The renovated women’s washroom at Takaha Kiko in Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture (Masahiro Kakihana)
Napoleon Bonaparte famously stated that an army marches on its stomach, meaning keep soldiers well fed if you want to win battles.
Takaha Kiko Co., a small manufacturer here, has a different mantra, but one just as effective in keeping its employees motivated: “Happy Toilet, Happy Employee.”
The company spent a small fortune making its toilet facilities more appealing in the belief that employees would appreciate the gesture.
“It wasn’t a place where we girls could relax," says Akie Yamakawa of her company’s former restroom facilities that lacked even basic comforts like air-conditioning and bidet functions.
Takaha Kiko responded to the women's gripes and refurbished the toilet facilities.
“Now, the bathroom is where I enjoy chatting with part-time workers whom I usually don’t get a chance to talk to while I'm applying makeup," said Yamakawa, 27. "It's much more congenial these days.”
For Yamakawa and her female colleagues, a bathroom break means spending private time in a spacious room, radiantly lit by nine ceiling lamps covered with flower-shaped shades made of Japanese traditional “washi” paper.
The bathroom has three stalls, each equipped with a bidet.
One stall has an iconic image of Audrey Hepburn from the movie classic "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" on the wall.
When the occupant closes the door and sits on the heated toilet seat, the actress’s face, complete with hair styled high in a bun and clasping a long cigarette holder in a gloved hand, is reflected in a mirror on the door.
Another stall is decorated with "girly" wallpaper featuring dozens of tiny hearts.
Employees share a large common space to freshen up and powder their noses. There is even a sink exclusively for gargling.
Takaha Kiko manufactures solenoid, an electronic part used for doors, locking mechanisms at parking spaces, vending machines, cash registers and ticket gates.
Of the 83 employees, 58 are women, or almost 70 percent of the work force.
The women’s bathroom, although always kept squeaky clean, had not had a makeover since Takaha Kiko first set up business in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1979.
The catalyst for change came after the company hired a female university graduate for the first time in spring 2013. The following year, two women, including Yamakawa, joined the company.
Chiho Okubo, 59, a director and wife of the company president, 66-year-old Taisuke, began pondering what she could do to entice new female recruits to stay with the company, and came up with the idea of beautifying the women’s restroom facilities.
Okubo embarked on a tour of Tokyo and checked out restrooms in luxury hotels and commercial establishments popular with young people.
Okubo was not overly impressed with what she found, even though it was obvious a lot of money had gone into the facilities.
To her mind, some bathrooms were in dire need of decoration. Others lacked sufficient lighting to allow a woman to apply makeup with confidence.
“I didn’t feel any warmth or affection,” Okubo recalled.
In fall 2014, she initiated an all-female project team to discuss the ideal restroom. The team members included personnel from Toto, Ltd., a world-famous toilet company headquartered in Kita-Kyushu in the same prefecture.
Having thrashed out ideas, a thoroughly modernized women’s restroom materialized in January 2015, at a cost of 8 million yen ($73,650).
“I wanted to create a restroom where employees feel inspired every time they use it,” Okubo said.
In an aesthetic touch, the interior decorations are revamped on a seasonal basis.
The company then spent 5 million yen renovating the men's bathroom and installing air-conditioning and bidets.
“Women find happiness in small things, such as relaxing in the restroom,” Okubo said. “When women have lots of energy, it inspires men and they also become full of vigor.”
Thanks to the shiny bathrooms, Okubo feels that the corporate climate has changed for the better. “There’s a family atmosphere and employees enjoy working here,” she said.
In other efforts to create a more friendly working environment for women, Takaha Kiko opened an in-house nursery in October 2017 that is currently used by four employees.
It also implemented another successful program called “Morning cafe.” A licensed cook prepares a free breakfast in the office kitchen and serves single employees before working hours.
The company received an award from the prefectural office in 2018 in recognition of its efforts to achieve greater gender equality.
by Masahiro Kakihana