Remind me again, does the ladies’ room sign start with a character that looks like cross stitching, or is it the character kind of like a stick figure with a window for a head? In a visit to Japan years ago, I found it so difficult to decipher the kanji signs that I usually just loitered around until someone went in or out to give me a clue. In one fairly upscale restaurant, I was kindly escorted to the restroom door, and when I stepped through, I discovered that I was standing beside the men’s urinal, which was currently in use, and that I’d have to walk past it (eyes carefully averted) to get to the women’s room.
Apparently the Japanese find Western ways equally baffling. In my hotel bathroom, there was a small metal plate affixed to the wall showing an outline drawing of a male figure and a toilet, with a little dotted line showing an arc of urine traveling from the little outline penis into the little outline toilet bowl.
One day in Yokohama, a friend and I found a freestanding public restroom on a busy street. We went into the ladies' side (for once, clearly marked with a graphic) and when it came time to flush, I looked around and saw there were no levers, just two large buttons on the wall, one red and one black. I chose the black, which seemed to do the trick, but my friend pressed the red one. Immediately lights began flashing and sirens sounded with an urgency usually reserved for times when the spaceship is about to explode and you have ten seconds left to evacuate. We raced out into the street and got about thirty yards down the sidewalk. Glancing back, I saw half a dozen people wearing uniforms and surgical masks trotting towards the facility. Paramedics? Hazmat squad? Swat team? I’ll never know, as my friend and I decided that our best option was to skedaddle.
The mere act of going to the bathroom, taking a shower or even washing your clothes can be risky business in many places I’ve traveled. For more, check out my new album “Keep it Clean!” on my Facebook page.
Photo courtesy of dianaschnuth/flickr.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and currently visiting my home state of California.
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