A group of adults and children assemble outside one of Tokyo's many public toilets every Sunday morning at 6am. They're there to scrub it clean from top to bottom. Urinals and toilets are the first targets, then it's the turn of the walls, the sinks and the floor. By 7:30am, they are gone, leaving behind them a gleaming public toilet, looking as good as the day it was installed.
This group of bleach-sloshing good Samaritans are the Benjyo Soujer, a 35-member group created on Facebook, who task themselves with scrubbing clean Tokyo's thousands of public toilets one by one. The name Benjyo Soujer is a combination of the Japanese word for lavatory and a play on the Japanese word for 'cleaner' and the English word 'soldier'.
The group's rules encourage members to use their bare hands to clean the lavatories, for one of the mottoes of the group is to 'clean thyself by cleaning cubicles'. Masayuki Magome, the Benjyo Soujer leader, says: "Basically, excrement is something that comes out of our body, so we adults don't really think of it as dirty. So without really thinking, we clean them with our bare hands, and because the children see us doing that, they don't really think of toilets as dirty either. That is one of our philosophies."
45-year-old Magome, who runs an architecture agency, started the group in 2011, and says that for many members, this activity has lead to a sort of spirit cleansing ritual, and it is similar to one of the trainings Buddhist monks endure to find peace of heart. However, despite their sanitary hard-work the public perception of the group isn't always positive and group leader Magome is the first to admit it - even his own wife disapproves of his unusual weekend hobby. Personnel hired by the local administrations are usually tasked to clean the toilets, and it is rare that citizen communities step in to volunteer because of the negative connotation toilets have.