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Japanese Bathrooms?

What is it About Japanese Bathrooms?

Bathrooms may not be our only source of consternation and amusement; but they certainly figure prominently in our misadventures in Japan.

In early April Sue and Wendy came to Japan for Sakura season and Ohanami. We enjoyed the billions and billions of cherry blossoms in Kamakura, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Nikko, Tokyo, and the beautiful countryside around Koriyama. While I think Sue and Wendy should tell most of the stories, one is begging to take its place along side our other tales of misadventure with the technology of Japanese toilets.

One quiet Tuesday morning found the three of us among the few visitors enjoying the beauty of the Imperial Palace Gardens in Kyoto. We had planned to tour the palace; but this day it was closed. Strolling under the breath taking beauty of the blossom laden cherry trees, we chatted, and snapped dozens of photos.

Being a woman of limited bladder capacity and hefty water consumption, my stroll soon became purposeful and I headed for the public bathroom. Sue took her turn after me. Wendy was admiring cherry blossoms, and I was busy snapping more photos outside the facility when the alarm sounded and Sue, looking flustered and wide eyed, came rushing out of the building. I immediately knew what had happened and I started to laugh.

In Japanese bathrooms, there is a variety of mystifying signs, levers, buttons, panels, and handles. They are mystifying because all of them are labeled in kanji, the Chinese character set, making it a game of flushing-roulette finding the correct flushing mechanism. In many public restrooms, flushing the toilet requires placing your hand over a panel on the wall containing a photocell. Block the light; flush the toilet. The playful little tech gremlins, however, have managed to fashion other ways of flushing, and one is never sure. One is also never sure what the other bells and whistles will do, it can be anything from a good butt washing to warming the seat or dual flush; not two flushes but for, er, how do we say this, #1 or #2. I know ONE of them is an emergency device. The Japanese have thoughtfully placed an emergency handle, button, panel, pull cord, something in each public bathroom. Sue had found it.

We tried our best to get away clean; but the diligent Japanese maintenance man was too fast for us. He showed up the same time Wendy did. I intercepted him and assured him, in my best broken Japanese, that all was daijoubu (o.k.). Faced with three foreign females, all looking properly apologetic (even while stifling our giggles) at taking him away from his morning tea, he, resigned to resolving yet another gaijin instigated bathroom mishap, he trudged in and reset the alarm. We quickly moved on, laughing about yet another experience of cross-cultural confusion.