There are countless things you are going to get wrong. And if that bothers you, Japan might not be the place for you. In addition to the procedure associated with shoeing and deshoeing (to borrow from aviation parlance) and the question of where to rest your chopsticks in between bites (not in the rice), there are many customs and protocols, so there is a 110 percent chance that you will run afoul of something, somewhere, and, more than likely, you won’t even know it. So you get somewhat accustom to not knowing the custom, and to sticking out a bit. But even with my expectations properly set, there are some things one assumes they will be able to accomplish without calling undue attention to oneself, and amongst that list of items would be the ability to locate the appropriate bathroom.
However, as the photo below attests, that did not prove the case. Perhaps I was told in Japanese that the bathroom on my floor was a women's bathroom and didn't understand (wakarimasen) or was told in English and forgot, or wasn't told and there is a sign I can’t read. Regardless,the result is the same. I spent the first three weeks at NIDS using the "women's" bathroom. Not until a sticky-note appeared in the stairwell outside my office indicating that the men’s lavatory was on the second floor, was I clued into the fact I had been using the women’s bathroom these several weeks.
But before I denounce myself too harshly, a picture of an exact replicate of the “women’s” bathroom (i.e. the Men's Bathroom on the 2nd floor) does absolve me of some guilt. The bathroom comes complete with two stand-up urinals, one western style toilet, and is free of both paper towel dispensers or hand dryers (a very common trait in most public restrooms in Japan).
Now if it ended there, the embarrassment would be slight. But immediately upon learning of the 3rd Floor bathroom’s status as a “women’s bathroom”, I decided to make a call on the 2nd Floor lavatory. And on that visit and about every 5th visit since the door has closed behind me with a very loud, half-wooden, half-metallic bang. This is on account of the door’s malfunctioning spring system that doesn’t kick in until the last six inches before door impacts with the door frame, shattering the complete silence of the second floor and interrupting pivotal research on vital international security issues. And every time I hear the door slam shut behind me I wonder if the Japanese have a saying similar to the US saying that “you can’t fix stupid,” but instead for them it’s “you can’t fix gaijin.”