Where’s the Bathroom?


When I was 15, I went to Japan with my dojo. I practice a martial art called Kendo. Think Jedi Knights meets the Olympics if they were held in Tokyo. That’s Kendo. From the moment we landed, I was anxious to try out all the Japanese phrases I’d learned on the 18-hour plane ride.

One night, my group stopped at a soba bar for dinner. I sat at the kids table with my fellow kendo-ka (kendo players), still letting it sink in that we were across the world. While we checked out the array of girls or boys or girls who look like boys that Tokyo had to offer, I was decided on what Japanese expression Iʼd try next. The waitress approached the table and I immediately cut her off to ask where the bathroom was.

“Sento wa doku desu ka?” I blurted out excitedly. The waitress looked confused. My friends laughed.

“SENTO wa doku desu ka!” I announced again, trying to be clearer. This time, she was clearly insulted and staggered away.

What could I have possibly have said to her? It came right out of my phrasebook. Thinking quickly, I whipped out my pocket Japanese-English dictionary to find the word I was led to believe meant “bathroom.”

SENTO: (n) Public Bathhouse.

I try to be so considerate in everyday life that I once bumped into an empty chair and I apologized. In an effort to be conversational in the very polite culture of Japan, I asked the waitress where the public bathhouse was. With such enthusiasm in my voice, it actually came across as a bit of an invite.

From that point on, I held my tongue and my pee.

(photo courtesy of Simone Matteo Giuseppe Manzon/Dreamstime.com)