The Japan Tourism Agency intends to establish a subsidy system that encourages municipalities to update public washrooms with Western-style toilets in tourist areas, to address the recent influx of foreign tourists, sources said.
The old Japanese-style squat toilets that many foreigners find difficult to use are still commonly found around Japan. The agency is planning to conduct a fact-finding survey soon and the subsidies could be introduced as early as next fiscal year.
More than 24.03 million tourists visited Japan in 2016, a record high for the fourth year in a row. The government hopes to increase this figure to 40 million by 2020 when Tokyo will host the Olympics and Paralympics.
However, the provision of public toilets has become cause for concern.
There have been reports of confused foreign tourists leaving squat toilets in an unhygienic state, and municipalities have received complaints due to the lack of public washrooms. Many municipalities have approached the agency for advice, according to the sources.
The tourism agency has decided to establish the subsidy to cover renovations that municipalities make to public washrooms and is planning to conduct a survey involving all municipalities nationwide to investigate the issue.
The survey will help establish: the number and style of public toilets often used by foreign tourists; the availability of toilet seats with warm-water bidets; the kinds of complaints expressed by foreign tourists and others; and the availability of instructions in multiple languages.
The results are expected to be collected by March, and will be used to determine subsidy rates and other details.
The government's budget for the new fiscal year includes about 8.5 billion yen to improve conditions for foreign tourists. The subsidies are expected to come from part of these funds.
Some municipalities have already taken action to improve their public washrooms.
In the city of Kyoto, there were only 49 Western-style toilets in the city's 76 public washrooms as of March 2015.
The city began installing more Western-style toilets in fiscal 2015, and there are now 118 such toilets at 75 sites.
The city is also responding to a shortage of toilets by increasing subsidies for temples and universities that allow tourists to use their washrooms.
Yamagata Prefecture currently provides subsidies to municipalities for renovating public washrooms in tourist areas.
Gunma Prefecture has created a certification system for washrooms that comply with certain criteria.