Home > Japan, School > On Toilet seats, restaurants, and staff meetings

On Toilet seats, restaurants, and staff meetings

On Toilets

This morning I woke up groggily and painfully as I have these past few days, and stumbled into the bathroom. As I swung open the door to my toilet, nothing happened. You may be thinking to yourself, dear reader, “well what on earth is supposed to happen when you swing open the door to your toilet?” And “why does your toilet even have a door?” These are both incredibly important questions, and thank you for asking them. What is supposed to happen is that my toilet seat is supposed to open up for my seating pleasure automatically as I make my presence known. Also, my toilet has a door because the Japanese people love teeny tiny rooms that serve only one purpose. Now can we please continue this story without any more interruptions? I will answer all your toilet related questions (no doubt there are many) at the end, thank you.
I swung open the door, and nothing happened. Any normal person would have simply moved in and, through manual labor, picked up the toilet seat. Not me, though! Like an insane person I stood there waving my hands and the door, trying to find the correct hand signal to unlock my crazy toilet, at times grunting and yelping, as if that makes any difference. Finally after about two minutes, my efforts were rewarded. The reason I did this is that I have instituted a strict no toilet touching policy in my house. I mean why should I touch my toilet when it is entirely possible to go through the entire day without as much as putting down the toilet seat? The toilet seat cover is controlled by a sensor. The actual toilet seat can be raised and lowered with a button on my handy-dandy control center which you may have seen if you looked through the pictures I took of my apartment. The big flush and little flush buttons (yet another ingenious Japanese invention) are also conveniently located on said control panel. The bidet, geyser (at least that’s what I think it is going by the little picture describing it) and other buttocksal cleaning apparati are found on the control panel, and on a separate section on the side of the toilet. I am quite sure that I never even have to use toilet paper again if that is what I so choose to do. I may institute a strict “no toilet paper” policy for a month and see how that fairs. The only reason I have not tried out all the little gadgets on my toilet is that I am deathly afraid that it’s going to malfunction and either do things to me I really don’t want, or just spray the bathroom with water for many minutes until I find the plug and unplug my toilet (that’s really weird to say, unplug a toilet…) On a related yet entirely random note, I think that if the “Transformers” scenario became a reality, I would be far more afraid of the transforming toilets than of anything else. They already have built in water canons, and their automated seats can easily be used as mouths to gulp down the prey it has just softened into pulp, much like a crocodile catches its meal and hides it underwater for a while to moisten and soften it up for eating. Yes I did just compare my toilet to a deadly crocodile, and yes I still think it’s an apt comparison.

On restaurants

But enough about toilets! There are more exciting things afoot. Last night, Candice (another JET), Natalie and I visited a real Japanese restaurant. By real Japanese restaurant I mean that there were no English menus, the entire restaurant was pretty much just a bar, and we had no idea what was on the menu. With my limited Japanese ability I was able to deduce that they had Tenpura, grilled chicken, some kind of “ステーキ” or steak, and then a variety of other things I could not read. I ordered what I could read for the three of us, since the other two were hesitant, or could not read the menu at all. I ordered some Shrimp tenpura (the only thing I was absolutely sure about), and then what I thought was grilled chicken with garlic, and one of the steaks on the menu. When the barkeeper/chef took my steak order, he looked at me and said: “This is natto steak. Do you really want natto steak?” Although I was intrigued, I did not think it was appropriate to subject the other two to a grilled version of the most disgusting food known to man, so I quickly changed my order to a tofu steak. Indeed, the steaks on the menu were lacking any kind of meat product. Looking around, we saw the people next to us eating something that looked quite appetizing. We asked them what it was, and they replied: “Potato salad.” We hastily ordered two of those, ensuring that there was at least one thing on the menu we knew would be delicious. Our order arrived after a while, and included two sticks with whole garlic cloves grilled with the skin still on it, some weird rice ball with some not so tasty meat or something inside, the tofu steak, and the shrimp tenpura. Apparently I had not ordered yakitori with garlic (grilled chicken with garlic) I had ordered grilled garlic…with garlic.

After some initial hesitation, and with the knowledge I would not be kissing anyone any time that night, I dug in. It was actually quite delicious. The tofu steak turned out to be the most delicious thing of the night, and the tenpura was fresh, and still piping hot. The garlic was tasty, and the potato salad was quite satisfactory, although it had more eggs than potatoes. Overall, it was a great evening because there’s really nothing like going into a restaurant with no idea what you’re doing and coming out of it with a great meal! Final cost: 3250 yen, 1080 something yen per person, around $10. That included two beers and a chu-hi calpis. (Not all for me, one for each person, ok?) Chu-hi is an alcoholic beverage made from sho chuu, which is the liquor equivalent of sake. It’s made from rice, and is, apparently, quite strong, which is why it’s generally drunk as chu-hi, which has been mixed with various fruit flavors to make it a bit more manageable. Sho chuu is generally seen as the reason why there are so many people sleeping on the street passed out in Japan at night. In the convenience stores, you can buy something called Chu-hi strong, which has 8% alcohol per volume. Not really something to write home about perhaps, but considering it costs about $1 per can, it’s fairly easy to drink a lot. Calpis, despite the unfortunate sounding name, is a milky white energy drink that is quite popular in Japan. I didn’t taste it, but apparently the combination is quite tasty. We will definitely be going there again some time, perhaps with a Japanese person to explain to us exactly what else is on the menu, because we saw some very tasty food coming out, but had no way of ordering it.

On Staff meetings
These blog posts are becoming a bit of an exercise in free flow thinking, jumping all over the place. I am trying to add some structure but I just write when I can, and write as much as I remember/I think is worth telling. This morning was the first “real” day at the office. On Wednesdays I am at 沖代小学校(okidai elementary school) which is my biggest school. All of the teachers were present today, so it was my time to give a 自己紹介, or self introduction. (jikoshoukai) Before that, as I walked in at 8:10 AM and said “おはようございます!” (ohayougozaimasu!) tens of voices echoed back at me. Then, for every subsequent teacher who walked through the door, this process was repeated. Soon, おはよう!’s were in the air like birds chirping their morning song, or perhaps a more apt comparison considering the place is like crickets whacking away on their wings, or however they make that crazy sound they do. It was quite a spectacle. At 8:30AM, the morning teacher’s meeting starts, and I am asked to stand up and give a little speech. I thought it went quite well, I mixed in English and Japanese, said everything I wanted to say, and that was that. After that the Vice Principal came up to me and said: “Thank you, now bla bla bla bla bla bla bla” and pointed to the door. I didn’t hear much of what he said, because the principal was busy talking as well, and it was in Japanese so I had a tough time picking it up. Though I didn’t head what he said, I understood that he wanted me to follow him, so I got up, grabbed my bag and followed. He lead me to the nurse’s office, and said I could work in here. So here I am in the nurse’s office. All alone, with half of my stuff on my desk in the teachers’ office. I think what he said was something along the lines of: “We are going to be having a teacher’s meeting now, so the Principal said it was OK for you to work in the nurse’s office while we meet.” The implication being (quite correctly so) that I wouldn’t understand anything they were talking about anyway and it would be better served for me to work somewhere else for a while. The dilemma here is that I am not entirely sure that is right. I have no idea how long I have to be in here for, and am not sure whether I should go out and check, or what. I feel like I’m in some sort of teacher detention. I guess I will just keep myself busy until someone comes to get me, or until I think I’ve sat in time-out long enough and peek my head out the door to see what’s going on in the teachers’ office.
-update!- It’s now 11:00 AM and the vice principal just came into the nurse’s office with my bottle of water which I had really regretted leaving in the teachers’ office. People here are incredibly thoughtful. I have now been able to confirm that I am not, in fact, in a time out, and that my original prognosis was correct. They are having an all teacher’s meeting. I asked him until when it would last. He said: “Oh, until around 2:30 pm.” Holy Mackerel! Starting at 8:30 am and ending at 2:30 pm, that is a five hour teacher’s meeting! When they say meeting in Japan, they don’t mess around. Looks like I’m going to be here for a while, but that’s OK. I have been reading some of the books found in the nurse’s office, and they are all very enlightening.

Well, that’s all the news that’s fit to print for this edition, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed. I’m doing my best to describe what it’s like living in Japan, but often times there are things that simply cannot be put down on paper, much like a gorgeous view is never entirely captured on camera. You just have to be there. Hopefully though, I am at least getting across the main points and exciting things about being here, and making you all as excited as I am about this whole adventure.

Hope everyone is doing OK! Let me know how you’re doing,


  1. Stu
    August 19, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Garlic with garlic! It’s just like that restaurant in SF you wanted to check out!

  2. TedK
    August 20, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    This is SO FUN to read!! I found your blog through Jule, a co-worker of mine.

    I was a regional jr. high school JET in Miyazaki from ’90 to ’92 (平成2-平成4) and your stories really take me back there… keep up the great work!! ガンバレ!

    BTW, the Japanese skills and certification I acquired while there have been extremely beneficial to my career in the years since… study hard!

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