Posts Tagged Japan

My first time using a Japanese Toilet

Japanese style squat toilet.

Japanese style squat toilet.

Note: as you may have guessed from the title, this post is about using the toilet. You have been warned!

The background:
Above is a picture of a Japanese style squat toilet. These toilets were the standard in Japan before the “western toilet” came along. Despite virtually everything else in the country being modern and new, you can still find squat toilets in older houses, older buildings, and most train stations. Squat toilets can even be found on the shinkansen for those brave souls who want a little more excitement on their voyage.

The Japanese style toilet was the single most intimidating thing about living in Japan. I was so scared of squat toilets that I went out of my way to avoid using them during my 3 years living in Japan. I had great success for about a year and a half until an emergency situation arose leaving me with no other choice. Here is the story of the most terrifying toilet experience of my life (so far).

The incident:
The NOVA school in Mishima, Japan was located in an old building across from the train station. The men’s room had a urinal and a squat toilet. On work days I would either be sure to take the kids to the pool before leaving the house, or hold on until I returned home.

On one fateful day my stomach was unhappy with me, likely due to a previous evening of beer and greasy izakaya food. During my first two lessons I tried to ignore the warning signals and hope for the best. By the third lesson, my digestive system was making some very unpleasant noises and sweat was breaking out on my forehead. I started to realize that there was no way I was going to be able to hold out until the end of my shift; I was going to have to clear out some inventory in a hurry.

One of the interesting and charming things about Mishima is that it largely survived the bombings of World War 2 in tact, leaving an impressive collection of narrow streets and old buildings. I appreciated the character of the older buildings, but not their restroom facilities.

When considering my options, I realized that the building that was home to Mishima NOVA, as well as most nearby buildings were going to be lacking proper sitting toilets. My only viable option was the nearby Lawson convenience store, but I wasn’t confident that I could make it there and back in time for my next lesson. There was also the terrifying possibility that the one toilet available at Lawson’s would be in use. With the urgency increasing and time running out I only had one option left: I would need to make a deposit in the porcelain bank at the only branch available – the squat toilet.

I rushed into the stall, locked the door, and straddled the bowl, making sure I was facing in the right direction. I carefully lowered my pants and squatted down, doing my best to make sure that my pants stayed off the floor and out of the bowl. When I got into a full squat position, I started to realize that I was not very stable. Losing my balance and falling over in the middle of releasing the Kraken would be disasterous! I used my right hand to hold the water pipe for balance.

Now that I had my balance, I became aware that my tie was dangling dangerously into the line of fire. With my free left hand I wrapped my tie around my neck and tucked the loose end between two buttons on my shirt. Now that I was (mostly) balanced and not going to soil my tie, my attention turned to aiming.

For a first time squatter, aiming is not intuitive. Not being able to see exactly where my butt was pointing, I had to guess how things were lined up. This also led to an unpleasant thought: what if my pants got in the way? My nearest clean pair of pants would require a 6 minute train ride and 5 minute bike ride, so failure was simply not an option. While continuing to hold the pipe with my right hand for balance, I used my left hand to hold my pants as far forward as possible. If I had more time I would have taken my pants off completely and hung them over the top of the stall, but time was not on my side. Things were about to happen.

As I stayed there, squatting precariously, right hand gripping the pipe for balance, tie wrapped around my neck, left hand trying to keep my pants safe, my mind rushed through nightmare scenarios where everything went wrong: how would I possible explain to the staff my reason for leaving in the middle of a shift to rush home? What would they tell the students? How would I hide my shame on the train ride home? How long would my coworkers make fun of me? Just as my brain was reaching full panic mode, IT HAPPENED: bombs away, right on target. Pants, shirt, and tie were all safe and clean! I made it!! My mission was accomplished with no casualties! I returned to complete my workday in comfort with a sense of relief and accomplishment.

I have had some unpleasant experiences in bathrooms before, usually after too much spicy or greasy food, but my first Japanese squat toilet experinece holds a special place in my memory as the absolute most terrifying and least relaxing toilet experience of my life! I can’t imagine trying to use one while sick or drunk, and I feel bad for Japan’s aging population trying operate this horrible device with arthritis or bad knees.

The world is full of exciting and stressful experiences: using the toilet should not be either of these things. It should be relaxing and predictable, allowing a few minutes of peace and solitude. Using the toilet should NEVER be struggle for balance with your very dignity on the line!

Country of Japan, I implore you: as a favour to your aging population and legions of visiting foreigners, PLEASE rid your country of the menace of squat toilets once and for all! Make pooping relaxing again!

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6 months in Japan – State of the Union


Hello to my regular readers and new followers. I am writing this post in March 2014, exactly 10 years after my 6 month anniversary in Japan. Posting and updating all of these blog entries has been a fun project so far, and a great trip down memory lane.

For anyone who hasn’t been following from the beginning, this is the story of the 3 years I spent teaching English in Japan from 2003-2006. I had a blog at the time, and am reblogging all of my old posts 10 years later, usually with a lot more detail.

To catch you up so far, in 2003 I was finishing University in Winnipeg, Canada and looking for an adventure before giving my life to the exciting world of corporate accounting. Thanks to an elective Japanese language course, I had an interest in teaching English in Japan and managed to get hired by a conversational English school called NOVA. I left a strained relationship behind in Canada and moved to Kawasaki, Japan to live in Hello House, a dormitory style residence with other English teachers.

In my first 6 months I had some memorable adventures, including:

As distance and disagreements about the future put more distance between my ex girlfriend (The Ex) and I, my friendship with my penpal (The Penpal) had just recently and somewhat unexpectedly turned into a boyfriend / girlfriend type relationship. At the time I was living in Kawasaki and she was living in Numazu, so we were only able to see each other 1-2 times per month.

As I entered the second half of my first year in Japan, I was preparing to switch to a full time schedule, as well as getting ready for potential visits from both family and friends. Trust me – the upcoming friend visits are fantastic.

Thanks for reading and I hope that you continue to enjoy reading about my adventures as much as I enjoy reliving them through this blog.


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March 14, 2004 – Too many foreigners in Japan!?

Jackie Chan

I worked overtime at Oomori school today. This was my first time teaching outside of Kawasaki (not counting a few post training classes in Yokohama). It is amazing the difference that a more relaxed schedule and less teachers makes in creating a totally different work environment. Seeing different students is a nice change too.

Since NOVA schools are basically just glass boxes next to each other, it is easy to see and hear what is going on in nearby classrooms. During one of my lessons, the neighbouring classroom’s teacher was doing a lesson about good and bad things about Japan. When asked “what is bad about Japan”, his student responded “There are too many foreigners”. She was also of the opinion that Japan was a dangerous country, but did not offer an opinion if the danger was due to the abundance of foreigners.

To be fair, there are likely about 1.5 – 2 million foreigners living in Japan. Most people would consider that number to be “a lot”. If you asked me to make sandwiches for 2 million people, I would say that the number is “too many”. However, compared to the 125 million ethnically Japanese people living in Japan (98.5% of all residents), 2 million is a pretty small number.

I also question the wisdom of complaining about foreigners while you are talking to foreigners in an English school that proudly advertises that all of it’s teachers are foreigners. But that’s just me 🙂

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November 22, 2003 – The University Educated tissue guy

Japanese promotional tissues

(rewrite of original post)

I was working at Keikyu Kawasaki NOVA today with Smiling Mo and managed to get three no show lessons. As I had learned previously, when you don’t have students you are expected to find something useful to do in the office. There is usually enough busy work to cover one or two open lessons. However, Smiling Mo and I both had several no shows and completely ran out of office work to do.

We asked the staff if they had anything that we could do to help. They asked if we really meant anything. We answered yes, we really would do anything to help. Minutes later we were at Keikyu Kawasaki station handing out NOVA tissues.

Free promotional tissues are commonly found near all train stations. They are simply a package of tissues with information on a business in the wrapper. The tissues are usually handed out by part time workers or junior employees. On this day I got to join the illustrious ranks of the tissue givers.

While handing out tissues I was approached by one of my regular students. He was a fun guy from Peru who was in Japan for construction work. When he saw me handing out tissues he laughed and then asked me if I was being punished for doing something wrong. At this point I started to question the value of my Bachelor of Commerce Degree (with honours) and the choices that brought me to that situation. I was a smart, educated guy. How did I possibly end up handing out free tissues at a train station?

Then I looked over at Smiling Mo, who was absolutely having a great time. He was a charismatic, outgoing person and was using the tissues as an excuse to talk to strangers, especially groups of attractive female students. Smiling Mo’s enjoyment helped me to realize that I wasn’t just doing a menial task, I was getting paid good money to do a menial task in JAPAN, far away from the frozen tundra of Winnipeg. With this realization, I started to actually have a bit of fun handing out NOVA tissues.

If you are half way around the world for a limited time, you might as well enjoy everything that the experience has to offer.

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An interlude: Return to Japan 2013

In the middle of preparing for the launch of my Japan: 10 years later blog, I find myself in Japan again to visit the inlaws. In the time leading up to my departure, I had the very best intentions to save about a years worth of 2003 blog posts and work on getting them updated and ready to go while on this vacation. However, in the rush to get ready for my trip, I totally forgot about the blog.

Since I am here and have free time, I thought I might as well blog about the trip I am currently on. I will be in Japan for 2 weeks, mainly to visit the in laws with my wife, but also to meet up with some old friends and do some sightseeing. Also, this provides a much needed break from the office.

So please enjoy the mundane tales of a 2 week visit with my Japanese family.

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Blog reboot

The 10th anniversary of my 3 year Japan adventure is coming up soon. I used to have my own personal website where I would blog about life in Japan to keep friends and family up to date. That website is long dead and gone, so I have decided to reblog all of my original blog posts 10 years after they first happened. In addition I will be adding some commentary for the times in between. Please see the about page for a better description.

New posts will be starting soon.


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