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Lonely youth take meals in toilets, and a new subculture springs up

57 Comments

My goodness, there's a goddess at the toilet That's why if you clean the toilet

You can become beautiful like the goddess

The plaintive lyrics, in Kansai dialect, of Kana Uemura's 2010 hit ballad, "Toilet no Kamisama"(the god of the toilet), relate the tale of a lonely little girl taken in by her grandmother after her parents divorced.

So popular was Uemura's autobiographical song that she was invited to perform all 9 minutes 52 seconds of it at NHK's Red-White singing battle on New Year's Eve.

Uemura has also spun off two eponymous books, and a two-hour drama based on her story aired last January on Mainichi Broadcasting and affiliates.

About half a decade ago, psychiatrist and author Shizuo Machizawa proclaimed discovery of the "lunchmate syndrome," used to describe the stress felt by school newcomers who, finding it so troublesome or stressful to make new friends with whom they could sit together for lunch in the dining hall or cafeteria began taking their meals in toilet cubicles. The Japanese term for this activity is "benjo-meshi" (toilet rice).

Last year, Spa! magazine launched an in-your-face response to the phenomenon, with a weekly column by comic entertainer "Chihara Junior" (nom de plume of Hiroshi Chihara) named "Sunawachi, benjo wa utchuu de aru" (in other words, the toilet is outer space). Chihara claims -- and what reason is there to doubt him? -- that his columns are composed while seated atop the commode. Nevertheless the photo accompanying his most recent installment, No. 62, showed him writing while standing, using the shelf above a row of urinals as his desk.

Web newspaper J-Cast News (Sept 11) reports that even within the hallowed walls of the elite University of Tokyo, a rumor was circulating that lonely students had taken to engaging in benjo-meshi -- to the extent that the institution was obliged to post signs prohibiting consumption of food therein.

A sign reading "No Smoking, Writing Graffiti or Eating in the Cubicles" was indeed posted on the Web, but it was impossible to verify if the location was actually at Todai. So J-Cast dispatched a reporter to the main campus in Hongo, Bunkyo Ward, to determine if there was any truth to the story.

Inquiring to the university's public relations office, the reporter was informed, "No such notice as been posted."

As befits a prestigious university, the reporter observed that even in the older buildings, the toilets were clean and functioned well. And signs existed, but they requested users to "Flush completely" and "Leave it clean for the next user." Nothing at all about prohibiting snacking. In another building, two signs read "Smoking prohibited" and "Conserve water" -- but again, nothing about eating.

Having come all this way, the reporter thought to himself, "Well at least I can say I did it myself." Entering the cubicle, he sat atop the toilet seat and extracted a piece of pastry from its wrapper.

"The toilet may have been clean, but it was gloomy inside, and I couldn't describe it as a very hospitable place to eat," he writes. "Anyway I took a bite. But just then a person went into a neighboring stall and there was a noise (what tactful ambiguity!). At that point I completely lost my appetite and gave up.

"The whole effort turned out to be futile."

While the practice of benjo-meshi might not be a problem at Japan's preeminent institution, the phenomenon has nonetheless been widely discussed in the blogosphere as being widespread among alienated youths, for whom eating in toilet stalls is preferable to enduring the stress of seeking out a lunchroom companion.

© Japan Today

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57 Comments
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Uggh - one thing worse than eating rice in the toilet, was reading this poorly-written article.

The opening four paragraphs had ZERO to do with the rest of it.

Heard a rumour that people eat in the toilet of Tokyo University, but found no evidence.

Terrible.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Eating in a toilet preferable to trying to find a friend?

Toilet rice?

What is wrong with sitting alone? With a little patience, and self respect, "alone" doesn't last.

But eating in a toilet?

That's endgame.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This article was on JT years ago..so I guess the fad never went away.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Who on earth would prefer eating in a toilet stall to sitting by themselves in a cafeteria, or just not eating? "Toilet rice"... another Japanese cultural phenomenon in the making.

And the song "Toilet Goddess" is still one of the worst songs I've ever heard.... and for nearly 10 minutes no less.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Even the toilet is very clean, I still cannot imagine myself eating in the toilet.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

nothing like the aroma of poo and urine to accompany a good meal.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

What a Yarase article. The author does not find any evidence for this, so she simply makes it up.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

My God - a 9 minute song about a toilet goddess?!

That aside I have to agree - why would anyone want to eat in a toilet??! Surely sitting alone is preferrable to that?

Still - it would appear that the question I have been puzzling over for the best part of 9 years now has finally been answered - what DO Japanese women do in the toilet for 10 minutes at a time???! Obviously those 3 flushes are getting rid of the bits of onigiri they dont want to eat?

-2 ( +2 / -3 )

Someone once told me quite seriously that taking all your meals in the toilet was a sure-fire way to lose weight. Can't say I've ever tried it.

The 'toilet goddess' song isn't about the toilet goddess, it's about a little girl and her granny.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

cleo: "The 'toilet goddess' song isn't about the toilet goddess, it's about a little girl and her granny."

True, but with a horrible name, and based on an awful premise. Sorry, but I don't think recalling my dear Grandmother while I wipe flecks of defecate from the 'porcelain god' would be all that pleasing to her. As for the losing weight because you eat on the crapper... well... unless that person thinks it literally goes in then comes out while you ingest, it's rather poor logic.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I've heard of benjo-mushi but benjo-meshi, it's disgusting.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

smitty - Have you ever listened to the words of the song? It's based on the close relationship of the girl and her granny, how they grew apart as the girl grew into a rebellious teenager, and how she now regrets not having been more considerate of the old lady while she was alive. It's not an awful premise at all, and obviously struck a chord with al the people who helped make it such a hit.

The losing weight thing was apparently based on the idea that the surroundings would deaden the appetite, not that stuff goes straight through (now that is a horrible premise!)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

cleo: Ah, okay... I've got it on the weight loss thing.

Yes, I have listened to the song, and as an avid fan of literature I find the lyrics childish and absurd. I know they are heartfelt and the meaning of the song is moving to many, but I think it's an awful song. As for it becoming a hit, that's not saying a lot -- look at the 'talento' out there and the reasons they become famous (point a finger and say 'gets'!). Another thing is that in American English the 'toilet' often refers more to the fixture you sit on or squat over (or stand before) than it does the room, so while I know I am imposing my thinking on the lyrics, the image is not very flattering. What I meant by 'awful premise' is that the song is like a gimmick -- I can see exactly where the inspiration started (went into the toilet) and the story was framed around it. Very amateur.

To each their own, I know.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

nasty nasty nasty

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

smitty, I recall the same comment came up when the song was mentioned before on JT; Americans don't like to say 'toilet'. Thing is, the song isn't written in American English, it's in Japanese; so whatever images the word might evoke in an American audience are irrelevant. The song wasn't written for them. I could say the thought of Americans searching for 'the bathroom' in a department store or railway station is absurd, but what's the point? I know they don't really want to have a bath. If they can't bring themselves to call a spade a spade, that's fine, it's their prerogative; but let's not go telling the gardener he can't say 'spade' because it has other connotations we don't like.

As for the lyrics being 'childish' - well, she's recalling when she was a little girl, and the interaction she had with her granny then. You'd expect them to be childish, I suppose....

But as you say, each to their own. I find the song overall a little mawkish, but I can't say the use of the word toire bothers me.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

performing two of life's vital function at the same time ? That's far out.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The word "toilet" has come a long way:

From a French word, "toile" meaning a cloth.

To "toilet" = using a cloth to wash with.

Then "toilet" = a place to wash that also has facilities for the disposal of body wastes.

Then "toilet" = the facilities for the disposal of body wastes.

But the "where is the bathroom?" line threw me the first time I heard it, years ago.

But as a place to eat?

No.

I certainly couldn't.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

That's interesting about the goddess thing. I thought that Ishikawa Emi had made that up herself in her horror manga "Zekkyou Gakkyu a few years ago." I'm sad to find out that she just copied it from an old legend.

As for eating in the toilet-- I suppose I wouldn't mind eating in my own toilet. It's clean after all. But eating in a public toilet? Neeeeveeeeeerrrrr. So so gross.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I will eat (and drink) in the (British English) bathroom. A glass of wine while soaking in a candle-lit tub can be very relaxing. Try it tonight if you don't believe me.....

But not in the toilet.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

multi tasking!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"Eating in a toilet preferable to trying to find a friend?"

I don't think that's the problem of feeling lonely. That could that they don't want to spend one hour in the dining-room with a band of creeps that bully them. Kids, teens, uni students spending too much time in any nook they find to hide themselves is very common, not only in Japan. That said, I don't think they eat much on the throne. Sadly, I know by experience (as witness, not myself) that some hang themselves, take overdose of bad stuff or open their veins.

"toire no kamisama"

Who said that was a goddess ? Cheap translation. Nobody remembers Tanizaki's text about his outhouse ? I associate my Grand-ma with a kettle (she had no benjo, LOL), for a reason like that. She boiled the kettle on the stove every evening, and every holiday afternoon, just in case... it's a way to express you wish you had visitors. Cleaning your house, even this place, has totally the same intent for some persons. Oh, our kettle had a kamisama. That was a whistling kettle, and the tune was different when visitors were on the way to the house. No kidding, that never failed ! Well... no that I think about it, maybe there was a trick, it's possible adults were pushing the lid or something when I didn't watch. They played a lot on my gullibility.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I guess the real story is about loneliness and a child too shy to make friends chose to lunch in the toilet fearing rejection if she saught companionship in the canteen. Sad for the young one to have been subject to this dillema, but the fame she achieved by voicing her fears in verse and music, gave her the confidence to publish her feelings. Of course the toilet is not an appropriate environment to consume food, but it was the solution at the time for a lonely girl

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The song is cliche drivel meant to pull the heartstrings of anyone who lost a dear ole granny. Anyone falling for it is a part of the expendable masses. I notice she didnt take long to exploit the song for money in toilet cleaning commercials. Drivel like everything else for sale here. As for eating in the toilet, the metaphor is "Dont sh@t where you eat" and it is meant in a totally different context than literally, because where in the whole world would a society actually be f'd up enough to physically sh@t where they eat? Oh.. yeah... the same society that thinks the toilet goddess song is such a touching and heartfelt story....A dying culture. The bungled and the botched.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

it is true there were flyers posted on the walls of the toilets in Todai. I always thought it a prank (they were actually funny and well made), but my students told me they are official and for real. but to be fair, I've never heard of any student eating in the toilet; I do know a guy who was eating on some dark stairs in the basement, and another who hanged himself in the toilet though

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sad to say this, but his is a real thing according to my wife who is a counselor of anorexic and bulimic patients. She also says it is nothing new and has been a way of life for many in Japan for years (more than 10 in her experience). According to her, the patients who do this can't stand to have others watch what they themselves eat. As for "multi-tasking" - she says it doesn't necessarily happen and that this is just a symptom of an eating disorder.

She even says that this is nothing attributable to Japan and thinks it is universal and that people in any country/culture could have this way of life.

Who knew?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

being widespread among alienated youths, for whom eating in toilet stalls is preferable to enduring the stress of seeking out a lunchroom companion.

I guess that saying "Youth is wasted on the young" holds true for this. I wish these kids would understand that they may be by themselves, after they leave school they will probably never see these kids again. It's not problem to have friends from different schools, you may learn something. Sure you may not have ready companions near, but at least you are not subject to negative peer pressure to do something wrong as I am sure some of the others who have lunch mates may have.

Trust me, when kids are older, they will enoy eating lunch alone if they have to work with some of the "knuckle heads" that I work with.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I don't think that we should be looking at the "Yuck" factor of this. The real issue is what is going on in school that makes it so bad that kids have to go to the bathroom to eat their food. I was a high school teacher here for about 15 years and I kind of understand what these kids are thinking. I saw many kids eating their lunches at their desks and being completely ignored as if they didn't even exist. I use to hate seeing that and would sometimes try to engage them. But to be honest, this was not a new thing for them. By the time they had gotten to high school it seemed pretty natural for them to close up into their shells. When I would walk up and try to talk to them they looked like they would lose bowel control right there on the spot. They were not social at all and would often reply in one or two words and seemed to be relieved when I would leave them. They were just so used to solitude and nobody really giving a rats a#$%&!

Anyway, there do not seem to be in kind of ads on TV like the ones we have in the states by "A foundation for a better life". There is one were there is a new girl who tries to sit at the table of the popular girls and is blown off. Another girl see this and goes to sit at her table. I would like it if we could see some commercials like that to help inspire people to be kinder to each other in school. I never saw other teachers try to encourage the students to be friendly to the new kids or the dorky ones either. If you think about it, it might be easier for kids like that to eat in the toilet, away from all the pointing fingers, jokes about them and bad looks that they get from other kids. It may be a smelly place to eat but at least they can ignore all the uncomfortable feelings that they get from the other kids. I know it sounds strange but, it makes sense to me, not that I would have ever even dreamed of that.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I would like to encourage you guys to all pray for these kids. Think about it. These kids have it so bad that they have to actually eat in the toilet. NO KID SHOULD EVER FEEL THAT WAY. Forgive me for my bleeding heart but I saw how these kids are either completely ignored or picked on so badly. And the teachers just ignore it. "Teach what the school system asks you to teach, collect your pay and be done with it", seems to be the going thought process of teachers in Japan and many other countries for that matter as well. Teachers don't get involved. Kids get pushed out of the classroom through peer pressure and then we get to read about them them jumping off buildings or hanging themselves, and the teachers and principals all claiming that they were doing their best, but I know better. What a terrible, terrible waste.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It is the parents fault for not teaching the kids to stand up for themselves, but in "traditional" Japanese fashion the kids probably don't tell you parents what is happening. I remember even at a Catholic Private School getting bullied, but usually very lightly. There was one kid though, who wasn't even in any of my classes who bullied me, think it lasted for 2-3 weeks. He was two grades higher than me, taller, and must have been 50 pounds heavier. He was a crossing guard for the school bus and every morning I had no choice, but to see him after I got off the bus. My best friends had told me to just punch him in the stomach and eventually that is what I did, a half hour later I was pulled out of class into the principal's office. I think I had to shake hands with the kid or something and that was it, but the bullying stopped after that. This was in elementary school though....... high school bullies are a bit harder to deal with, but that is why you find a crowd to fit in with so as not to draw yourself out to be picked on. Ne?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

That was in response to troyinjapan by the way. Forgive my bad grammar above please. ~__^

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So popular was Uemura’s autobiographical song that she was invited to perform all 9 minutes 52 seconds of it

What is this "Macarthur Park" of the 21st century?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Joseph Perry. Yeah, I agree with you wholeheartedly. It is the parents fault in many cases. The parents that I talked to often felt at a lose of what to do and how to fix the problem. As a teacher, I wanted to tell them to teach their kids some communication skills, how to be cool, how to smell and look better, and how to defend themselves but couldn't do so. YOU can't actually tell them that their kids are goofy and socially handicapped. I would have been fired so quickly for that. So, what do the parents do? They depend on the system. They don't think that their kids misfits. They love their children and don't understand why they are picked on or they think kids are just being kids and the pain that their kids are feeling is really not all that bad. Either way they are wrong.

My dad used to tell me that if i picked a fight he would whip me, but if I ran away from one he would do the same thing. I was just like you though. Adam Farmer was his name. He was full head taller than me and gave me a good whipping. I could never hope to beat the guy, so I kamikazed him while he played one day. I ran up to him punched him in the stomach than in the face and ran like hell. I did it twice. Got suspended both times for it. But he left me alone because he knew I would come for him out of the blue so he thought it was not wroth it. But for other kids it is not that easy and the teachers do need to be more. The teachers are the ones who can see what is going on and who is having trouble with whom if they take the time. All it takes is caring about your job a little more.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This isn't a new story. NHK and one of the broadcasters in Kyushu did a report about this in mid-2009.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The song was only written last year.

WOW! Input from the moderator? I have never seen that before. But, oaky. I will go with that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lucky it was not a Japanese squatter toilet. That would get very tiring to eat that way. And if it was an old out house benjo job, the food would have been shared with the flies.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

What a pity! No guts to sit by yourself just for lunch.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Kids sure are eating like **** these days.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

this country has got some major social issues

0 ( +0 / -0 )

cleo: "Thing is, the song isn't written in American English, it's in Japanese..."

I am well aware of that and hence said so in my comment ("...so while I know I am imposing my thinking on the lyrics...").

"...; so whatever images the word might evoke in an American audience are irrelevant."

Not if said person is expressing their opinion. And for the record, I'm Canadian, not American, but to call the English used in North America "North American English" or my English "Canadian English" would, aside from a few distinct spellings, idioms, and colloquialisms, be silly. The use of the word 'toire' in everyday conversation doesn't bother me, although I find it amusing on occasion when someone who is very proper asks me where the toilet is.

"As for the lyrics being 'childish' - well, she's recalling when she was a little girl, and the interaction she had with her granny then. You'd expect them to be childish, I suppose...."

Not really; one needn't be childish when referring to the time when they were a child.

Anyway, enough about this song. I just pray I don't have to hear it again anywhere.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

The toilet goddess thing is a real belief and pretty old. My mother in law said she cleaned the toilet at least once a day while she was pregnant with my wife to have a beautiful daughter, and that was in the late 70s. I haven't really listened to the song, but I guess it's the same story. Also when we got married my wife put a packet of salt in the toilet facing the north to keep away bad luck, but I'm not sure if that was connected to the toilet goddess or not. Strange and interesting to us, but the Mrs. can't understand a lot of stuff my family does or believes either.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Disgusting and very unhygenic eating food in a toilet yuk.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I bet the youth of Japan that I could take em to some nice baños publicos in my native México, and these poor, shy youth of Japan would go out flying to make friends far, far away!!! Man, I would not even want to drink a coke, pepsi let alone have my tacos in some of the horrible bathrooms that some of our so called public schools in México have.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I started this article with a horrible vision of some toudai geek eating onigiri on a toilet - but fortunately finished with a one of a naked English lady sipping wine in a bubble bath.

And they say there is no God ...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I have "prayed" to the "porcelain god" after a night of over-indulgence (ETOH), back in my younger days. Made "oferrings" however, would never think of ingesting anything in or around a s-hole. Grandma's rule: Don't play where you work and definitely, don't eat where you s***. @Elbuda Sabes q' con una lata de coca cola uno puede limpiar uno de esos baños asquerosos? :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I like Yasukuni's comment...in my country we use the word toilet and bathroom but also the term 'loo'', also we have a sanitizer called loo blue....this whole sad story puts a different twist on it...loo blues...I feel so sorry for these kids!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Come to think of it, I guess no King or Queen would want to eat in the "Throne Room"... AKA "Going to see a man about a dog" (I hope my dog can't read this...) Loved Yasukuni's comment though !

0 ( +0 / -0 )

“Benjo-meshi” is a kind of slang used on the internet especially in "2 Channel". it is just a sarcastic joke describing lonely men. It is true that some freshmen find it difficult to make friends and feel it awkward to eat alone in campus cafeteria. But even they would not choose a toilet to eat since there are a lot of other places where they can eat alone without concerning other's eyes in campus. In practice, "Benjo-meshi" fairly infrequently occurs.

But it is also the fact that many Japanese youth have social problems, just as such a rumor sounds like true.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

My impression is that this raising the issue of toilets -- a song about goddesses, magazine column, discussing whether or not people are eating therein, etc. -- is being done mainly for its shock value, as an attention-getter. The whole thing is rather sophomoric.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

American English getting put through the wringer again? I swear.

It's not like we're the only people who use euphamisms, folks. "Restroom" makes about as much sense as the British euphamism "water closet" in my opinion. Then there's "the lav", "the lavvy", and "the loo".

And in fact, the word "toilet" is itself a euphamism - a bastardization of the French for "dressing room." Apparently, before toilet became popular, it was referred to as "the bog-house" in English; hardly pleasant sounding, but also a euphamism.

In fact, British, American, Canadian, Australian or wherever you come from, unless you're referring to it as "the sh--ter", you're not calling it what it is.

The moral of the story is, quit with the irrational America hating and all this "my slightly different way of speaking English is superior to your way of speaking English"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

American English getting put through the wringer again? I swear.

It's not like we're the only people who use euphamisms, folks.

There's no need to swear. Everyone uses euphemisms, including the Japanese. In Japanese, toire, keshoshitsu, otearai are all euphemisms for benjo which itself is a euphemism originally referring to the room where noble ladies did their hair.

No one is 'America hating', just pointing out that just because Americans (or anyone else) don't like the sound of a particular word, it doesn't mean that people who speak a completely different language should feel they mustn't use it. In Japanese, o-toire is much more polite than benjo. If you don't like the word then fine, don't use it. But don't try to dictate to people how they should speak their own language.

When I first came to Japan innocent mention of a 'vacuum cleaner' had my shocked Japanese friends warning me that that wasn't a very nice expression for a young lady to use. I'm quite happy to say vacuum cleaner when I'm speaking English, but I avoid bakyuumu when speaking Japanese. It's a different language.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I avoid bakyuumu when speaking Japanese. It's a different language.

Good idea since it's not the same thing at all. A bakyuumu is one of those trucks used by kumitori-ya to pump out the contents of cisterns. The word for vacuum cleaner is denki soujiki.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

So you made it all the way to College after going through all those difficult entrance exams and a lot of hard work, just to eat atop the a toilet.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Virtuoso - You're missing the point, which is that the images that spring to the Japanese mind when they hear someone talking in English about a vacuum cleaner might be disconcerting for them, but they don't affect the way the word is used in English. Same with toire in Japanese and the images it seems to conjure up in the American mind.

It's bakyuumu kaa, by the way; but vacuum still gets people tittering.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

That's BS. Why would University students worry about eating alone? It's not high school anymore. They don't have to eat at the cafeteria, or even inside the school for that matter. And they have grown up some (or at least hopefully) - leave the high school social shenanigans back in high school.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Mods, if I could upload a picture from my cell phone, there won't be the need for a reporter to search Todai's toilets. the signs are long gone.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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