the times” (though the restrooms on the upper floors were still segregated). Tokyu publicized that its approach was influenced by its commitment to implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (about which, seemingly every major corporation and government agency in Japan is obsessed and feels the need to name-check in publicity).

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  • Mike Travels August 8, 2023

    yeah but guys loiter around outside in kabukicho looking for nothing but picking up women, so what’s the difference?

  • Drake August 11, 2023

    Dear Tadashi Anahori:
    Thank you for writing this article.
    Shit the UN always fucking with its ideology. I think it would be convenient if more policemen are protecting the safety of the people in Kabukicho.

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