Toilet etiquette in Japan: The most shocking differences are the ones you don’t expect

The Japanese Me blog has a cool post that talks about things she's noticed since moving to Japan.

Thinking back to when I first arrived on these shores a bit over 14 years ago, the things that really shocked me were the things that I had never thought about. I expected beer vending machines (now sadly disappearing), and to get shoved into crowded trains by guys in white gloves, because all the books were full of stories like that.

But it was the little things that got me. For example, when I first moved to Japan, my wife and I stayed at her sister's house until we got an apartment. My first day there, I had to use the toilet, but I checked and the door was closed. I went back to the living room, and got up every 10 minutes or so — but the door was always closed. After about an hour, I was getting antsy, and wondering who the heck stays in the toilet for an hour (remember, Japanese toilets are toilets only — usually not even a sink for washing up).

My wife saw me wandering back and forth, and asked me what was wrong. That's when I found out that in Japan, the toilet door is always kept closed. In all the US homes I've visited, the bathroom door is always cracked open slightly when not in use, so I'd assumed that the toilet was occupied. When you think about it, it is kind of strange to crack open the door and allow those smells out, but I think that most Americans would rather do that, than have people knock while they're using the commode.

There's something similar with public toilets. In most public toilets in Japan, the stall doors go all the way down to the floor, so you can't peek under them. Japanese people I've talked to say they hate using public johns in the US, where people can see their legs. Meanwhile, most Americans are glad that they can check if a stall is occupied, without having to knock (or have someone knock while you're in it).

One final toilet observation: a lot of Japanese men pee without holding their penises. Not that I'm a restroom perv, but it's hard not to notice these guys lined up at the urinals, with both hands on their hips… For a long time, I thought it was an adaptation to avoid having to wash their hands, because most public restrooms don't have paper towels (although nowadays a lot have air driers). But then when my son was a toddler, I noticed the other kids' Japanese moms were teaching them to pee without holding their penises, so now I'm not sure what the deal is. Maybe someday I'll conduct a survey of Japanese men … in the restroom, of course. 🙂

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