Did 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?
*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!