By Andrew Osmond.
Tokyo already has a Poo Building, unofficially at least. It’s the long-standing nickname for the Asahi Beer Hall at Asakasa, where the big yellow lump on top is meant to represent a frothy head of beer, but people just won’t see it that way. But now there’s a rival to the title, a Tokyo “museum” that sets out to make poop cute. It’s in Odaiba, a waterfront area (actually an artificial island) that’s linked to the main city by the arching Rainbow Bridge. Odaiba is already home to such miscellany as Tokyo Big Sight, the massive conference centre which hosts the Comiket events; Tokyo Joypolis, an indoor amusement park; a massive Ferris wheel; and a beachfront where some of the Olympic swimming events will take place next year.
While Odaiba also has grown-up attractions, including the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, the Unko Museum is more redolent of Blighty’s Blackpool. Frankly, it isn’t very good, and certainly not worth the 1,800-yen adult entrance fee – the same price as the very good Attack on Titan Final exhibition I covered recently and the positively magnificent Isao Takahata retrospective. Calling the Unko Museum a one-joke exhibit would be harsh, but it isn’t much more than that, and it could have been so much more than an advert without a product.
The Museum’s basic strategy is to represent poos in cutesified form so that they hardly seem like poos anymore. Design-wise they could be swirls of ice-cream, with no pungent “I’d give that half an hour” odors or residues on your fingers. The museum is funnier in how it sets out to break down customers’ inhibitions. At the start, visitors are directed by a very excitable host to sit on a line of toilets and, ahem, produce their own “poo”, which turns up in plastic form in the bowl underneath.
It’s a good start, but everything from then on nearly everything feels lame. It’s a very small “museum”, and while it may feel less tatty than Blackpool, it doesn’t have many ideas. There’s a disco-style poo-shaped “volcano”. There are a few rooms to photograph, including one with a turd-topped wedding cake – this feels disturbingly like a Disneyfied remake of that Pasolini film you tried to forget. There’s a reaction game where, for some reason, you have to catch a plastic poo as it falls from one tube into another.
There are some silly arcade games, most of them interesting for a minute tops, though one does have a funny idea – to win, players have to scream “UNKO!” as loudly as possible into a microphone, which shocked me the first time I heard it being played. There’s also a game where you have to stamp on projected poos as they zoom around the floor – another bit of fun for a few seconds for most adults, though kids may get much more playtime.
And that’s mostly it, except for some celebrity poo drawings at the end, and a Buddha-like “spirit” of Unko which might as well be anything. Many Western visitors will still remember Mr Hankey from South Park, who first emerged more than twenty years ago, so Japan’s well behind the curve, here. For anime, this potty-training video still beats the Unko museum pants down.
As mentioned before, the museum could have been so much more. It could have kept all the silly comedy stuff for the opening, and then used it to sell some real teaching about health and history – how bowel movements warn you about your body’s well-being, and how sewage systems are vital to a nation’s development. (Just fifty years ago, about sixty per cent of Tokyo wasn’t covered by the city’s sewers.) The museum could even have explained to foreigners exactly how it became standard for Japanese public toilets to be equipped with “modesty” sound buttons – to conceal bottom burps – and jet streams up your jacksie.
Actually, the museum doesn’t seem aimed at foreigners at all – none of the writing on the displays is translated, nor the staff’s instructions at the beginning. (I went to the museum with my Japanese friend/photographer Carlos Nakajima, who said that none of the text notably enhanced the experience.) Many of the attendees when we visited were young women, some with friends, some with young kids who were clearly the demographic to get value out of visiting. But there are so many cheaper places to go, and to go.
The Unko Museum – web page here – is located on the second floor of the Diver City shopping mall in Odaiba. The nearest station is Daiba Station on the Yurikamome line. The museum is open from 10am to 9pm (last admission 8pm). Admission is 1800 yen for adults, 1000 yen for elementary school-aged children, and free admission for preschoolers – one guardian can escort up to three preschoolers. There are discounts if tickets are pre-purchased on the website.
A note to Gundam fans – the Diver City mall is currently guarded by a lifesize Gundam Unicorn statue, with an extensive Gundam store (“Gundam Base”) on the seventh floor. Unlike the Unko Museum, it is free.