Observations on Japanese culture - Part 5 - Shoes

Ok, I'm not going to do this essay in order. So, here's part 5: Shoes.

Changing shoes was even more of the culture than I thought. I knew from movies and such that I'd be expected to take off my shoes when entering a person's home in Japan. But I hadn't really considered that this could include hotels, backpacking hostels, public baths (onsens), shrines, museums, and even some restaurants.

All the hotels and private houses I entered had a place to take off your outside shoes and put on slippers or indoor shoes. You could tell you were supposed to take off your shoes because there'd be a special step to delineate the space between outside and inside. This is called the agari-kamachi.

I suppose that the original reason for changing shoes was to keep the traditional tatami mats clean. When they're fresh tatami have an interesting "green" smell which reminded me of morning dew on grass. As they age they turn yellow and develop a straw smell. We chose to stay in Japanese style rooms with tatami floors and futon beds. It was nice to feel the tatami under my stocking feet, and the scent was all right. But often we were changing shoes even when we walked on carpet or linoleum.

Here's an example of what it can look like sometimes at J's House Hostel in Kyoto when everyone takes off their shoes

In addition to wearing indoor slippers, you're expected to change into another pair of slippers for the toilet. All the hotels we stayed at had a separate pair of slippers for everyone to use in this case.

Even at the schools we visited we removed our outside shoes and put on guest slippers. At the first school I couldn't find a pair of slippers that fit, so I walked in my stocking feet on the linoleum. This seemed to make the administration uncomfortable, as if they weren't meeting my needs, so I put on the slippers even though my heel drooped over the back.

When the kids go to school they have to change their shoes several times a day. First they change from their outside shoes to their inside shoes when they arrive at school. Then, during recess, they change from their inside shoes into gym shoes. After recess, back into their inside shoes. And, if they visit the bathroom they put on the bathroom slippers. Whew!

Here's the intersection of shoes with the cultural emphasis on efficiency and "everything in it's place." A nice grid to help you change from your indoor school shoes to bathroom slippers.

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