The first time it happened I was in near agony. Before the agony though, I was flushed with embarrassment and sheer perplexity. It happened within the confines of the men’s lavatory inside the Craineview Train Station along the Kehein Tohoku train line that traverses Yokohama and Tokyo. I walked in there, minding my own business, when all of sudden I was startled by the strangest of sights. I skidded to a sudden stop along the slippery tile floor and then right in front of my face, there she was. A woman in the men’s bathroom! Or worse, maybe not! Suddenly the horrific thought that I was a man in the women’s bathroom flashed across my mind along with a vision of me being handcuffed and carried away by the local guards and locked away forever in some dank dark castle dungeon, branded a social miscreant, my children left utterly alone to wander the face of the earth in eternal shame. I scrambled out the door as quick as I could and checked the sign on the adjacent wall. It was a stick man, or at least I assumed it was a stick man. Without the anatomical configurations it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between stick man and stick woman. So I quick glanced back at the sign to the door across the way, the door I didn’t choose to enter for some reason in the first place. Once again it was a stick figure, only this stick figure was wearing a dress. It was the almost universal symbol for the women’s room. I was so relieved (well almost) to learn that I had been correct all along. It was a woman in the men’s room and not the other way around. So I waited, patiently in practically excruciating pain for her to leave, so I could do what I came to do. When she finally did emerge, oh boy did I ever give her a look and shaking of the head that she will never forget. To top it all off she appeared to be one of those cosplayfanatics who wear those strange outfits based on characters in Japanese comic books. Lots of them wear maid’s uniforms. This one was wearing a pink-hued maid’s outfit. Anyway the wait was all over in a matter of 10 or 15 minutes. I went inside, used the plumbing and the whole incident was water under the bridge as far as I was concerned. That is until the very next day. I go into the same exact bathroom. This time there are three guys pressed up against the urinals and out of the corner of my eye I spy her once again occupying one of the stalls for gosh sake! This time she was wearing pink rubber gloves and up to her elbows cleaning the inside of the toilet bowl. Then it hit me, “she’s the cleaning lady!” I scrambled out of there 1,2,3 and as I did the previous day, waited outside until she left (sans the dirty look) before I went in again. Despite everyone else being okay with her presence, I just wasn't comfortable doing my business there until she was finished with hers and out the door.
Some cultural divides are deeper than others, the toilet is one of them.