Funny Stories in Japan – The Changing Room Incident

I do realize that a lot of my posts are quite serious. That’s because I only want to share things when I think they’re actually meaningful.

By doing that, I might not be giving credit to the funny things that happen to me in Japan though, and therefore not painting the whole picture of what my life here is really like.

This is about to change.


Today I spent the most amazing day in Tottori city, climbing sand dunes, riding camels, strolling through castle ruins covered with gigantic cherry trees in full bloom, and hiking up a mountain.

When I came back to the hotel it was late in the evening and I was in desperate need to wash off…a lot of things. I decided to take a quick bath at the local bathhouse which was only a five minute walk away.

Public bathhouse (Onsen or Sento) in Japan works like that: There are separate changing rooms, shower areas and bathing areas for men and women. You take off your shoes in the communal hallway, walk into the area for either men or women, get undressed and enter the shower area.

Since I’m addicted to sitting in hot water, I have done this….a thousand times. I know the procedure in my sleep.

Or so I thought.

I walked in, had a little chit-chat with a woman just leaving, and started getting undressed. Only when I had fully completed that task did I realize that I was still standing in the communal hallway where all you’re supposed to do is take off your shoes and stick them in a locker.

Anyone, male or female, could have walked in on me any second.

I could have put my clothes back on but I decided it would be a much better idea to panic, grab my pile of clothes and jump – naked and head first – into the changing room area for women.

Only that it wasn’t exactly the changing room but the reception, with an elderly lady with glasses peacefully sitting behind the counter, looking up from whatever she was reading.

The wide-eyed stare she gave me I can’t even begin to explain. Just imagine yourself at work, not expecting anything unusual to happen, when out of nowhere someone jumps into the room right in front of you, naked, exclaiming: “Gomenasai, gomenasai, gomenasai!!!“

And sorry I was. I don’t think I’ve ever been this mortified in Japan. When I left soon after, with my head held low, the receptionist had a hard time keeping a straight face when she saw me – and failed. I saw the grin just before I closed the door, knowing I would never set foot in there ever again, yet also knowing that the story of the foreign woman who jumped in naked will be told at this bathhouse for a long time to come.

On my way back to the hotel I scolded myself for making such a bad impression. All day I’d been talking to locals successfully, shining a good light on foreign tourists who take an interest in Japan and know how to behave. Apparently, when it’s late and the hallway is all wood and kind of looks like a changing room, we don’t.

I already know exactly what my brother is going to say when he hears this story: “If that kind of shit happens, it can only happen to you.

And on that note, I’ll crawl into bed and try to forget.




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