This is to quell all the cries of "more wacky Japan posts, foo!" that have been raised recently.
I get to the office every morning at 08:00, which is roughly far too early. I mean, seeing that I have to get up at 06:00 every morning in order to make it to the office by 08:00.
It just so happens that 08:00 is also the time when the men's bathroom is cleaned (or at least, the first time of the day--seems like they give it a quick cleaning every hour or so). I always pop in there to wash my hands after getting off the train (you know, health first and all), and sometimes the large cup of coffee that I drink on the train warrants a little bladder relief, as well.
And why, you may be wondering, am I going into far more detail about my daily urination routine than you strictly need to know?
I am setting you up for another installment of "Life in Japan is Wacky", that's why! (Silly rabbit!)
You see, the cleaning ladies are, well, ladies. And they most certainly do not vacate the bathroom when I say 「ちょうっといいですか？」 (chotto ii desuka--"may I?"). Nor do they leave when I head for the urinal, stand there meaningfully, unzip my trousers... etc. They remain there, doing their cleaning thing, for the duration of my, erm, work.
This is not an unusual thing, either. In some buildings in Japan, they will close off the restroom while it being cleaned. In some, they will not. And quite often, you will be in there, taking care of some business, when a cleaning lady waltzes in and goes to work on the urinal right next to you.
If you are American, this will shock the shite out of you (though not literally, one hopes) the first time or time it happens.
If you are Japanese, on the other hand, this is not surprising at all. The reason for this being, of course, that segregation of the sexes is a relatively recent development in Japanese toliet and bathing facilities. To this day, you can still find mixed-sex toilets. They are relatively rare in Tokyo, but out in the 田舎 (that would be inaka, or "country"), you can probably find one or two.
Even in Tokyo, it is not at all uncommon--in a bar or small restaurant--to find that the joint has but one toilet, single occupancy. Of course, this is not terribly worrisome for men, since there will not be women in the same room as you when you are trying to take care of some important stuff.
Co-ed 温泉 (onsen--hot springs) are also still existent in Japan. I personally have not been to one, and have no real desire to be naked with strange women (before you start the nudge nudge, wink wink-ing, remember that, statistically speaking, many of these women will not be models, actresses, and J-Pop songstresses).
OK, so that is difference from men's bathrooms in the US number one: there may be women present.
Difference number two? In the US, as all men know (but women apparently do not?), talking at the urinal is strictly verboten! Talking at the sink is frowned upon, but allowed in some circumstances, I suppose.
Japanese men, while thankfully observing all the same rules of urinal selection that we use in the West (namely, maximise the number of unoccupied urinals between you and the next guy), have no such reluctance when it comes to cracking jokes, continuing conversations, etc.
Which is quite awkward for me, let me tell you. I have gotten used to the cleaning ladies by now, but having another chap talk at you while you are trying to concentrate on, well, the matter at hand, is quite off-putting.
And there you have it: Crazy Japan Stories.(TM)