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A Tale of Two Tokyos – Domestic Robots and Permaculture Bathrooms

Written a year ago by Cecilia Macaulay

Robot and charcoal-fired tea ceremony brazier

Roving, roving. I’m now staying in Central Tokyo, at my usual home with the Ota family.

This morning I reached for the broom, I got a surprise. Professor Ota came running out "No No!"

He bent down, fiddled with something on the floor, and out it sprang — the floor-sweeping robot.

I’m not a squealy girl, but this was festive, and a squeal was the natural response to having a robot scampering around. I’m living in the miracle-world future. The Jetsons cartoons I watched when I was tiny are now my life.

We sat and enjoyed our whisked macha green tea, with chestnut sweets. The robot bounced around irrepressibly, gobbling dust and fallen petals, then wiggling into its dock when it decided its task was complete.

Moss-eating bathroom snail

Here is a solar-powered, silent version, spotted the other week on a visit to my friend Phil Cashman’s place, in Zushi, Tokyo’s outskirts.

It’s a particularly well-designed snail, cleaning the bathroom slowly but steadily.

Phil made his bathroom himself, from an old Miso barrel,
and other reclaimed timber

To reach it you cross a bridge — the lively stream below flows from the greywater-reclaiming system he is constructing. Unwanted nutrients are removed automatically by useful micro-organisms and plants. No recharging, all on site, and again, silent. Oh, and free.

Wooden Tub

He’s become so skilled at recruiting micro-help, he put together this daisy-fresh compost toilet.

And while he was at it, he put in an outdoor shower, probably with water caught from the roof and warmed by the sun….

Its a Toilet Tower, actually, to make sure there’s room for everything. Instead of flushing, our contributions are followed by a cup full of sawdust, to get the carbon/nitrogen balance just right, heat-treating the mix below. There are two old bathtubs, the second one full of crumbly humus, happy earthworms.

The toilet tower and other buildings are veiled by this Egyptian bean vine, which Phil said just thrived over the hot summer holidays, with no watering. It scrambles up the sunniest walls, just where its needed, a self-installing, self-directing awning. Solar powered.

But wait, it does more.

This bean employs microbes, right at its roots. It trades them sugars, in return for converting air-nitrogen into usable nitrogen for itself and its neighbours in the soil, making it a rich community down there. Its beans are also good for people, making them happy at dinnertime. And its strikingly beautiful.

Phil Cashman. Robust, pro-active, productive, and multi-skilled.
And gorgeous. A real treasure.

My friend Yumi Kumamoto babysits Phil Cashman’s daughters


  1. Hi Cecilia!
    I love the moss eating snail and clever composting toilet. What a clever way to save both energy and nutrients. Thanks for sharing your post and your irrepressible joy + enthusiasm.

  2. Thank-you Nichola!
    Phil Cashman is THE hands-on, brains-on, Permaculture ‘go to’ person in Tokyo.
    I met him on Bill and Geoff’s famous Melbourne Uni PDC, a few years ago now.
    The day the photos in this post were taken, that was the day I introduced him to the People running CLCA (Chidrens Learning Culture Center), hoping they would employ him on my ‘Artist Garden’ project. I was a bit worried the Japanese were thinking Permaculture is Cecilia-culture. I only represent one Niche of permaculture. Once they met Phil, used his compost toilet, saw his greywater system, it all clicked.

    He is now doing carpentry projects with the schoolchildren, taking them up to tsunami devestated towns, and building kitchens and pizza ovens with them.
    Helping Phil is one of the best things any new permie can do with their brains and brawn. Or any other resources – writing, web design. He has Zero interest in promoting himself, so it doesn’t happen, and thats such a waste.

    I must get him to put his profile up.
    Contact me if you want to contact Phil, for now.

  3. Wow, quite an amazing collection of waste-neutralising gloriously harmious utterly sustainable systems!
    Not so sure about the robot sweeper, but in our household with 4 young kids we would use it to clean up after every meal!

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