The 17th seminar “Considering Convenience Store Toilets” – The Role of Convenience Stores as New Public Toilet Place Japan Toilet Association (JTA) Seminar Series; “Let us Know More about our Toilet Story”

Date: 15 September 2022 (Thu) 18:00-20:00 JST

Associate Professor & Dr. Yoshinori Komatsu, Nagare College, Nagoya Institute of Technology Faculty of Engineering, Department of Social Engineering, in the field of architectural design, Japan Toilet Association Steering Committee member.
The specializing field is architectural environmental engineering and toilets as a part of the building equipment.

Yoshihiko Kawauchi, Ph.D., Japan Toilet Association steering committee member, Former professor of Toyo University.

1. The reason why I focused on the convenience store toilets
A female student said she was interested in the toilets, when I was asking students about their research thesis topics at a seminar in my laboratory in 2005. Then I asked what kind of toilets they use outside of their houses, and they answered that they try to find and use a convenience store toilet, because the toilets in the train stations and department stores are closed at night, and the toilets in parks exist safety problems. Then we started the research about it. We realized the needs of the society are shifting little by little during the research, such as the staying up late habit in the urban life and the increase in mobility by a car. There is a problem of the shortage of public toilets, especially in urban areas where were few opportunities for new public toilets to be built. There are issues to build a new public toilet due to budget constraints and the difficulty to secure a place in the city centre.
Nowadays the convenience store toilets will take over the role of conventional public toilets. We call them “New Public Toilets” arbitrarily. The convenience stores are open for long hours and can use even at night. They are positively opening stores in the places where they will expect to attract customers. They are installed at a high density such as one in a 500m radius within walking distance in the city centre. A large toilet signage is posted outside the store to inform the usable toilet facility equipped.
Many convenience stores signed agreements with the local governments around 2005, when our research began, to provide drinking water and toilets along with the post offices and gas stations at the time of a disaster. However, there occurred many issues such as the difficulties to install toilets that match the situation. There is only one toilet bowl for both men and women use. There is also a big issue that who should cover the installation and maintenance fee since it is a private facility. Furthermore, hidden problems such as the power failure, water outage, and sewage system failures in the time of a disaster. I keep considering how to get the public subsidy or overcome against such imaginable problems.

2. The obtained results from research on the current situation of the convenience store toilets
17 students wrote their undergraduate thesis and 6 did their master’s ones on the convenience store toilets over 12 years since 2005.

2-1: The appearance of New Public Toilets
The first one was a graduation thesis in 2005, titled “Emergence of New Public Toilets: Opening Toilets at the Convenience Stores.” We created and compared a distribution map of public toilets in the parks and the convenience stores in Nagoya City. There are few parks but many convenience stores in central Nagoya area. It turns out that they complement each other such as people use either the public toilet or the convenience store one. We observed how many people use it on each day of the week during about a week time.
It turned out that there were about 100 to 150 users per a day at one convenience store. 80% were men and 20% were women users of the convenience store toilet. According to other information, the ratio of men to women who use public toilets in parks is 80% vs. 20% respectively and that of the public toilets in train stations is 70% vs. 30%. The ratio in the department stores is 30% vs.70% oppositely. It can be concluded that even though the convenience store toilets must be grouped in the commercial facility like a department store, however they are used like the public toilets in parks or train stations referring to this convenience store ratio of 80% vs. 20%. Furthermore, we observed the usage of excrement or urine based on time spent using the toilet, and it was found that about 80% was used for the urine and 20% for the excrement. It seems that the convenience store toilets are similar ratio with the conventional public toilets in terms of how they were used, since the ratio of toilets in parks and train stations was also 80% vs. 20% respectively in the other reference.

2-2: A full survey in 2007 and 2013
After that, a full survey was conducted at each store whether the toilets were installed and whether they were open to use. 776 stores (79%) were available the toilets out of 977 stores in Nagoya City at 2007 survey. 739 stores (76%) open 24 hours a day. Following to this we surveyed again in 2013, and the toilets available stores increased 957 stores (87%) out of the 1,099. 944 stores (86%) among them open 24 hours a day.
There are 16 wards in Nagoya City, and the availability of toilets differs for each ward. There were few stores with toilets in Naka ward of a busy downtown area, and Higashi ward of a slightly upgrade residential area close to the centre. It is presumed that there are crimes of the shoplifting or the worse usage manners in the downtown area.
44.5% stores often installed one bench-style toilet cubicle in the 2007 survey. Two bench-style toilet cubicles gradually increased after their renovations, new construction, or rebuilding in the 2013 survey. The crouching-style toilets were taken over by new bench-style cubicle toilets. It was found that the number of bench-style cubicle toilets was rapidly increasing.
There are two store styles of the stand-alone stores or tenant stores in the buildings. In the case of tenants who enter a part of the building, most of them have one bench-style toilet cubicle, because of the restrictions on the space. On the contrary, there are two bench-style toilet cubicles or additional a urinal in the stand-alone stores. It was also found that the number of specialized toilets for women was increasing and they were more than 80% of the stores. The toilet vestibules for washing their hands and grooming themselves are issues of the space factor and cost, nonetheless it was also learned that they were increasing.

2-3: The tendency of toilets usage
Next, we investigated the usage status. One store located in a residential area and the other one along the main road were examined by attaching sensors to the doors during five months in 2008. About 150 people used the toilet of the store each day with the male to female ratio of 70% vs.30% and 80% vs. 20% on average respectably. The toilet cubicle using time is shorter by the male users, and many of their occupancy time was less than 2 minutes in both males and females. The ratio of the excrement 20% vs. the urinate 80% was similar results of the first study and confirmed in this survey. We also found a trend that the number of users suddenly increases when it gets colder at the beginning of autumn season. The usage by day of the week varied sharply depending on the location. There were fewer users in weekends in the business districts, while there were more users in the downtown districts in these days. The toilet usage differs by day of the week when comparing areas along the main road and residential area. There are a few people who use it even at night taking the advantage of 24 hours open store system. However, these are quite few users.

2-4: User attributes
A visual survey was conducted on the user attributes at one store for one week time. Men of 9.2% were more likely to use the toilet. On the other hand, women of only 5.8% used it. There were little case of the customers of the elderly women and the usage rate of toilets was naturally also small. The convenience stores have been taking measures to increase the number of elderly and female customers over the past years. It must be one of the nice ideas that toilets will be renovated for particularly such new target customers.
The usage rate of the toilet varies depending on the methods to the store. People who come by a motorcycle or a car are more likely to use the toilet than those who come by a bicycle or on foot. The motorcycle or car users are relatively distant customers, and presumably they will use the toilet because they have been away. I think this is a proposal to increase the number of toilets in stores with many parking lots.

2-5: Usage by women
The toilet cubicle occupancy time by the women is approximately 90 seconds. The use time of the powder corner is not so long. It seems that the convenience store toilets or the powder corners were not so attractive by the women users yet. A store which was just whole renovated with the toilet from one bench-style unisex toilet into two, one cubicle is for both men and women use and the other one for women only. 125 people used the toilet per a day in 2009 before the renovation however the male-to-female ratio was unknown. The number increased to 146 where 110 were all-gender and 36 were women just after the renovation in 2010.
The investigation was conducted on the reasons of the choosing public toilets in 2014 and 2015. We inquired 120 students from the freshmen to the graduate students. They were almost the same numbers of males and females. The inquiry was “What kind of toilet they wanted to use or didn’t use when going out?” The general answers were its clarity, ease of use, and convenience.
The convenience store toilets are often used by the young people. On the other hand, the reasons for not using them are that they are dirty, feel uncomfortable when they do not purchase anything, dislike to get permit to the staff, used it by both men and women, and they are concerned about how the other customers and staff will look at.
The participants were asked with a prototype model where to place a toilet in a preferred location in the store when using it. The test results with 20 men and 20 women were that men felt awkwardness among customers and store staffs particularly when they do not buy anything. The women felt awkwardness of the other customers’ gaze.
Men users felt uncomfortable when the toilet was placed where they could be directly seen by the store staff by means of the results of the placement experiment of the model. Women also felt same the placing the toilet close to the store staff. Both feel secured at the place far away from the store staff presence. When asked about the layout of the toilets for both men and women, they replied about the layout that the rearmost cubicle for women, the frontmost cubicle for men, and the all-gender cubicle in the middle will be the most preferable layout. Women feel secure that men do not pass in front of them. Men feel awkward and uneasy about being suspicious if they pass in front of women. It was found the most preferable conclusion of the cubicle layout that they are behind the commodity shelf and blindfolded from the cashier, and the layout orders are the front corridor space as a vestibule, men-only, mixed-use, and women-only cubicles.

2-6: Accessibility counterplan
We measured the dimension size of 109 stores with a wheelchair signage out of 1,122 stores in Nagoya City. 30% of store doors were automatic sliding doors and 70% were manual swing doors. In addition, 85% of the doors of the front toilet chamber and the cubicles were outward swinging doors. It seems to be difficult for the wheelchair users to enter the store and use the cubicle, even those stores post a wheelchair signage. 26% of the aisles are narrower than 80 cm, and 71% of the front door widths are less than 80 cm. Furthermore, 23% of the aisles of the approach part are narrower than 80 cm. The cubicle doors were also less than 80 cm in 7 out of 109 stores.
Two stores have cleared the design standards for the dimension size of toilets for the wheelchair users, and 39 stores have cleared the slightly narrow simple standards. It can be inferred that due to space issues, it is difficult to create a large wheelchair accessible toilet.
The height of the wheelchair accessible toilet seats in public toilets is normally about 5 cm higher than that of common toilets in order to make it easier for the wheelchair users. Only one store was the height of 41.5 cm, but the others were a standard height of about 37 cm. This may be difficult to use along with its narrowness for them.

3. The next step
3-1: The superior feature and effect of attracting customers by means of the toilet comfort
The superior feature against other stores is possible by making the toilet comfortable to attract customers. This must be different situation from the case of the department store or the service area. We suggest all store owners will consider about only the comfort of convenience store toilets could attract customers.

3-2: Easy maintenance and the washing water reduction
It is also necessary to consider measures that are easy to maintain and the utility costs reduction of washing water. The flat roofs of the stand-alone stores can collect rainwater and install solar panels. However, the roof of one-story house tends to be shaded in the city centre, and making solar power generation may be difficult. It is also difficult to collect rain water from the roofs of limited area as well as the parking ground.

3-3: Installation of the wheelchair accessible toilets to support diverse users
Now it is necessary to consider about the ease of use for people who have some kinds of barrier. One idea would be to install slightly big wheelchair accessible toilet separately.

3-4: Support people at a disaster
There is an agreement with local governments to support and help people at returning home in the event of a disaster, but still there remains the concerns about whether it will really work at a disaster.

3-5: The governmental support for a convenience store toilet as the public toilets
A little subsidy from the local government would be better to keep it as the clean public toilets continuously. One convenience store chain renovated to install a urinal to reduce the water consumption. Simply installing men’s urinals can reduce water consumption from 14% to 17% depends on their situation. There must be many advantages in terms of the maintenance and usage time. It would be quite helpful for the people who always worry about the toilets and cannot help confining their activities, when the convenience stores install the wheelchair accessible toilets. The other merits are that many customers gather there with the parking lot and in downtown area.
Many toilet doors open outward in the survey, but sliding doors or automatic doors must be easier to use if the budget allows. It is also good for the children to handle. The users of the convenience stores tend to be biased by their attributes and it would be desirable when they were designed with more consideration rather than just functionality, and that they would be a space for many people to feel comfortable. There is concern about whether the convenience store toilets can be functional at a disaster. It is necessary to seriously consider the infrastructure at the disaster to support for returning home people and the victims.
Finally, what kind of subsidies are necessary to position the convenience store toilets as the public toilets? Kobe City subsidized the cost of toilet paper and cleaning for toilets in private facilities in the area, since there are no toilets in Kobe Ijinkan (foreigners) district where is a famous tourist place. This trend spread to the Kanto region, and the same kind of subsidies are existing in various places in Japan.
Chiyoda Ward in Tokyo created a system called “Chiyoda Anshin (Safety & Relieved) Toilet.” The ward paid 30,000 yen to the cooperating business operator as part of the maintenance cost. However, it was a subsidy limited to the Olympics 2020 period and unfortunately it is terminated now. Some local government put up only a sticker saying “Public Toilet Cooperation Store”, instead of financial subsidies, but the unknown remains that the convenience store toilet continue to survive as a public toilet? I doubt the operators are willing to offer it.
We interviewed 30 store owners about the user’s manners. Two-thirds answered “worse” or “generally worse” when asked. The head office of the stores orders to make use the toilets, however 40% of the respondents were “Wish to quit” or “Unpreferable to make it use.” The truth is that from one-third to nearly half of the stores feel burdened by the installation of toilets and bothered by the bad manners of the users. Some local governments are suggesting to regard the convenience store toilets as the public toilets, but there is neglecting a serious burden on the stores. There exist problems of the installation space, hard work of cleaning and washing water consumption, theft of the toilet paper, risk of the shoplifting, and so on. Furthermore, many stores stopped offering them as a countermeasure against the infectious diseases (COVID-19) in recent years.
I think now is the time to consider about new convenience store toilets that will lead to further improvements in ability to attract customers and convenience in order to solve these problems. Some ways of the reduction in the burden of maintenance costs will be essential. It is necessary to improve the manners of users even though it is a public toilet, and they must be fully conscious of the fact that they are using private facilities free of charge. The convenience store toilets can continue to provide comfort to users as a new public toilet after these issues are solved.

[Q1: HO] Is there any difference in terms of the profits whether equipped toilets or not in Japanese convenience stores?’
[A1: Komatsu] This data is rarely made in public. I think that the owners of convenience stores and the headquarters must be doing a lot of survey, but we haven’t been able to deal with it as an academic subject.
[Q2: Kawauchi] It was said that there exist many convenience stores that didn’t want to rent toilets in the store, but about 60% of the stores said they could or wished. Why are there more requests to rent it even though people may not use it cleanly?
[A2: Komatsu] Nearly all stores with large parking lots along highways in the suburbs display the large toilet signs outside. This is related to the fact that the number of people who come by a motorbike or a car used the toilet twice as much as those who come on foot or by bicycle. I think that the owner is aware that the toilet is the motivation to come to the store and boosts to purchase.
[C3: TO] There were many requests for the emergency generators and temporary toilets at the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake in Kobe and surrounds in the South-Western Japan. Since then, some convenience stores have signed disaster agreements with the local governments to ensure that the electric generators and toilets can be supplied quickly. A generator to be used longer hours must be prepared since the emergency power supply can use only limited hours. The frozen foods cannot be sold when the refrigerator becomes unusable. Moreover, the convenience stores by themselves need their disaster preparedness.
[Q4: KA] Is it the reason why the elderly women rarely use the toilets in the convenience store, since they are reluctant to go to the store for the rapid turnover of the merchandises?”
[A4: Komatsu] One of the reasons is that the number of the elderly women customers is small. The convenience stores are also trying to increase the number of them and female customers by changing the content of their products, and now these customers are gradually increasing eventually. It turned out that the number of these customers was small, and then the usage rate of the toilet was also small. We suppose they do not have a sense of coming to the store to use the toilet or feeling awkwardness.
[C4: Kawauchi] In the previous discussion, women were generally reluctant to use the toilets at the convenience stores, but women in their 20s were as less reluctant as men were. The elderly ladies may feel of hesitation to use.
[Q5: SI] If the local government regards the convenience store toilets as a group of the public toilets, should it cover the cleaning costs along with the toilet paper and water charges? I heard that many people disliked working at convenience stores because they hated cleaning toilets. I think it will be right way that the professional cleaners remove dirt that the ordinary people mind.
[A5: Komatsu] The idea that local governments will cover the public use of the private facilities has been long before, as it was more than decades ago that Kobe city began subsidizing the public toilet system. I’ve heard that part-time store staffs don’t like to clean the toilets, so I suppose that cleaning the toilets is one of the reasons why part-time jobs cannot last long working in such stores.
[C5: Kawauchi] If the convenience stores provide their toilets as the public toilets, a system should establish where the special dedicated cleaners are dispatched by the government. I suppose the convenience store toilets are much cheaper than building a new public toilet in the city centre.
[Q6: TA] I used to work a part-time at a convenience store, but I also hated cleaning toilets. In my age, the convenience store toilets were not common yet, so the toilet was in the back yard in the warehouse and sometimes merchandises were stolen.
[C6: Kawauchi] It seems she has nothing but worse memories of the toilets. It is true that young people who work as a part-time hate to clean toilets. In that respect, as SI mentioned before, if a convenience store toilet is open to the public as a public toilet, it will be difficult for the store to keep staff without the professional cleaning supports.
[A6: Komatsu] Various solutions can be considered, such as hiring a staff specializing in the toilets patrol. The all jobs of the cashing register, setting the products, and cleaning the toilet are quite a lot of works. Both the part-time workers and the owner must feel a considerable burden.
[Q7: Kawauchi] The space would be taken up by the toilets and the sales area would be reduced when a convenience store may build toilets for men, women, and all-gender ones. Are there any refusal matters by the convenience store against to do so?
[A7: Komatsu] It may not be such a burden on a large site considering the space which is the same size of one car parking lot. There is also an idea to put a toilet outside the store just like the old-style drive-in.
[Q8: ITA] The glass toilet in Shibuya ward becomes transparent when is not in use and the visible inside. Then someone can be hard to make it use dirty. One idea is to build a toilet that is hard to get dirty by means of the architecture and to maintain the morals of users.
[A8: Komatsu] I often hear that even a convenience store wants to install a toilet outside, but it worries the maintenance issues. I think that it should be considered as the common problems of the outdoor toilets, including temporary toilets at the construction sites and disasters.
[Q9: Kawauchi] There must remain problems if the convenience stores must be responsible to the everything. It will be necessary to sprit the positions that the convenience stores only rent the space, and the local government will do the maintenance and management.
[A9: Komatsu] The convenience store prepares a space for the toilet, and the local government will install the toilet unit there. I think it’s the simplest and best solution to rent a place of only one or two cars space by the local government.
[Q10: IT & MU] I heard that male part-time staffs dislike to throw away women’s sanitary napkins. How about charging for the toilet use fee at the convenience stores?
[A10: Komatsu] We will pay 10 yen when using a photocopier. I think it would be the same of the charge 10 yen for the facility use. It’s especially easy with the electronic money. It must be nice idea to promote charging. However, I am not sure it really solves all the problems.
[C11: Kawauchi] The toilet in front of the Akihabara station in Tokyo is charging, but it is not enough to cover the total cost of the maintenance. On the other hand, it seems that the number of female users will decrease sharply after charged.
[C12: KO] The public toilet at Chiyoda ward in Tokyo costs 100,000 yen a month for the maintenance. There are staffs at Akihabara public toilet. They also serve as the town guides, and it costs totally about 1,500,000 yen a month. Akihabara toilet charges 100 yen per use, and the income revenue is only about 750,000 yen. Chiyoda ward makes up for the shortfall.
[C13: Kawauchi] One decision point is whether to charge or free. The other point is how much fix the price when charged. It seems to be meaningless if it is not enough to cover the cost of maintenance.
[Q14: KA] I’ve heard sometimes the owner compensates for the clogged toilet pipes depending on the contrary with the headquarter. What do the convenience store owners think about the toilet maintenance costs?
[A14: Komatsu] We have not heard about the matter at the interview. I once thought the amount of water and paper used ware the main issues, but after involved in the Japan Toilet Association, I became to realize that the maintenance is much more serious issue.
[C15: KA] I had previously proposed a toilet bowl with a cleaning port to the headquarters of a convenience store. However, even if it does get clogged, the store staffs probably hate to put the hand through the cleaning port to remove the foreign object. They may resign eventually. The headquarters also requested for the toilets that don’t get clogged easily. The shops often experienced the clogged toilet problems want to switch back to the conventional toilets that can flush about 10 liters rather than the water-saving models.
[C16: Kawauchi] The conserving water is important for the cost reduction, but it is convincing as KA pointed out there is a contradict requirement.
[C17: SU] I think it would be nice if we could choose between paid and free toilets. Many people will use it even 200 yen.
[C18: AZ] This is also the matter of the payment, but if the local government wants to use convenience store toilets as a public toilet, I think the local government should first consider whether to charge a fee. I cannot tell the specific amount, whether either 100 yen or 200 yen, but considering that we’re going to try various options during the transitional period. I think there is also a way to improve the quality of the toilet itself and charge a fee.
[C19: HO] There is information that the charged toilets in Europe range from 50 cents to 2 Euros, and particularly expensive in Northern Europe. There is a common sense that the public toilets in Europe are naturally obliged to pay for. I feel like they are using it in the same way as a bicycle parking fee.
[C20: Kawauchi] The current situation is there are many charged toilets created in Japan, however any places are still not successful.
[C21: UE] A standing position at urination by a man user at the benched toilet bowl is a major cause of soiling. Men users themselves must be careful for it.
[Q22: Kawauchi] It was told that there were quite a few places with urinals in the previous report, but is it really increasing?
[A22: Komatsu] At one convenience store chain, all newly opened stores installed the urinals for men. This must be the order of the convenience stores headquarter through fully studying of the merits of men’s urinals, such as cleaning, the amount of water used, and the hours of use. It’s been 10 years passed since we surveyed in 2007 and 2013. I would like to know how the convenience store toilets have changed during those 10 years. If my seminar students request, I want to continue to research this topic again.