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 a wall-to-wall panoramic view of the lake, distant mountains glowed as the sun retreated for the day. A massive aquarium claimed the wall behind the bar, glowing blue from black light. At first glance it looked empty.
“Look again,” the bartender advised. He didn’t look up and kept at his task, chipping away at large cube of ice until a perfect sphere emerged. One for each whiskey 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 minimalist sheik. We weren’t drinking in Tokyo, but this was a cool as it got in Shiga and we were cool 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 was 2000, 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 (except to wash my hands, yes, of course I wash my hands!).
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.
The water followed me out of the toilet and soaked my jeans. I turned around and got it in the face.
“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 gathered myself. I was about to leave when I remembered 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.
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.
So you have a toilet story or another misadventure while on the road? Share all your dirty, embarrassing stories below.