Ahiruneko went to take an entrance exam, but ended up getting a lesson.

Our Japanese-language reporter Ahiruneko has had some…unusual experiences in the performance of his professional duties. There was the time he purposely stood around on the street in downtown Tokyo so that pigeons would poop on him and he could see if that would make him rich. There was also the time he put on a bunch of diapers and peed himself over and over to judge which would be the most comfortable for his newborn baby.

But it turns out that Ahiruneko has yet another strange, bodily function-related episode to share, and this one is from before he joined the SoraNews24 team. As a matter of fact, it’s from before he was even out of high school, and it involves his college entrance exams.

Ahiruneko grew up in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. When he was thinking about where he wanted to go to university, though, he found a private university in Tokyo that he was interested in attending, so he flew down to the capital to sit for its entrance exam, which was held on the campus.

▼ The school looked a little like this, but less blurry.

While Ahiruneko was there for the test, he went into the women’s bathroom.

Now, we should establish that Ahiruneko is not a voyeur, peeping Tom, or any other phrase that could be applied to someone who gets excited by secretly watching women relieve themselves. It’s just that the university he was trying to get into, which is not an all-women’s school, only had women’s bathrooms in the building the entrance exam was being conducted in. But since there were both boys and girls taking the test, on the day of the exam the school staff had designated the bathrooms on certain floors of the building as the men’s restrooms for the day, and directed male examinees to use them.

Even with those instructions, though, Ahiruneko felt very self-conscious about using the bathroom facilities. At his school, there’d been an incident where one of the male students, either as a prank or on a dare or something, had snuck into the girls’ room, and it was a big issue when he got found out. Still, with no other option on the day of the exam, when Ahiruneko eventually felt the call of nature, he had no choice but to walk into what was ordinarily supposed to be a restroom for women only.

Obviously, he quickly noticed that there were no urinals, and as a result a lot more stalls than he was used to seeing in men’s rooms. Stepping into one of the stalls, he noticed that it had a nice, modern toilet, with a control panel for all sorts of bidet functions.

But there was also a function he’d never heard of, up to that point in his life. One of the control panel buttons was prominently labeled with the kanji 音姫, which are read “otohime” and translate to “sound princess.”

Again, Ahiruneko already felt nervous about being in the women’s room, and now, suddenly faced with a mysterious toilet function, his mind started racing. Was there a different mechanical process for using toilets in the women’s room? Some sort of fundamental technological difference between their toilets and the men’s room ones? Or some unspoken but widely understood (except by Ahiruneko) code of conduct and etiquette? Would he get in trouble if he didn’t push the otohime button…would he get in trouble if he did push it?

As if someone had predicted that last quandary, Ahiruneko then noticed that there was a piece of paper taped to a control panel, right above the otohime button, that said, “Please press this button.”

So that’s what he did, and then…


Ahiruneko could hear the sound of swiftly flowing water. So maybe the otohime was some sort of pre-use additional rinsing of the toilet bowl? Except, when he looked down, he could see that the water in the toilet hadn’t been moving at all.

Ahiruneko stood there in silent confusion for a few more seconds, until the sound of the running water disappeared. Pressing the otohime button hadn’t made any difference in the toilet, though, so did he need to hit it again? When he did, though, the exact same thing happened: the sound of running water, which he could now tell was being pumped out of a speaker in the control panel.

That’s when it finally clicked. The sound was the whole point.

Otohime is, in fact, a function developed by Japan’s leading toilet maker, Toto, that first appeared in the company’s products in 1988. Pressing the otohime button plays a few moments of recorded sound effects, usually the sound of a river or some other sort of flowing water to mask any sounds that might be emanating from you as you use the bathroom, and also the splashing noise as whatever you’re depositing into the bowl hits the water.

Though not exclusive to women’s rooms, otohime-equipped toilets are far less common in men’s rooms (the whole “sound princess” nomenclature is, itself, a reflection of Japanese women being the demographic with a higher demand for the function) Even when men’s room toilets do have otohime functions, it’s rare for guys to use them, and it’s possible that even before the day of the entrance exam, Ahiruneko had used a public men’s room with otohime toilets, but just hadn’t noticed the control panel button. In his less relaxed state from being in a women’s bathroom, though, he’d definitely noticed it here.

Now that he’d figured out what the otohime was for, he felt extra-embarrassed about having pressed the button twice. He hadn’t been the only guy heading into the bathroom during the exam break, and now he wondered if the others either thought that his double-length otohime session was a sign that Ahiruneko was either extra-delicate in his sensibilities or had just laid an enormous turd with an extra-long exit procession.

And that’s when he heard it.




From every corner of the restroom came the sounds of otohime. One after another, the sound princesses sounded off. It turned out everyone else in the bathroom had seen the “Please press this button” sign, put there to help women find the otohime button if they’d needed it, and misinterpreted it the same way Ahiruneko had, as a command that anyone using the stall must first hit the otohime button.

As Ahiruneko was washing his hands, the door of another stall, from which otohime sounds had been emanating just moments before, opened. As the boy who exited walked over to the sink, he and Ahiruneko exchanged a knowing, sheepish look. Realizing they’d both just shared the same weird, embarrassing, but funny experience created an atmosphere of unspoken kinship, and Ahiruneko couldn’t help rooting for the guy to pass the entrance exam too. Maybe they’d end up in the same department, taking classes together and becoming friends, reminiscing years later about “Hey, remember when we were both such dumb kids we didn’t know what the otohime was?”

So Ahiruneko went back into the testing room, finished up the remaining parts of the test…and then when he got his results, he found out he’d failed the entrance exam.

So in the end, Ahiruneko ended up having to go to college elsewhere. But while he didn’t get into that school, he still learned something from the time he spent there.

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