It’s something we’ve seen in many movies and series and read about in magazines and novels, yet it’s quite unknown to most of us. We’re talking about the Japanese custom of removing shoes when somebody enters a house.
This tradition started in ancient Asia, where the houses were usually raised about 2 feet upon the ground for ventilation issues. Then it was obligatory to remove your shoes and leave them at the entrance, which was usually at ground level.
Today in modern Asia, no matter the type of house, the entrance is usually a bit lower than the rest of the house, so whenever somebody arrives, no matter the weather, the shoes are left there, and no dirt will get to the rest of the house. A very practical custom indeed.
The reasons are much more than that one, and it is also based on health factors. As you might know, Asians practice many physical activities barefoot. They believe in the good effects this has on health, as having to wear shoes the whole day can be oppressing and does not let the feet breathe, so being barefoot at home is a sort of exercise.
Slippers shoes at hotels, restaurants, and other places
This tradition’s not only limited to private houses. Restaurants and hotels are other places where you must leave your shoes at the entrance. Some places provide a pair of slippers for the guests, a very comfortable option. Usually, slippers are located at the entrance, on some shelves, or the host will provide them as soon as the guest arrives.
Very special cases are the toilet rooms. Many restaurants and hotels have special slippers for their guests entering this space. It is important to remember that these shoes are only meant for the toilet room, so they have to be put on as soon as you get in there, and leave them before you leave the room. They should never enter another space of the building. There’s usually a wooden floor, different from the rest where the slippers are supposed to be left, to make this transition easy for guests, especially foreigners who are not used to Japanese traditions.
Slippers at tatami
As mentioned, there are two options when getting into a building in Japan, either barefoot or with some slippers the host provides.
A special and important case to remember is the tatami floor, which some people might recognize because of sports like Karate. One must always leave the shoes behind; only barefoot are allowed on this floor.
As one can see, there is a long tradition behind slippers, much more than just comfort. Sure it’s a great story to remember the next time you wear yours.
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