Wednesday, October 13, 2010

OMG Shoes: A Cheat Sheet

You may have heard you take off your shoes when you enter a house in Japan, which is absolutely true and must be done both to respect tradition and keep the house clean (apparently at the end of WWII some of the most shameful photos for the Japanese were Allied troops inside homes standing on tatami floors in their muddy combat boots).

There are some other shoe situations you might run into if you go to visit or live:

Entering a house- As said above, you take off your own shoes but leave your socks on if you have any. You'll often be given slippers to wear.

Entering the bathroom- At times you'll find slippers waiting at the bathroom door inside homes or hotels. These are to be worn into the bathroom and never outside of it.

Entering a school- If you go to a public school to teach or study (I believe private as well), all teachers and students take off their shoes and change into comfy slip-ons for the entirety of the day. Yes, there are days I missing working in slippers!

Entering a traditional building, temple, tourist site, etc. - Some traditional structures do not allow shoes inside. If you don't read any Japanese and can't read the signs saying this, you'll still see a line of shoes along the steps outside. This is not optional for non-Japanese: take yours off and leave them there. I never had any of mine stolen, and while I've heard high-end designer shoes go missing once in a great while, they generally stay where you put them.

Having dinner in a traditional room or low tables/tatami floor part of a restaurant - Again, the shoes come off and usually will go in a little cubby hole or rack nearby. Follow the lead of those around you and ask if you're not sure (pointing at your shoes and the table you're trying to go to with a questioning look will do if all else fails).

Some shops will also have you take off your shoes and leave them outside of dressing rooms when you try things on.

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