While the widespread presence of public toilets in convenience stores is great, it is also fraught with ambiguous customs and could, technically, even lead to criminal charges.
We’ve seen time and time again how truly convenient convenience stores in Japan are. From cosmetics to cancer screenings to postal services there isn’t much you can’t get or do a one of these places. Heck, even their Japanese nickname of “combini” is extremely convenient.
And one more service they provide is the ability to relieve yourself at a moment’s notice. Sure, there are other public restrooms in Japan, but none as easy to find and always nearby as a Family Mart, 7-Eleven, or Lawson.
▼ You can’t throw a rock in Japan without hitting one of these color schemes
However, there is a catch. Each store lays down their own set of rules regarding their washrooms. Some say you can go in freely, while others require you to ask or even simply call out to the staff that you are using it. And then there are some that are completely off-limits to anyone but staff.
It should be noted that oftentimes these restrooms have the appearance of restaurant lavatories with multiple stalls and easy access. This is very much unlike the ones back where I come from (usually only in gas station/convenience store collaborations) which are dingy closets that require a key with a keychain so large you could bludgeon a man to death with it.
The reason combinis have for making customers announce their bodily functions is understandable. Unlike those in restaurants, these washrooms are opportune places for shoplifters to securely hide their booty and escape, so by alerting the staff customers can be spotted carrying any merchandise with them.
▼ On the other hand, this store is simply concerned with guys taking enormous dumps. This sign tells people not to do so under any circumstances. Of course, realizing that someone with such a large movement likely can’t turn back by the time they read the sign, the customer is also asked to clean up after themselves.
Image: Wikipedia/Takeshi KOUNO
Even knowing convenience stores’ predicament, I still find it a hard pill to swallow. It’s hard not to feel like I’m reduced to a three-year-old telling their mommy they have to tinkle, so oftentimes I’ll just plug ahead to the lavatory without asking. I mean what are they going to do? Arrest me?
Actually they can, according to lawyer Shun Higashiyama when asked by Bengoshi Dot Com about the legality of using convenience store toilets. He says that unauthorized use of a toilet does fall under the legal definition of trespassing. Furthermore, if someone is a repeat offender they can be charged with trespassing simply by setting foot in the store as long as their intention is to use the restroom without permission.
However, Higashiyama admits that would be hard to prove in court and convenience store managers aren’t likely to go around pressing charges against their customers as it would be bad for business. So, while technically possible, we can probably consider the chances of getting arrested to be very slim.
▼ “What are you in for?”
“I didn’t tell a store clerk I needed to pee.”
Nevertheless, with no consistent rule of etiquette in place, this all results in a confusing situation when you step into a store to use their restroom. Should you take the moment to announce to everyone that you have to urinate or deal with a sudden bout of explosive diarrhea? Or should you just press ahead without explicit permission?
I suppose the worst that would happen is you get accused of shoplifting, but the most likely result of not asking is that the staff will think you’re a jerk. So, as long as you can live with that, amen.
A lot of Japanese people I talk to ask as long as the situation isn’t urgent. Personally, I act according to the design of the washroom. If there is a door with a turning knob then I will ask, if there is a sliding door or open doorway, then I’ll just go for it. Can’t say there’s much logic to that, but baby, that’s just how it is.
I haven’t had any problems that way so far, but if I do get arrested or stumble into some psychopathic convenience store owner’s dungeon of horrors, I’ll let you know.