lifestyle

To ask or not to ask: The etiquette and law of using convenience store restrooms in Japan

54 Comments
By Master Blaster, RocketNews24

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 relive 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.

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.

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.

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.

Source: Yahoo! Japan News

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54 Comments
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If I were the manager is toss anyone out of the store not asking.

-26 ( +2 / -28 )

Nine times out of then I buy something when I use a convenience toilet. It's not like they don't sell things I won't ever need.

That tenth time, it's my local convenience store, and if I don't buy something then, I will another time.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Victimizing convenience stores. This is raw.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"If I were the manager is toss anyone out of the store not asking."

Why would care so much. Its foot traffic. Its a store. Maybe 100 people walk in JUST to use the bathroom with ZERO intention to buy something, maybe 25 buy something anyway. That is how it works. And you are manager it doesn't matter if they buy anything, you are being paid to make sure the store is in order. You dont get more or less if people dont buy anything. And if they have nice bathrooms and people come in To BLA BLA Mart and love their bathrooms they will go around saying I love BLA BLA Mart. But if you toss them out, people will say BLA BLA Mart is horrible, don't go there, they have a mean old gurmpy manager.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I would never just go in to use the facilities and immediately eave but have never had to ask regardless, especially in Seven Eleven. Those are some extremely convenient and well kept restrooms.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

never ask.. its considered a service, just as you dont ask to use the toilet in a restaurant

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I never ask, but I almost always buy something, even if it's just a 100 yen pack of gum.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

never ask.. its considered a service, just as you dont ask to use the toilet in a restaurant

I agree. I never asked, never have and never would.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Most times I don't ask. It's not like they're gonna chase you down and drag you outa there, or even say anything.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Toilet's door should be locked all the time for security. If someone needs it, hand the key to him/her every time. Most countries do this.

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

@kwat: That is the beauty of Japan. This is a unique country.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

In Japan, where doing evil things in the restrooms of convenience stores is rare, why lock it? Why refuse the service to possible customers? Why be known as the mean grumpy store; that only leads to less income at a time convenience stores are looking to increase both customers and income.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I've never seen anyone mention anything before using the toilet in a convenience store and I don't see why you should. Not like it's an employee only toilet in the back office or something. As long as you buy something it seems cool with me.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Buy something cheap on your way out.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

i cannot enter a convenience store without buying something.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I buy a newspaper before using their washroom.Simple.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@Rana Sodhi, I can only imagine that you need that newspaper to spend some time in said lavatory. Ghosh bless!

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I sometimes buy something, and sometimes I don't. I do try to make sure to ask if I can use it everytime though. Common courtesy more than anything else.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Nearly every convenience store I've been to has customer specific toilets. There are signs letting people know where they are. Anyone that asks to use these customer toilets must confuse the hell out of the staff.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I think asking the staff is simply common sense and common curtesy.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

If I were the manager is toss anyone out of the store not asking.

What a great way to lose a customer. You can have a recurring customer who often buy things in your conbini without ever needing the restroom, and the day he needs it and is in a hurry, you'd toss him out of the store. Don't expect him to come back.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

If, like the picture of the article, the sign on the door of the restroom says スタッフに一声おかけください "Ask staff for use", you have to ask.

If the sign on the door of the restroom says ご自由にお使いください "Feel free to use", you do not have to ask.

If you cannot read Japanese, ask a store clerk for use.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I do the Al Bundy. Before the toilet I buy a newspaper and a packet of the soft tissue they sell for use in train stations. I get the news I need and a softer wipe. This way there is no need to "ask", customers get use freely.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's only bizarre to ask if you don't know the proper Japanese and try to translate literally.

I try to ask, but if it is a place I frequent I won't if the staff are busy and it would take time or interrupt them to let them know I'm going to use the bathroom (and people don't ask, they tell). And I only use it if I'm going to buy or have just bought something, with maybe one or two exceptions in more than two decades.

If people are so stubborn they outright refuse to ask they should not be offended if the shop staff act suspicious or even ask to see their bags, if the shop has a policy of not using without asking.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Where I come from, we ask for the benjo, some younger staff point at their nose, head bent to one side and ask with eyes wide "bento ? "

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Where I come from, we ask for the benjo

I'm not sure where you're from, but in kanto at least, 'benjo' is pretty coarse.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Cosmos: Please do not take your Bento into the Benjo. Especially if you want to play that Benjo on your knee and sing out loud Oh Suzanna.

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

Deciding what to do based on the type of door is harebrained. Just read the sign on the door, it's there to tell you their policy. Whenever I need to use one I make a quick beeline for the restroom. Then I come out, get a basket, and do a bit of shopping. I think that looks least suspicious and saves the staff from having to fret about whether they have a shoplifter on the premises.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Convenience stores are a god send for runners like me. They've saved me from having to 'go wild' a few times on long runs and I can't say I've ever asked permission to use them. Difficult to hide contraband down your running shorts anyway...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm not sure where you're from, but in kanto at least, 'benjo' is pretty coarse.

I'm Japanese and was educated in countries that call it the "Bog" ~ Loo,~ Dunny,~ John, Can-doo~ shizen hausen, As for it being coarse , Not in my circle on the Kanto plain . It's only the women who know me or men who talk like a woman tell me to behave myself.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I personally do not ask. I figure that as a regular customer of my convinience store, the 1 out of 20 times that I'm in there and use their bathroom should be alright. If customer service is their motto, then they shouldn't make it a biggie.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Not in my circle on the Kanto plain . It's only the women who know me or men who talk like a woman tell me to behave myself.

So at work, do you say you're going to the benjo?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Rocket news is full of JP newbies... It was unheard of 5 years ago for any comvimi to offer a public toilet. They all have been installed to get more customers to come in.... End of story.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

It was unheard of 5 years ago for any comvimi to offer a public toilet.

What? I don't ever remember a time when combinis didn't have public bathrooms. Not all of them of course, but it's been pretty commonplace as long as I've been here (~20years).

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Gogogo: "It was unheard of 5 years ago for any comvimi to offer a public toilet. They all have been installed to get more customers to come in.... End of story."

Unheard of for them to have washlets, maybe, but they've had bathrooms open to the public (at most stores -- a couple I've seen have been off limits, and only a few of the ones that were open to the public had signs asking you to let staff know) since I've been here, and that's a long time now.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I've never seen anyone mention anything before using the toilet in a convenience store

Interesting. I hear people say 'Toire kashita kudasai' to the staff quite often. Maybe the one at your conbini is clearly labeled telling customers to go ahead and use it?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

gogogo at Oct. 28, 2016 - 09:36PM JST "Rocket news is full of JP newbies... It was unheard of 5 years ago for any comvimi to offer a public toilet. They all have been installed to get more customers to come in.... End of story."

Gogogo must not get out and go about much. Seems to have a very limited knowledge. I've been using convinience store restrooms in Japan for 20 years at least.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

So at work, do you say you're going to the benjo?

Nah, I just tell the gaffer I'm taking a long benjo break which includes a smoke and time out of the hum-drum . I guess you haven't a clue of what I'm talking about

0 ( +1 / -1 )

While in Japan, I am just grateful that restrooms are so readily available. In the U.S. besides not having access to public restrooms, you almost always have to have a key. Of course, restaurants and malls are different, but they are not as available to the general public like Japan. Plus, Japanese restrooms are CLEAN. Some in the U.S. are filthy, and sometimes vandalized.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Nah, I just tell the gaffer I'm taking a long benjo break which includes a smoke and time out of the hum-drum . I guess you haven't a clue of what I'm talking about

Not really, but I think you've established that you don't care about sounding coarse.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The law is an ass. Do you ask to exit the store, It has a sign indicating such. The restroom has a sign indicting "here it is". I know people just use the restroom without any purchase which my girlfriend is guilty of, but I do purchase something if this occurs. Simply have a sign on the restroom door stating the store policy on the use of the restroom would be ample. In my country one would not chance using a restroom other then the bush or home.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

'Toire kashita kudasai'

'kashite'...pardon the typo.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

John-San: In my country one would not chance using a restroom other then the bush or home.

Worst I've seen are some in China and one on a shrimp boat in USA. Best in the world is the faculty/adult restroom in a particular elementary school in the USA. Very clean, and orange-scented!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I've never seen a big chain convenience store (Lawson, 7-11, Family Mart, Circle K etc.) that required you to announce or ask to use the restroom. Some people do, but most of the time staff seem too busy or simply don't really care.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I would assume that in a court a sign showing that there is a toilet would represent an offer to use it. I would only ask in a convenience store if I could not see a sign, and would ask where the toilet was.

I also think many people consider themselves as customer a customer of the chain rather than one particular shop and as such entitled to use the chain's toilet. Buy your coffee in one Lawsons and leave it in another.

However, I do seem to remember reading about people being charged for some offence or other for dumping rubbish in bins provided by shops.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

However, I do seem to remember reading about people being charged for some offence or other for dumping rubbish in bins provided by shops.

The bins are for customers to toss the rubbish from what they buy, as truck drivers and others will eat and drink in their cars right there...they don't object to people getting rid of small amounts of trash from their cars either, but some people were bringing their household garbage, ie, food waste, and that draws bugs, cats, and in our former area, monkeys!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

When you have to go....well....you have to go. Not always....but usually I will try to buy a bottle of water or something I may need in the near future.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Just yell out which way to the sandbox?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If I were the manager is toss anyone out of the store not asking. well youd make a terrible manager then, many people that use restrooms actually buy something after they've used them. Whats next making customers ask if they can park their cars in the carpark outside, if you dont want to supply a service then dont have public rest rooms. Your running a business where you want to make the customer feel welcome. If you tried to kick me out id tell you to frack off and go to the next conbini and spend my money there, never spend another yen in your store. This idea of having to ask to use even the most basic of things is just plain ridiculous. Where not F children were adults!!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Strangerland , Did you know that Squatting for a considerable time, again and again, helps to increase the flexibility of the knees. So the next time you find yourself in a combee wanting to leave a penny you can congratulate yourself for having stiff joints

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Strangerland , Did you know that Squatting for a considerable time, again and again, helps to increase the flexibility of the knees. So the next time you find yourself in a combee wanting to leave a penny you can congratulate yourself for having stiff joints

I have no idea what this is in reference to, but I'm well used to using squat toilets. I've used them on and off since I was a child.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

HimaJin: I have come across a dead monkey at a 7/11 one night near Ito. It was prop up against the smoking bin with a lit smoke in it,s mouths.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I never ask but I always buy something even if it's only mints.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I usually buy some coffee or tea as a sign of my appreciation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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