avatarShawn B. Swinger



7 Japanese Signs That Made Me Reevaluate My Life

From the funny to the terrifying

Japanese toilet art. All photos by the author.

When Globetrotters introduced the January challenge on “signs” I knew I had to share my discoveries with the world.

Here are seven signs I’ve come across while living in Japan for the past eleven years.

I warn you, you may never be the same after witnessing these beauties.

Let’s start with the above image. It's in the bathroom of an old-fashioned standing bar in Kyoto. When doing your business, half inebriated on cheap beer, you can learn the many possible positions one can do while on the toilet.

My favorite image is the sumo thunder squat you can see just under the device on the wall to the left. A life goal really.

Taken at a taqueria in Kyoto, this sign can inform you about THE proper way to eat a taco.

If you fold it just right and “slide the taco in your mouth” you will be greeted with a KA-BOOM. Trust me.

I laughed when I saw the “how to use a toilet” part. But in all honesty, some toilets in Asia can be confusing. If you have never used a squatty-potty as pictured above, this can be helpful.

Truth time with you guys. I thought I was facing the correct potion on these toilets for eleven years…..until I started writing this article and realized, oh shit (no pun intended), I’ve been doing it wrong!!!! I thought the right way was the one with the big red X on it. I just now asked two foreign co-workers how they’ve used these toilets. The British woman who sits next to me is smart and does it right. The French man across from me is just as guilty as me and he’s been here fifteen years!

We are the reason these signs exist.

Ok, so I failed with the last toilet instructions. At least here I have never been guilty of squatting on top of a Western-style toilet nor have I thrown poopy toilet paper in the trash (unless I was supposed to. Case in point, Thailand).

My question is: What exactly is the stick figure on the far right doing? I have never had so much in a public bathroom before. I think I want to spend the rest of my life learning the secret to front flips off the toilet ending in disco parties.

Taken at the snow festival in Hokkaido right when the Coronavirus hit. Japan had infections skyrocket way before the US. And this festival was one of the biggest epicenters for it. My wife and I escaped unscathed.

What I learned from this one is: that when faced with toxic people and attitudes, to the trash my friends, to the trash.

Ah, this sign. I wrote it. I used to teach English in Northern Japan. There is a nearby wild horse park by the ocean. The people who run this park came to me one day since I was one of only two native English speakers in the entire area and asked me to write a sign for foreign tourists.

I spent about five hours getting all the information right, translating from Japanese, and then finding just the right words to put on the board. I’m proud that a part of me remains in the village of Higashidoori. Years later I realized I should have asked to be paid for my work (did it for free). Lesson learned.

By my house, this sign hangs on a rusted chain-link fence. Cute right? I mean, who doesn't want to attend a swimming school run by friendly otters?

The catch?

On the other side of this sign, there is no school. There are no houses. There is only a pitch-black storm drain that leads down to a giant sewer tunnel.

I’ve seen the movie “It”, no thank you Pennywise the dancing clown. My dog always eyes this spot suspiciously as we pass. It may very well be cursed.

Hope you enjoyed my random collection of Japanese signs!

Check out these other sign stories from Rhonda Carrier and Anne Bonfert I’ll link the stories below.

If you like what you read, please check out my other articles here. I also write on my Substack “Ninja Nomad”, with a focus on Japan with occasional stories from other locations in North-East Asia.

If you enjoyed this article, consider trying out the AI service I recommend. It provides the same performance and functions to ChatGPT Plus(GPT-4) but more cost-effective, at just $6/month (Special offer for $1/month). Click here to try ZAI.chat.

Monthly Challenge
Recommended from ReadMedium