Japanese Toilet

Sure, it looks innocent now, but don't turn your back on it.

I was excited, nervous and sweaty. It was 2000 and I was on a date in Japan. I chose the perfect spot, the 11th floor bar overlooking Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake and where I spent 5 years of my life after university (near the lake, not the bar). The bar was called Medusa. Small and smokey (like most Japanese bars at the time) the dark room was sandwiched by glass. One side was wall to wall panoramic views of the lake, distant mountains  glowing in the sun’s retreat for the day. A black light lit massive aquarium claimed the wall behind the bar. At first glance it looked empty.

“Look again,” the bartender advised. He didn’t look up and kept at his task of shaping a large cube of ice into a sphere to accompany the scotch destined for a group of black tied salary men. We found two small jellyfish, tentacles undulating as they pushed and floated around the tank. It’s hard to know if the bar was being cheap, or just going for ultra minimalistic sheik. I decided cool, and we were hip to be there. Everything was going my way. She was laughing at my jokes, almost touching my arm, and hadn’t once looked at the business men who really could afford the place.

But this isn’t a story about my date.

Everything was going well, the drinks arrived. “Kampai.” We clinked our mojitos together. Yeah, mojitos were very cool back then. No one knew what they were.

I know, you are reading thinking everything is normal, but please, please remember it was2000, and I was a shy, quiet young man with not much sense of style, short on self confidence and even less money in my pocket.

Halfway through our drinks I decided to play it cool. “I’ll be right back. Just need to use the toilet.” Smooth, right?

I walked through the dim, smokey den like I owned it. When I passed women whispering, they were talking about me. [in a good way, seriously, a little credit please]. The men avoided my eyes because they couldn’t compete. I had everything. Then I entered the restroom.

Small, like most things in Japan, but stylish, like the rest of the bar, brushed steel trimmings and a glass sink basin. But what really drew my eyes was the toilet. A shiny, ToTo, complete with heated seat and full control panel that was as complicated as a airplane cockpit. A airplane cockpit with all the direction written in Japanese.

I sat down to enjoy the heated seat, even though there was no need to sit. I stayed away from the buttons not wanting anything to go wrong. I hadn’t yet learned to read a toilet. But then I saw it, the button I had been looking for all my life. A cute little button with the picture of a bird and two chiming notes. Could the Japanese have invented a melody to prevent unfortunate bathroom noises from escaping into the absurdly nearby bar? It made perfect sense, a lack of space in Japan meant bathrooms were basically one poorly insulated wall away from the drinking and flirting.

And lets face it. If you have to flush more than once people start wondering what’s going on. If you leave the sink running you are wasting water and destroying the environment. Either way, your screwed with the beautiful lady waiting for you outside. That day I didn’t need to flush or use the sink. But I couldn’t leave without listening to the greatest invention of the new millennium.

A little tip to anyone in a foreign land. Don’t push buttons if you don’t know what will happen. Especially buttons on a toilet. But then again what harm could a cute little bird be?

Needing to satiate the same driving curiosity that led me to Japan in the first place, I extended my index finger and pushed the cute little bird. “WHOOOSH, WHOOOSH, WHOOSH…” The sound of a flushing toilet assaulted me. Over and over again, louder and louder each time. There was no end. What the fuck! Where was the cute little bird?

“Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh…” the flushing sound continued one after another. I panicked and pushed the button again hoping it would turn off. It just extended the noise for another round. I panicked further. What if my date could hear? What would she think of me? I pushed more buttons out of desperation. I got hit immediately by a powerful stream of warm water. I jumped up.

Wrong choice. The water followed me out of the toilet and soaked my jeans. “Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh…” the noise wouldn’t stop. Adding to the cacophony of embarrassment  a blast of hot air roared out of the toilet like a jet engine. There was no place for me to escape the stream of water so I sat back down into an odd mix of wetness and heat. I sat in misery for what seemed like 10 minutes but was probably just another 30 seconds until everything finally shut off.

I sat there. Jeans soaked around my ankles wondering what to do next. Who in their right mind puts a bird tweeting picture to describe the sound of flushing? Why the hell would you make the flushing sound so vigorous? Of course this was Japan and there must be special technology to sound proof the bathroom. Right? Of course, this was Japan. I could explain away the wet jeans by blaming it on a tragic sink malfunction. I stood and gather myself and remember that I hadn’t actually flushed the toilet yet. I cursed, gathered my courage and flushed.

Nothing. Hardly any sound at all. The water drained away peacefully. It made me even angrier at the little cute bird and its mocking tweets. I had been in the toilet for almost 10 minutes. I was soaked, and thoroughly embarrassed. My only hope was that that no one had noticed.

The lock clicked loudly. Why was everything in this cursed bar so amplified? I gathered myself together and was ready to walk coolly through the crowd. I opened the foggy glass door, stepped back out into the smoky room and stopped dead in my tracks. All 20 patrons were staring at me. My faced turned a deep red as I limped through the room, caught up by tight wet jeans. Everyone was now certainly whispering about me, bastards.

I reached my date. She looked at me. I looked back. I braced for the questions. The water spread to my underwear, and I smelled like the toilet. A fancy, evil, Japanese toilet, but still a toilet.

She smiled, looked away… towards the bartender. “Two more” is all she said. The music started again, the crowds stopped whispering, I was still soaking wet but I had another mojito, I was still cool.

So you have a toilet story or another misadventure while on the road? Share all your dirty, embarrassing stories below.

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62 Responses to “When Japanese Toilets Fight Back”

  1. jasonNo Gravatar says:

    Hilarious! I’m surprised your date took it so well. Thanks for sharing a reallyfunny story.
    jason´s recent [type] ..Quilting Bee In The Andes

  2. LeslieTravelNo Gravatar says:

    OMG, I’m laughing out loud! Love your honesty here. I think we’ve all had an embarrassing bathroom experience. When I was in Japan I was intrigued by the toilets. Even the mall toilets had heated seats and a button with a musical note on it. Glad I never pressed that button– who knows what would have happened?!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Leslie,

      I`ve used this story over drinks many a time so was happy to finally write it all down. Glad you enjoyed it. I will have to be careful not to tell all my funny stories on the blog or I will have nothing left when I meet other bloggers :)

      I`m in Japan for the next 2 weeks and am on a mission to find a toliet that speaks back to me. I`m also trying to find another musical toliet to see if after 9 years they have changed the sound.

  3. KellyNo Gravatar says:

    HaHAHA so funny! I seriously laughed out loud. Never trust the little birdys!!!
    Kelly´s recent [type] ..Bug Bytes- La Pura Vida in Mexico City!

  4. AdventureRobNo Gravatar says:

    Haha, great story :-D I’ve not experimented with the buttons on Japanese toilets yet, so haven’t got a story about them.

    I did find a scorpion in my toilet when I was staying with a family in Malaysia though – weird thing to wake up too – a toilet scorpion :/
    AdventureRob´s recent [type] ..Lolitas and Leaflets

  5. This is hilarious. I have had some funny toilet stories in my travels but this one takes the cake. This goddamn birdy pictures will get you every time.
    Caz Makepeace´s recent [type] ..Travel Photo- Wild African Dog- Kruger Park- South Africa

  6. SophieNo Gravatar says:

    Great story! When we were in Tokyo, the hotel room toilet kept my then 11-year-old entertained for ages.
    Sophie´s recent [type] ..Magic of Cities- Oslo – 10 Great Free Attractions

  7. MarcosNo Gravatar says:

    LOVE IT! This is Hilarious, thanks for the laugh. Please keep the stories coming.

  8. Dave and DebNo Gravatar says:

    Fun post Todd. You writing always captures me right from the first paragraph.
    Dave and Deb´s recent [type] ..Cycling the Countryside of Incredible Yangshuo

  9. This is hilarious…..we have one of the Japanese toilets in our apartment here in Taiwan! So, imagine the crazed Japanese toilet, but with Chinese writing! Fortunately, the owners told us what buttons to push and I never touch the 20 others for fear of soaking down our master bath and having to make an embarrassing call to the owners to ask how to shut it off.

    A number of restrooms in Taipei have the more complicated ones, along with the noise feature. Unfortunately, many of the noise features are on a “box” on the side of the stall and activated by waving your hand in front of as I once found out. I didn’t do it intentionally — was trying to pull up the #&*@ pantyhose! I too was a victim of the loud “swooshes” – my face was bright red leaving that stall!
    Erin De Santiago´s recent [type] ..Cantonese Cuisine- A Bad Dinner at Shangri-La’s Shang Palace in Taipei- Taiwan

  10. CandiceNo Gravatar says:

    Freaking hilarious!
    Candice´s recent [type] ..My Seaside Escape With Bagpuss in Brighton- England

  11. GiuliaNo Gravatar says:

    Funniest post ever! Couldn’t stop laughing. Sorry :p
    I’ve been to Japan and had one of those toilets in my room in one of the ryokans I stayed at.
    But never dared pushing any button! Now I’m glad I did. =)

  12. NorbertNo Gravatar says:

    Good to know I should not trust little tweeting birds on Japanese toilets, or any toilet at all! ha! That was a funny story!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Definitely DO NOT trust little birds on toilets in Japan. Who knows, maybe now they are connected to twitter and let everyone know what you are doing ;)

  13. your post is very funny. i dont know what i would have done if it was me

  14. Who doesn’t love a good toilet story!

  15. HerbNo Gravatar says:

    its always good to start the day with a laugh, good on you! During our travels over the years, I get potty reports from the Wifey. The good the bad and the ugly. Somewhere in Europe, she came out very excited and wanted the camera to make a video. The tank high above the bowl was made of glass and had a large gold fish in it. Go figure.

    Herb´s recent [type] ..Take Me to Your Leader

  16. kaoriNo Gravatar says:

    Even I, a full Japanese girl, have a hard time finding the right button to flush sometimes…I’ve learned not to touch anything unless I know EXACTLY what it does ;-D

  17. Some of my best stories center around toilet malfunctions or designs, but none of them are funnier than yours. I roared.
    Barbara Weibel´s recent [type] ..Harvesting the Rice By Hand in Nepal

  18. The EnvoyNo Gravatar says:

    Toilet 1, Todd 0?
    The Envoy´s recent [type] ..Urban Exploration

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Yup. if we include my adventures with the squat toilets and the old women in Japan cleaning the urinals next to me then we can bump it up to Toilets 3 Todd 0

  19. Stunning story! But those were birds of prey on the toilet controls!!
    John in France´s recent [type] ..Global Warming France

  20. The NVR GuysNo Gravatar says:

    One word. Hilarious.

  21. Very humorous article, Todd! A friend of mine bought a toilet like this here in Los Angeles. I love that it makes sounds to “disguise” the sounds of using the bathroom!
    Michael Figueiredo (StruxTravel)´s recent [type] ..Holiday Ice Skating in Los Angeles

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      hey Michael, I love the concept too but would much rather have non-bathroom noises to disguise the bathroom sounds. Maybe the concept has advanced since 2000

  22. Great story Todd, I experienced a similar situation back in 1990 when I was working in Tokyo and it was at a Makudonardo outlet lol…. always checked the toilets whenever I went into one since then.

    David @ Malaysia Asia´s recent [type] ..Pattaya Walking Street- Thailand

  23. AdamNo Gravatar says:

    Awesome! What a great story. I couldn’t imagine how horrifying that was when walking out of the bathroom. I’m literally laughing out loud right now as I’m typing this. Well done.
    Adam´s recent [type] ..100 Things I Love about Travel – 19 – 10

  24. PennyNo Gravatar says:

    This story made me laugh so hard! You really told it very well! I will keep this in mind if I ever travel to Japan :) Fortunately, the most complicated toilet I’ve ever come into contact with was one that had two options – high flow or low flow.

  25. OMG….great story….loved it! Amazing how your date handled it by ordering more drinks. Funny!

    I have a related story to share, but…..it’s just too embarrassing to tell. :) Thanks for the laughs!
    Lisa E @chickybus´s recent [type] ..SWF in Syria 3- Juicy Details of My 2nd Date

  26. Jools StoneNo Gravatar says:

    Hilarious! So did you manage to negotiate a second date Todd and was there any further discussion of your wet trousers?
    Jools Stone´s recent [type] ..Comment on Lund’s Sleeper Train to Nowhere by Jools Stone

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      My wife has been very patient with this story but I will say that yes, we did go out again. The wet jeans never came up. But I think she was just being polite and doing the Japanese thing by ignoring the situation completely.

  27. That is hilarious. Have you seen the ones that talk to you or is that just a joke?
    Ayngelina Brogan´s recent [type] ..The three best hostels in Ecuador

  28. inkaNo Gravatar says:

    Toilets are a girl’s greatest enemy, particulalry the oriental kind, you know, the hole in the ground. I won’t go into any details but suffice it to say that a) I was wearing high heels and b) I slipped. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. You made me laugh so much with this story, that I nearly…
    inka´s recent [type] ..An episode which inspired this blog

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      Great Inka! I knew it wasn’t just me who had some great toilet mishap stories :) Thanks for sharing and for laughing.

      [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

  29. RobinNo Gravatar says:

    Funny story!
    Toilets, I find, are to be avoided on dates. But then that can create its own problems…
    Robin´s recent [type] ..Agua

  30. AndreaNo Gravatar says:

    Hilarious story! My father and his wife (who live in Chicago) bought one of these and they freak me out a bit. I think it’s best to keep it simple in the bathroom. Better than a hole in the ground though, I suppose.
    Andrea´s recent [type] ..The Other Way to Monetize Your Travel Blog

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Andrea, I have to admit I do love the technology. I’m just pissed off about the cute little bird. Seriously, why put a bird if it is a toilet flushing :) Good news is that I got a story out if. This one has been entertaing beer drinkers for over a decade so I thought it was time to put it down on paper…or at least electronic paper.

  31. EricaNo Gravatar says:

    I LOVED the Japanese toilets when we were in Japan. I even researched getting one for our own place (unfortunately I didn’t want to take out a small loan for a TOILET). I really liked the heated bidet. Totally awesome.
    Erica´s recent [type] ..Travel Photography December 3

  32. LOL! I can totally relate! I stayed with a host family in Japan for an extended period of time, and finally, when they were all out of the house, I tried out each button one at a time to finally understand what they all were. My personal fave in Japan: the noise makers in public restrooms to “mask” other noises while in the stall. They are often marked “privacy bell” but sound like flushing water.
    Angela Nickerson´s recent [type] ..Works of Art Buried in Berlin Resurface

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Angela, I lived in Japan for 5 years and had one of these amazing toilets in my house. I love them. BUT the noise maker should be something cute and amusing, not the sound of a toilet flushing 1000 times.

  33. AmandaNo Gravatar says:

    I (thankfully) don’t have any stories about toilets attacking. But yours really made me laugh. (Not that I’m laughing AT you, of course, because you’re far too cool for that…)

    I would have been so incredibly embarrassed, as I’m sure you were! But at least your date was good about it. Did she ever bring it up, or did your soaking wet pants go ignored for the whole date? Or, perhaps the more telling question – was there a second date?
    Amanda´s recent [type] ..The Pros and Cons of Travel

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Yeah, I was embarassed. Such is life when you are young. Thankfully so as it has filled my chest full of bar stories. The pants were ignored and we ended up dating for awhile. Not surprisingly, much much later when we discussed the date she had a less dramatic version than me. I guess it makes sense as she only witnessed the walk of shame out of the bathroom :)

  34. None that I can think of (I’m sure there are some) but I’ve just enjoyed reading your unfortunate misadventures over my tea and cornflakes! :)

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