Just a quick post today about shoes and Japanese etiquette. If you are visiting a Japanese style home or staying in a Japanese style hotel, inn or even dining in a restaurant, have you ever stopped to take a moment to notice that shoes are never worn indoors? Your Japanese host or hostess may have asked you to take off your shoes and for any indoor space may have offered you slippers or asked you to wear just socks.
In Japanese culture, wearing slippers indoors is meant to keep the interior of a home clean. Shoes are only for outdoor use and are traditionally kept in a neat line just outside the door way. If in a restaurant, they may be stored in a cubby or small shoe cupboard if the hoes are not lined up. The host or hostess may go as far as to turn the shoes facing the door so they are easy to slip on when venturing outside.
In homes, some families even have separate slippers for the bathroom! I remember my host family having slippers for the indoor areas of their home and being asked to have a second pair of slippers for the bathroom. The bathroom slippers were waterproof and meant to dry quicker with wet feet to keep you clean!
A traditional Japanese floor is made up of a tatami mat or bamboo floor. It can be very difficult to replace and clean. The tradition of removing one’s shoes actually dates back to Medieval Japan when people did not want dirt or mud tracked into their homes.
The tradition is a strong one when it even comes down to schools in Japan. Students from elementary school to high school have uniform shoes they wear to and from school, slippers for the classroom areas and one pair of sneakers for the gym. I didn’t note any of my college friends continuing the tradition nor is it super common in the office world.
Don’t worry if you didn’t buy a pair of slippers before you trip. You will find many places will let you borrow slippers or, if you are looking to buy some, that pretty much any convenient store sells them cheap in many different sizes and colors.
Next time you are visiting Japan, take a close look around you. Do you notice any shoes outside a home or slippers being worn inside? Until next time, happy travels!