Praised be the Washington State Convention Center (Sakura-con)

Over the years I’ve seen and experienced random things at Sakura-con.

For those of you that have never heard of this con, it’s a conference that has been run in Seattle, WA – always on Easter weekend – for anyone that appreciates anime, manga, cosplay, video games, and Japanese culture. For example, they have a manga library, where anyone can stop in and read up for free. They have whole rooms dedicated to Go or trying on kimono and taiko drum demonstrations right next to the latest video games from Japan and other rooms filled classic consoles and CRTs. Anyone interested in attending the con just needs to buy a ticket: it’s not for professionals or industry folks and a ton of people come from out of state to spend three days geeking out over almost everything.

I’ve been going for years, as repeat visitors have likely seen on my blog. In fact, I’ve still got to post my photos from this year! But over the years, I’ve shifted from someone that is rabid about only buying content at the Exhibition Hall to someone that likes to simply be there. There’s an energy for this con (much like there is for PAX) because people have invested time and money just to be a part of it. Way more intimate than San Diego’s Comic-con but just as exciting. That said, I have noticed that I’ve been buying a bit more the last couple of years since my son has started to enjoy different anime and manga characters. Total Pokémon junkie these days but before that it was Power Rangers; in a year or so it’ll be Dragonball, since he knows Goku by sight.

This year’s show was going to be very interesting for me personally because five days before the opening of the con, I spent seven days in Tokyo popping around different parts of the city shopping, sightseeing, and generally being awe that people cosplay there 24/7. One of the things that I found interesting in both places were the variety of bathrooms I bumped into.

After some searching, I finally found the traditional squatting style that you see in movies that want to show how “wacky” Japan can be but honestly, I only saw two of them. One was in an administrative building that had a lookout over the whole of Tokyo (which is the one I used because it was indoors, clean, and frankly using a washiki was on my travel list) and the other was in Harajuku, in some random public toilet that felt like it should have been at a campsite.

What was also interesting was another public bathroom near the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa where there was a tiny alcove of porcelain an alley’s width away from the food and swag stalls. This one had a single doorway (read, no closing door) with a sink waiting to be used. To the right was a door that opened/closed to a private tiny room that had a western styled toilet. To the left was a urinal. No door, no drape to pull closed, no noren curtain. Standing there, your back is facing the open street where there are a ton of people walking to and fro.

We were at this particular bathroom because my six year old son was doing the crossed leg dance from side to side, so I asked him, “do you want to use the urinal?” He looked up at me with wide eyes and said “no, papa – I’ll wait,” and got in line behind the three people (men and women both!) that were queued for the closed room. I figured at his age, the need to keep your pants dry and a general lack of embarrassment would have had him running to the open stall, but he seemed to be OK to wait.

Me? Not so much. Once I got him into the stall, I didn’t want to wait for him, so I used the urinal. And even though this was a fully sanctioned bathroom, I felt more “in the open” than I have at camping or at a festival “port-o-let”. Was I thinking about what people were seeing? Honestly, no. Not a care in the world. The only two things in my mind were the thought “when in Rome” and the scene from French Kiss, where Meg Ryan’s character is talking about her fiancee that recently become an ex-fiancee, who was boasting that he could now [after having met his new French goddess girlfriend] pee in a bathroom with someone standing behind him. Seriously, that was the only two thoughts that popped in my head during this 15 second slice of life. After flushing – and thank gods that only Bellevue Square seems to use the water-less urinals – I washed my hands, nodded to the people that had queued up, and waited for Kyle.

What the hell is the point of this story?

While at Sakura-con this year, I was in one of the hallways in the WSCC and realized I had to pee, so I went to the nearest bathroom. Seems the WSCC has made some upgrades since the first time they took a single-person bathroom and labeled it gender free. I walked up to the two doorways that were both labeled gender neural and realized that they were now two multi-people bathrooms and they were both very much in use. I also noticed that there were a few people milling around the outside of the doorways, and most of them were looking somewhat uncomfortable. I walked around them and went into one of the bathrooms. Walked past two young women that were checking their cosplay makeup in the mirror and went to a urinal. While I was going, I heard a thump in one of the stalls behind me and one of the woman saying “bye” to her friend as she left; the other woman was still at the mirror , when her mom – one of the doorway lurkers – came in to ask her a question. It could have been “is everything OK?” or “are you done yet?” – honestly, I wasn’t listening and couldn’t have cared less, but I did notice her giving me a sideways look as I washed my hands and went on my merry way to the expo hall.

At first I didn’t give the whole thing a second thought but then I realized that I was going to blog about it, so it must have left an impression. I mean, for one thing, I cannot picture most ‘mericans being this OK with being able to keep in a shared or public bathroom, unless alcohol is involved in some way. I mean Ally McBeal had pioneered the concept of an office gender-neutral bathroom on TV but this is reality, where people accepted that the Brady family never had a toilet in their house. Additionally I know that some parts of the country are hyper-concerned about the possibility of sexual congress in the bathroom, like if men and women are in the same tiled room they will become possessed with the desire to couple. Or that predators would use the bathroom to prey on people (implying that a gender sign on the bathroom door would stop them from doing so!) No, in both countries it seems to me that regardless of your gender or the gender-biased of a public bathroom, people are going there to, well, use the bathroom.

My thanks to the nation of Japan for helping to subtly open my mind in an unexpected way and one that I never would have realized until I got back to the US. And thanks to Sakura-con for just being you!

One last thought on bathrooms: bidets totally kick ass and I’m going to be stalking Woot! every day until I see a sale for equipment that will work in the house!

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