Peeing in Japan

After drinking all that beeru, it’s inevitable that you’re going to have to use the facilities sooner or later. Hopefully you are still sober enough to figure things out.

Toilets in Japan come in two main varieties: holes in the floor, and super-high-tech-crazy-toilets. The holes in the floor are common in public places, like at temples, but often there is also a choice of a “Western-Style” toilet (i.e., one with a bowl). Luckily we didn’t end up having to use the “Japanese-Style” ones very often.

The much more interesting toilet phenomenon in Japan was the super-high-tech-crazy-toilet, often called a “Washlet” (this is one of the common brands). These toilets come with control panels full of buttons labeled in Japanese. If you are lucky, there are also little icons that gave you an idea what each button does.


For example, I quickly learned that the button with the musical note on it would play a recording of flushing sounds. This was apparently developed to save water, as some Japanese flush the toilet continuously to cover up any sounds that might be emanating from… other places.

By far the strangest aspect of these fancy toilets was that fact that for many of them, the control panels could actually be removed from their positions on the wall and used as remote controls. Huh? Scott and I amused ourselves endlessly at our hotel by sneakily stealing the remote control and trying to stealth-bidet whomever was using the toilet. Alas, the remote didn’t seem to work through the closed door.

If, after reading this, you are still confused about using the toilet in Japan, please watch this, followed by this.

Everything you ever wanted to know about beeru…

ビール一杯ください。
(If you find yourself in Japan, print the above out and point to it in case of emergency.)

Our Japanese friends were kind enough to school us in the proper beer-drinking etiquette in their country while we were there. First of all, please note that the Japanese word for ‘beer’ is ‘beeru’ (pronounced bee-roo). This word is so much fun to say that you may find yourself ordering beer you don’t even want just because you can’t stop repeating it.

  • In Japan, beeru is often served in large bottles that are shared by everyone at the table, and it is drunk out of hopelessly small glasses. It is considered very bad form to pour your own beeru.
  • When someone is pouring beeru for you, it is polite to put both your hands on your cup and say ‘oh thank you, you’re too generous’ and other crap like that to the person pouring it.
  • If you find yourself out of beeru and wanting some more, it is a good idea to start refilling the glasses of the other people at the table, even if they are no where close to empty. If you are lucky, this action will prompt someone in turn to fill your glass.

Here’s a demonstration of how to pour beeru in Japan:

And here’s me showing how it’s done where I come from:

[You’ll never believe it, but by the end of the trip my drinking manners were indistinguishable from those of a Japanese businessman. Except I never tied a tie around my head (not in Japan, anyway).]

Big fun in Tokyo

Japan offers endless opportunities for novelty entertainment. We were often entertained at things that weren’t specifically designed to be entertaining, like in women’s hosiery stores and while choosing beverages out of vending machines. But a lot of the entertainment is on-purpose entertainment, too. Here are just a couple of the things we tried:

Pachinko. Giant, multi-level pachinko parlors occupy every single corner in some areas of Tokyo and Kyoto. They are louder and busier than a slot-machine-filled Vegas casino, and all the people inside have that same dead-to-the-world glazed-over expression on their faces. The game itself is kind of like pinball, but less fun and requiring less skill. We knew we had to try it, and our Japanese friends Yoko and Ko humored us long enough for us to lose 1,000 yen apiece into the machines (I think we were in and out in less than 5 minutes). Luckily they were there to explain important things to us, like where to stick the money in, what button to push, and who the people spinning around on the screen were (turns out they were stars from a Korean soap opera that’s popular in Japan). Good times.

Maid café. I had been promised bizarre experiences in Tokyo, and bizarre experiences I got. When you arrive at a maid café, the waitresses (dressed in French maid uniforms) come to the door and say ‘welcome home, master!’ (at least that’s what Yuji said they were saying to us). Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the maids, but they were adorable. I should note that we weren’t typical of the clientele there – we would have fit in better if we were 20-something solitary men who spent a whole lot of time on role-playing games (and had spoken Japanese).

Karaoke. We had to do it. Unlike in other parts of the world, karaoke in Tokyo is a private-ish thing. Your group gets its own little sound-proof room equipped with a table and seats, a big-screen karaoke machine, an impossible-to-use remote control for said karaoke machine, a couple wireless microphones, and several song lists the size of the Manhattan telephone book. To order drinks or anything else, you pick up a phone on the wall and tell the person at the other end what you want.

The microphone does this weird echo-y thing to your voice that is supposed to make you sound like a better singer. This may be effective for things like ballads, but doesn’t work so well for, say, rap (trust me, we tried).

Our friends Tomoko and Katsu were obviously seasoned karaoke professionals, actually being able to carry a tune and make it through a whole song without bursting out into hysterical laughter (I failed miserably on both of these points). Scott fared a little better than I did, dazzling the (five-person) crowd with his rousing rendition of “Mr. Roboto.” Domo.

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