In Western countries, people have no clear rule whether to take shoes off or not before entering into a house but instead, it is more a matter of individual preference. Some people wear shoes no matter where they are, even inside their house. On the other hand, some people feel more comfortable without shoes on their feet at home.
However, in Japan, it is an important tradition to take shoes off inside the house. That lifestyle has been around for centuries among Japanese people so that it can’t be ignored. It is indeed very important to respect this custom in Japan in order to make a good relationship with your Japanese friends and neighbors.
How and where to take shoes off
In a Japanese house, there is a space to take your shoes off immediately inside the entrance door. (See diagram 1) There is approximately one-meter square space which separates living space from the outside. If you go into a house in Japan, you will notice that the floor of living space is a little bit higher than this space.
(Diagram 1 – from Side)
The role of this space is to stop mud and dirt coming into the house. Japanese people call this space “Genkan” and which functions as a place to take off and put on shoes.
It is considered very impolite not to take off your shoes before entering a house in Japan. Therefore all people who are going into a Japanese house should take their shoes off at the Genkan.
Furthermore, after taking your shoes off, you need to tidy your shoes in a certain way. After taking off your shoes, you should step up to inside of the house, turn to face the Genkan but your body faces in slightly diagonal angle to avoid showing your bottom directly to the people behind you, bend your knees to be able to reach your shoes, line up your shoes so that the toes are facing the entrance door, and put them aside not to get into other people’s way (See diagram 2).
(Diagram 2 – from Top)
Also when you are taking your shoes off at the Genkan you will be offered a pair of slippers to wear in the house.
The rule of slippers
You can wear your slippers in areas with hardwood floors like the dining area, stairs, toilets and the changing room in front of the bathroom. On the other hand, you should not wear slippers in tatami-matted or carpeted rooms because Japanese people think the soles of slippers are not clean to wear on tatami mats and carpets.
After taking your slippers off right outside of the room, the same rule will apply. The heel side of the slippers should be closest to the room.
Mysterious – another pair of slippers in restroom
There is a high chance that you will have to wear a different pair of slippers when you visit the restroom. At the restroom, you need to swap your slippers for another pair of slippers made especially for the restroom.
Japanese people believe that the restroom floor is not clean so they want to use a different pair of slippers in that room.
The same rule applies when you rent a house
Japanese landlords are sometimes reluctant to rent their property to foreigners because foreign tenants ruin the carpets and tatami mats by walking around with their shoes on when living there. So people from abroad sometimes might have a problem to find a house to rent in Japan.
It may be hard to get used to this custom for a foreigner who has just arrived from abroad especially if they do not have the same custom in their own country. However, once you get used to it, your life in Japan will become much easier.
If you have any question, team Guidable is ready!