Taking Off Your Shoes in Japan

For those of you planning on coming to Japan it’s time to throw away those dirty old holey socks.  You will be expected to take off your shoes in a variety of places and you don’t want your toes hanging out.  Trust me I learned the hard way!  Clean socks are a must if visiting Japan.

Coming from America where shoes are never taken off unless you are jumping in the ball pit at McDonalds.  It is a pain in the butt to take off your shoes everywhere you go.  So naturally I questioned this custom and why it came about.  I did a little digging and with any common sense you would come up with the same answer.  The main reason is cleanliness and it started due to the weather in Japan particularly the heavy rainfall.  Tatami mats were and still are the preferred flooring in houses.  And here in Japan people sit and sleep on these tatami mats unlike in America where we have chairs and beds.  Actually most of what takes place in the house takes place on the floor so cleanliness is very important as you don’t want to sleep on mud and dirt dragged in by shoes.  Also there are health issues to talk about.  Exposure to pesticides, lead, tar and other pollutants can be tracked in by shoes as well.  Imagine if you spent most of the time in your house on the floor and these pollutants some toxic were spread all over the floor?  Or if you have children or babies playing on the floor putting their mouths on everything it really brings up the question, “Why aren’t we ALL taking our shoes off?”

Here in Japan most places are made with special entrances to accommodate this traditional custom of taking off your shoes.  Houses, hotels, restaurants, doctors’ offices, and schools are just a few places that you might have to take off your shoes.

When entering a Japanese establishment you take off your shoes in the entryway and usually there are indoor slippers waiting for you.  These slippers are used all around the house except for in the bathroom.  The bathroom you take your shoes off once again to put on a special set of toilet slippers to ensure you are not spreading the toilet area germs all over the house.

If you are not sure whether or not to take of your shoes look around at what other people are wearing.  If no one is around look for a shoe locker or indoor slippers set out and if there isn’t either usually you are safe to go in.  It is considered very rude to enter a house with shoes.  Japan is a very well mannered and polite society so be careful.  Just use common sense and you should be fine.

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