Don't Forget To Take Off Your Shoes In JapanDid you know you need to take off your shoes in Japan when visiting someone’s house, a school, and even some businesses? This isn’t such a weird thing to me. I always take my shoes off in Canada. But apparently it’s a thing that gives some people experience culture shock. If you think about it, it makes sense though. Why would you leave your disgusting shoes on and walk around in someone’s home? In this post I’ll tell you why it’s custom to take off your shoes in Japan and when to do it. Finally, I’d like to ask your opinions!

Don’t forget to take off your shoes in Japan. Your disgusting shoes

First let’s talk about leaving your shoes on at home. Why would you do it?! The ground outside is so gross. Walking around in Japan, I know I’ve stepped in places where there has been puke, urine, spit, cat poop, and who knows whatever gross things. Never mind regular dirt and rain stuff.

And, it’s not like it’s comfortable to hang around in your home with your shoes on. You can’t put your feet up or on anything. Shoes are tight and restrictive. I want to let me feet free and prance around in my socks or barefoot. Fuzzy slippers in the winter, please.

Plus, your house will get dirtier quicker, which means more cleaning. Ugh.

Shoes? No thanks.

Why do you take off your shoes in Japan?

Traditionally, Japanese homes had tatami mats. In fact, many homes still have a tatami room. A tatami mat is a thick woven mat used as flooring. It’s made from natural material, is soft and cushiony to walk and sit on, expensive, and not so easy to keep clean. You don’t want to be tracking dirt and other aforementioned gross things onto your own tatami mats or someone else’s.

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Even in houses with no tatami mats, I don’t think anybody wears shoes at home. All Japanese homes have a small entrance, called a genkan, where you take off your shoes before entering the house. The genkan is even a few centimetres lower than the rest of the house. People are very respectful of the genkan/house division. A delivery person who is carrying a heavy appliance or piece of furniture will always take their shoes off at the genkan – even while holding a refrigerator, for example.

Take off your shoes in Japan, even in some public places

Children, teenagers, and teachers also take off their shoes at schools. There is a large genkan at schools, and the entrances is lined with shoe-sized cubby holes. Everyone has their own pair of indoor shoes, and they switch between indoor and outdoor several times a day.

Some public places even require you to take off your shoes and change to indoor slippers. For example, some doctor offices, dental clinics, and sports centres. Pretty much all Japanese castles and some other temples, shrines, and cultural places require you to take off your shoes if you want to go inside. Some restaurants too!

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If you are not sure whether you should take off your shoes, it’s quite simple. At someone’s home, just assume the answer is yes. If it is a public place, check whether there is shelf with slippers lined up or a bunch of small lockers. If there is, then take off your disgusting shoes, and put on the slippers.

Fun fact: Remember when you were a kid, and you would squish down the back part of your shoe with your heel because you were too lazy to put your shoe on completely? And then you got in trouble for it? Well, in Japan there are shoes designed so you purposely step on the back part of the shoe so it’s easy to take on and off.

With this in mind…

If you come to Japan and expect to visit someone’s home, or think you might need to take your shoes off many times for visiting or sightseeing purposes, bring shoes that are easy to slip on and off. And don’t disrespect the genkan/house divide

What are your thoughts on taking your shoes off to enter someone’s home or a public place in Japan? Do you do it? Do you prefer to keep your shoes on or walk around in your socks? 

Don't Forget To Take Off Your Shoes In Japan

 

*This is Japan is regular blog series where I write something about Japan. It could be something about Japanese culture, a story about living in Japan, or something random and funny/weird. If you like to read This is Japan, please subscribe below to join my email community. And leave a comment below below and let me know your thoughts on this post!

Author

Jennifer has lived in Japan for a total of seven years. She has travelled, taught English, studied Japanese, completed a Master’s Degree, and travelled some more. She currently calls Nagoya her home, where she lives with her Japanese husband.

26 Comments

  1. I am totally with you on taking shoes of at home and when entering other peoples houses. Of course, common practice in most of SE and East Asia and it’s commonplace though not universal here in Australia.

  2. Yes grossness of wearing shoes inside, and extra cleaning is reason enough… and as if you needed anything else, think there is also something to be said, I believe traditionally about “leaving the outside world behind” when you come home. Or maybe that’s just something I’ve heard in passing.

  3. Growing up with Asian American friends, I got used to taking off my shoes the minute I got into anyone else’s house! (I walk up to my room then take my shoes off in my parents house, but we definitely don’t walk around in shoes there either.) This seems so normal to me. Also in Poland, our students had indoor and outdoor shoes and adults would put plastic hair wraps around their shoes to not track dirt.

  4. I grew up in England, and I always changed to indoor footware at home or at school. Now I live in a part of the US where everyone drives everywhere, so shoes tend to stay fairly clean. I take mine off at home, but my friends mostly don’t.

    • We drive everywhere in Canada too and still take off our shoes. I’m not sure why people leave their shoes on in the United States.

  5. Similarities between Japan and India there 🙂 It is a matter of hygiene after all and to not take off your shoes is a sign of disrespect in our culture. When you mention shoes in which you press on the heel purposely — are those the ones at the end of your post?

    • I do remember walking around barefoot in India at all the temples. It’s nice. I think it’s respectful too. The ones in the photo are slippers. The ones where you step on the heel look like regular running shoes, but there’s an extra seam on both sides of the heal so the back part bends easily.

      • That’s quite something. I have not seen shoes like that! I was wondering that those were slippers indeed. Well I am not a fan of walking barefoot in temples – first of all the heat and then the cleanliness factor. And I have to confess I am not a big fan of temples. Those fat/greedy priests put me off.

  6. In the US since I have arrived, I notice that people (those like plumbers and broadband engineers) refuse to take off their shoes when they enter our apartment. I find it offensive. This is after we ask them to remove their shoes please. So for my peace of mind, I have bought a bag of disposable shoes though Adi says I should not get so het up about it *eye roll

    • Wow. That’s quite rude to leave your shoes on in someone else’s home. Especially if you’ve asked them to take them off. People doing those jobs shouldn’t think that they are above someone else’s house rules. I think I would be annoyed/angry about that.

      • I know. But well…you cannot fight people when they say no. So you figure out ways to deal with it instead of hiking your own bp 🙂

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