Saturday, May 1, 2010

When Do I Take My Shoes Off?

Traditionally, shoes were never worn inside houses in Japan because they were seen as tracking in dirt from the outside. As women used to wear their silk kimono trailing across the floor in the house, such a sharp eye for dirt was understandable.

That custom continues today, and if you're in Japan you'll be asked to take off your shoes the moment you walk in someone's door. They'll usually have slippers available for guests, and you leave your shoes there in the front entry way or on a little shelf next to the door.

Some temples and other traditional tourist spots will have you do the same, and taking off your shoes is not optional. If you're not sure, look around before going in and see if you see any other pairs of shoes left outside on the steps. If so, leave yours there as well.

(Outside of tourism, all the public schools I taught in did the same thing, and every kid had a pair of slip-ons they wore the whole day while inside.)

The idea of taking off your shoes is so ingrained even service men will do it: It was surprising to me watching the movers that handled my stuff slip their shoes on and off every time they went in and out of the house!

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