Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Toilets of Asia: Tenjin Beer Garden

Today's featured toilet:

Gender: Male
Toilet type: beats me; I wasn't there
Special features: designated barfing toilet

Our friend Matthew arranged for us to spend an evening hanging out at a rooftop beer garden in Tenjin, in downtown Fukuoka, a week or so ago. Unfortunately I didn't get the name of this particular beer garden at the time, but some detective work (i.e., cutting and pasting " ビヤガーデン," or "beer garden," into Google Maps) suggest strongly to me that we were at Nishitetsu Plaza.

To understand the need for a designated barfing toilet, you must first know a bit about Japanese drinking culture. In a nutshell, drinking culture means you drink. A lot. Japan has lots of "all-you-can-drink" promotions (henceforth AYCD, because I'm too lazy to type it). I think this is illegal in the US, and in the British Isles, judging by the way our Irish friends cleaned a place out last fall, it's probably just bad business practice. Karaoke parlors, for instance, may be AYCD. Rooftop beer gardens (we went to another one just last night for the faculty end-of-term party) can also be AYCD. The price for AYCD beer and AYC eat food at the places we've been, karaoke and rooftop, were in the $30-$40 range. That's cheaper than a beer and a meal if you go to the Hard Rock Cafe.

AYCD beer gardens are particularly popular with businessmen. When Japanese businessmen go out to drink, they are expected to D.R.I.N.K. As long as the boss keeps going, so do you, regardless of your own personal tolerance and what time you have to be at work in the morning. It is my understanding that this is a pan-East Asian phenomenon: one of our Korean students included a drinking tableau in her art show, meant to show the difficulties faced by an older but still subordinate employee at that type of event. When I worked for the Ohio Department of International Trade, I read a pamphlet that suggested that you should include a woman in any trade delegation to China, because women culturally are not expected to keep pace with the drinking and will prevent you from agreeing to anything questionable. (Japanese beer gardens actually charge 2oo yen, or about $2.50, less for women). This jives with my study-abroad time in China, in which the Chinese host students seemed discomfited by the drinking capacity of the two women's rugby players in my program. I think they felt it was "unfeminine." If that's the case, I have the most feminine alcohol tolerance in the world.

With all this gender stuff going on, you may be wondering why I'm writing a blog post on a men's toilet. Well, it's because the women's toilet doesn't actually have a designated barfing toilet. After Justin spotted the one in the men's room, I immediately went to the ladies', only to discover to my vast disappointment that there was nothing special to see except rows of squatty potties. (More on those some other time). And no, I did not go to the men's room to see this fabled barfing toilet myself.

Justin felt it was awkward to take a picture in the men's room, so we don't have a large photo, only this shot covertly snapped by our friend on his cell phone on a different trip:

According to Matthew, who speaks and reads excellent Japanese, this is accompanied by a sign which says "People that feel ill, please use the machine on the right."

Overall verdict: Both hilarious and disturbing, and most of all, I don't want to know what it looked like at the end of the night.

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