Share house shower etiquette? (In Japan)
November 14, 2012 3:08 AM   Subscribe

I am a guy living in a co-ed sharehouse in Japan. I may have committed a faux pas, and would like to know proper sharehouse shower etiquette. Details inside.

Be warned - this is quite likely a stupid question! But I am socially oblivious regarding things like this.

I am a guy. I am currently living in a share house - multiple floors with two mini "apartments" on each floor, 5 people per apartment. Our rooms are private, but we share the kitchen. The apartments are co-ed.

You have to go outside and up one floor to reach the shower room - it is about a 15 second walk. I usually make the journey shirtless, with just a pair of swimming trunks, towel, and my shower supplies.

Today, while I was making the trip back I bumped into of the women I am living with. She was shocked that I didn't have a shirt on, and asked about it. I couldn't tell if she was just amused or actually offended (I live in Japan, people are very polite and passive in dealing with people - they usually don't complain to someone's face unless they are quite upset).

I assumed she was shocked since it is getting rather cold outside for Japanese standards - so I told her I don't mind the cold, and when it gets a bit chillier I'll start wearing a shirt. It is about 46 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but I am only out for ten seconds and I enjoy cold weather, showers, etc. so it doesn't faze me at all.

What would you do in this situation? Is what I am doing bad manners? If so, should I just wear a shirt or buy a robe or something? It seems like a hassle to me, but I've never lived in a co-ed dorm before and want to be a good neighbor!
posted by Kamelot123 to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, there is a direct relationship between how good looking someone is and the degree of offence caused by them going shirtless.

But Japanese do have a bathing etiquette and it doesn't involve anyone going to and from the onsen with their chest bared. And more generally, most people don't want to encounter a stranger's barenakedflesh when they're barely woken up.

So: yes, buy a robe.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:17 AM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've lived in sharehouses for several years, pretty much all the guys I've lived with have worn a towel or shirt on their way to the shower, and I live in a warm climate. That said, there's been a guy or two who hasn't done this, and nobody commented at the time.

I know nothing about Japanese culture, so this may be a situational anecdote. I lived with one girl who was Japanese, and she got unhappy when anyone walked around the house in a towel, bathrobe, whatever, rather than fully clothed, regardless of gender.

Honestly, I'd ask your housemate if it bothers her, and consider wearing a shirt or robe if she says yes.
posted by Ashlyth at 3:19 AM on November 14, 2012

I'm American and would be weirded out at first if my male roommates walked around without their shirts on. I wouldn't be offended and would get used to it without issues.
posted by KogeLiz at 3:21 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

It was you being shirtless in such "cold" weather that caused her shock.
posted by Kruger5 at 3:27 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

probably isn't such a faux pas as it seems to you.

but yes, asian cultures are generally more apprehensive towards these things (this not being a stereotype, but a confucian influence, just like western etiquette is shaped by christianity)

I had a Korean girl friends once coming to my house, and my Korean roomate whom she didn't know was making tea in his underwear, which for me was no problem so I was like "Hey let me introduce you", but as soon as they saw each other they were both dreadfully embarrassed.

In any case, shouldn't be an issue, especially if your shirtlesness was a sight to behold.
posted by ahtlast93 at 3:57 AM on November 14, 2012

It's all situational (what's the difference between going shirtless at the beach or the pool, or on the way to the bath, right?) but you may have committed a faux pax.

For example, it's considered extremely weird and off-putting to not wear an undershirt in Japan (typically under a dress shirt for an office job). I do know that people are also more sensitive to perceived flirting or sexual harassment in Japan. My wife told me that I was making female staff uncomfortable by the way I leaned on a countertop (slightly towards them, as I am hard of hearing).

So you may consider wearing a t-shirt to the shower - outside of the pool or the beach, or maybe a festival, I can't think of an occasion where a man will go out in public without a shirt on.

What's unusual here is that this person actually said something to your face.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:59 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have lived in several coed sharehouses and have always hated when my male housemates walked around shirtless, whether they were just lounging or heading to the shower. I know I'm more sensitive than most, but I can't help feeling extremely awkward. If I were your housemate, I would be very grateful. If you put on a tshirt or a robe.
posted by third word on a random page at 4:06 AM on November 14, 2012

Do you have tattoos? They're really not well liked in Japan, I understand. But I'm sure you know that.

I'm not Japanese but I am a woman, and I'd really really prefer a housemate kept his/her shirt on around the house.

I'd probably say something gentle and indirect and feel quite embarrassed. And you would probably end up somewhere like here wondering what I meant....
posted by taff at 4:30 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hi everybody -

Thank you all (especially the ladies) for your input. I am thoroughly ashamed - where is that darn time machine when I need it!

I will start wearing a shirt from now on, but won't say anything to her or apologize - I don't want to make this any more awkward than it already is.

Also, I might buy a robe.

Extra question to the guys out there: I have never been a robe user, and am way too embarrassed to ask one of my sharemates, but... you wear the robe to and from the shower, right? Or is it just after, as wearing it beforehand is kinda stinky? (I tried googling with little success)
posted by Kamelot123 at 4:37 AM on November 14, 2012

Is she Japanese? Does she know English well enough (or do you know Japanese well enough) that you can tell by her tone what she meant?

But really, I would just ask her.
posted by gjc at 4:37 AM on November 14, 2012

Extra question to the guys out there: I have never been a robe user, and am way too embarrassed to ask one of my sharemates, but... you wear the robe to and from the shower, right? Or is it just after, as wearing it beforehand is kinda stinky? (I tried googling with little success)

It's up to you, but I practically live in my awesome fleece samue during the winter - my wife has to steal it in order to wash it (so I bought a backup, just in case).
posted by KokuRyu at 4:46 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

you wear the robe to and from the shower, right? Or is it just after, as wearing it beforehand is kinda stinky? (I tried googling with little success)

Yes, especially since in this case, your problem was being shirtless on the staircase; I am sure it doesn't matter to your neighbor whether you are coming or going, just that you are 上半裸. I would second the samue that KokuRyu suggested, but if it is such a short trip that you didn't mind being shirtless even in cold weather, you could also get a simple bath yukata, which would be considerably less expensive. (not the type of full yukata that people wear to the summer festivals)

Have you ever been to an onsen? If so, the same sort of robe etiquette would apply.
posted by Tanizaki at 5:54 AM on November 14, 2012

I think you're over-thinking it. DO NOT ask her or bring it up again as some have suggested. That kind of direct confrontation (especially over something as little as this) is a much bigger faux pas in Japanese culture.

Just start wearing a robe as many suggested any go about your business as usual.
posted by Kevtaro at 6:02 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Doh! Should have read your reply more closely. Good call on not bringing it up.

Wearing the same robe to and from the shower seems normal to me. Just wash it frequently enough that it doesn't get stinky.
posted by Kevtaro at 6:06 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you end up wearing a robe, make sure to wrap the left side over the right side when closing it around you. Right over left is for dressing a deceased person's body.
posted by illenion at 9:36 AM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

As many have suggested, wearing a t-shirt won't hurt, but I'm pretty sure it's not a big deal and you most likely did not offend her so don't worry on that front. I'm assuming you are all relatively young, (since share house is a very new concept in Japan) and young Japanese people who are willing to live with a foreigner are most likely not overly sensitive about "social faux-pas", which I should add is nothing concrete. Many tacit agreements are relative and situational, and they all depend on the ambiance of the moment. In that sense, from what I've read she was probably just amused by your audacity, and she might be telling this anecdote to her friends, but not negatively. And honestly as a Japanese, I think it's great that foreigners are willing to assimilate, but it's also great for Japanese people to see and learn how people outside of Japan are different, so I say just do what pleases you.
posted by snufkin5 at 3:53 PM on November 14, 2012

Japanese female here, dropping by to say that I pretty much agree with everything snufkin5 said. She was probably shocked that you were puttering around shirtless in this cold weather, especially after you came out of the shower. Brrr.
posted by misozaki at 7:50 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

What misozaki says... female, lived in Japan (but I'm not Japanese). My students and the school staff were always exclaiming about how I wasn't wearing enough clothing in the winter (ummm... it wasn't even cold enough to snow!), and how the heat didn't seem to bother me (I'm from California... and lived in Chicago. Super hot, super biggie). Or how I'd walk "so far" from the train to the school (under 1km!) It was like talking about the weather. Also, she probably felt free to say something because you're *not* Japanese... you're foreign, so different rules/expectations apply. Wear a T-shirt if you're worried. ;)
posted by jrobin276 at 1:24 AM on November 15, 2012

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