Criminologists warn…! Japanese public restrooms may be the most dangerous in the world.” | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Criminologists warn…! Japanese public restrooms may be the most dangerous in the world.”

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It is common practice around the world to build the entrances to the men’s and women’s restrooms separate from each other…

Japanese toilets are unthinkable by global standards,” he said. They are built according to global standards in Europe, the U.S., Asia, and Africa, but not in Japan. It is no exaggeration to say that it is the most dangerous in the world. What is common sense in Japan is insane in the rest of the world.”

With a hint of anger in his voice, Nobuo Komiya, professor of criminology at Rissho University, says, “I am very pleased to be here.

At first glance, public restrooms seem to be everywhere…

Most Japanese public restrooms have either a single entrance, with men’s and women’s restrooms on either side, and a multipurpose restroom in the center, or women’s restrooms in the front, then multipurpose restrooms, and men’s restrooms at the very back.

The most common crime in restrooms is to follow a woman from behind and take her into a multipurpose restroom. For example, a criminal is sitting on a bench in a park and looking for something. The girl goes to the restroom alone. Then, the girl goes to the restroom alone, and the perpetrator follows her, and an incident occurs.

To prevent such incidents, he says, it has become a global standard that the entrances to men’s and women’s restrooms should be as far apart as possible, and that multipurpose restrooms should be located inside the men’s and women’s restrooms, respectively.

If there is only one entrance, a man could follow you from behind and you would not feel any discomfort. On the other hand, if the entrances are separated, if a man follows behind a woman, she would feel strange. Not only the woman trying to use the restroom, but also the people around her would find it strange. It gives away the motive for the crime, so they won’t think twice about trying to commit it in the restroom.”

Toilets in Nicaragua. The entrances to the women’s and men’s restrooms are separated, and wheelchair-accessible toilets are located in the men’s and women’s restrooms, respectively.
Toilets with the lower part of the door open, a common sight in foreign countries. Even if you are taken into a private room, if you can see the legs of two or more people, you can tell from the outside that a crime may have been committed (Photo: Afro)

No amount of punishment of criminals will reduce crime “without creating the right environment”.

When such incidents unfortunately occur, in Japan the perpetrators are simply punished. In other countries, however, not only the perpetrator is punished, but also the local government or company that manages the restroom is held responsible, he says.

In the United Kingdom, the Crime and Disorder Act was enacted in 1998, and Article 17 states that “local governments must consider crime prevention in all measures they take. For example, if a municipality builds a park and a crime occurs there, the victim can request the municipality to disclose the minutes of the meeting regarding the design of the park, and if it is found that nothing was discussed about the crime, the victim can claim hundreds of millions of yen in compensation from the municipality.

He says that in the UK, crime prevention is considered the job of local authorities rather than the police.

There are two reasons for the creation of such laws.

One is to help victims.

No matter how many offenders are punished, there is no guarantee that compensation will be paid to the victims. It’s because if you deal with the administrators, you get compensation.”

The other is to prevent similar incidents from occurring.

By punishing the offender, maybe that person will never commit a crime again. However, there is still a possibility that a similar crime will be committed again by another person. In order to prevent this, the message is that we must create an environment where crimes are less likely to occur.

In Japan, however, there is no concept of “reducing the number of crime-producing places. When a crime occurs, simply punishing the perpetrator is all that is needed to end the crime.

In 2011, a 3-year-old girl was killed in a supermarket when she entered the bathroom alone. At that time, too, the public’s attention was focused only on the murderer.

In Japan, there is no law like in the U.K., but there are rules regarding building defects and the duty of care for safety, so if the victim wants to hold the installer or others accountable, he or she can.

In fact, there was a case in which the management responsibility of the installer was recognized: the Osaka Kyoiku University-affiliated Ikeda Elementary School incident that occurred in June 2001. The school’s administrators entered through an open gate and broke into three second-grade classrooms one after another, killing eight students and seriously injuring 15 others, including teachers. The case did not go to trial, but the university paid compensation to the parents.

There have been cases like this in Japan where management responsibility has been recognized. But the victims are crying themselves to sleep because they don’t have the idea that the owner or manager of the facility is also responsible for ensuring their safety.

In foreign countries, crime prevention measures are usually based on the “crime opportunity theory,” which focuses on creating an environment that makes it psychologically and physically difficult to commit crimes and eliminating opportunities for crimes to occur. The “crime causation theory” still dominates the mainstream.

Stations and trains often have announcements and stickers saying, “If you see a suspicious person, please call us,” and small children are warned, “Don’t follow suspicious people. Therefore, we do not use the word ‘suspicious person’ in other countries. They concentrate on eliminating the environment that creates crime.

A restroom in a supermarket in Kumamoto, where the girl’s murder took place. In this restroom, the men’s restroom is at the far end, but if the women’s restroom is at the back, it will be safer for women because men will not be able to follow them there from behind.
A restroom in a supermarket in Kumamoto, Japan, where a girl was murdered.
A restroom in South Korea. The entrances to the men’s and women’s restrooms are separated, with separate multipurpose restrooms for men and women. The women’s restroom is located in the back, forcing the men to stop tailgating.

Crime was committed in a restroom selected in a design competition.

But why doesn’t Japan want to follow global standards?

I guess it’s a misconception that Japan is safe. I would like you to take a good look at the results of the Ministry of Justice’s “Survey of Crime Victims. This survey covers crimes that were not reported to the police, so it is a more accurate picture of the actual situation than the police statistics that are released every year.

For example, more than 80% of sexual incidents are not reported, so the police are not aware of them.”

The restrooms themselves are evolving with various innovations. It is surprising to learn that some restrooms in service areas have sensors that tell you if you have forgotten something, or even measure your level of fatigue.

Recently, many stylish toilets designed by architects have also appeared.

The toilets themselves must be evolving. But the security measures are lousy. I think they don’t know about a design method called ‘crime prevention environment design,’ which simulates how criminals search, contact, and escape, and creates a situation that makes it difficult for them to commit crimes.

Come to think of it, the public restroom in Oimachi where a sex crime occurred in 2021 was also a restroom selected in a Shinagawa Ward design competition.

It is a classic example of how design prioritization has led to crime. The University of the Arts London is trying to prevent crimes through design, such as bicycles that are difficult to steal. The most important thing is safety. We design with that as the top priority. Without that order, crime will not disappear.

Public restroom in Oimachi. The toilets are located on the sidewalk, so if you follow a passerby, he or she won’t notice you. Even if there are security cameras, criminals know that the reporting rate of sex crimes is only 10%, so it is not a major deterrent,” says Komiya (photo by Takero Yuzumi).
Public restroom in Oimachi. The entrance is on the side of the railroad tracks, making it difficult for anyone to witness the moment they are taken in. Moreover, the men’s and women’s restrooms are shared, so people of the opposite sex who are followed do not feel uncomfortable, and people around them do not think it unnatural,” said Komiya (photo by Takero Yuzuru).

Nobuo Komiya Professor of Criminology at Rissho University. Doctor of Sociology. He was the first Japanese to complete the Graduate School of Criminology at Cambridge University. Formerly worked in the Information Systems Division of Honda Motor Co., the United Nations Far East Crime Prevention Training Institute in Asia, and the Legal Research Institute of the Ministry of Justice before assuming his current position. He is a second-class information processing engineer (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry). Inventor of the “Community Safety Map. He has served as the chairperson of the National Police Agency’s Research and Study Group on Safe and Secure Community Development and the chairperson of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Delinquency Prevention and Victimization Prevention Education Committee.

His representative publications include “Crime Prevention in the World through Photographs: Ruins, Design, and Community Planning” (Shogakukan, selected book by the National School Library Association), “Crime Can Be Predicted” (Shincho Shinsho), NHK “Close-up Today,” Nippon Television “Sekaiichi uketai jugyo” (The Class I Want to Attend), etc. He has appeared on television, been interviewed by newspapers, and given numerous lectures throughout Japan.

Click here for HP and YouTube channel “Nobuo Komiya’s Room of Criminology

Click here to purchase “Crime Prevention in the World through Photographs: Ruins, Design, and Community Planning” (Shogakukan)

  • Interview and text Izumi Nakagawa Photo courtesy of Nobuo Komiya

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