No shoes

Why Japanese Don’t Wear Shoes in Homes

In Japan, it is customary to remove shoes before entering a home. Removing shoes is not limited to residences. Other places also require guests to remove their shoes: temples, shrines, hot spring resorts, traditional inns, some schools, and so on. Some public toilets even provide toilet slippers in front of the door for people to use.

Zori

How removing shoes came to be

It was customary in Middle Eastern religions and religions that originated from the Indian subcontinent to remove one’s shoes when entering a house of worship. The Bible states that God commanded Moses to remove his sandals before coming to him on Mount Sanai. The cultural context of this narrative in Eastern cultural beliefs would suggest that bringing dust into the home and removing shoes “would be a way of recognizing one’s personal uncleanness in the presence of holiness.” It is also customary for Hindu and Islam worshippers to remove their shoes before entering a house of worship where they believe to be entering into the presence of the divine.

Custom of cleanliness

Japan had its own indigenous religion, Shinto (“The Way of The Gods”). Cleanliness was the core of Shinto religion, with the saying “cleanliness is godliness”. Buddhism stressing on cleanliness integrated cleanliness into the Japanese way of life.

When Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China and Korea in the 6th and 8th centuries and cleanliness was also an integral part of the religion. Zen Buddhism, from the 12th and 13th centuries, teaches that all daily life activities such as cleaning, cooking, having meals are considered spiritual exercises, no different from meditating. This further reinforced cleanliness in Japanese culture.Zori on genkan

Removing shoes in Japan

In Japan, what separates the outside of a traditional Japanese home from the inside is not a door itself but a genkan. The genkan is usually divided into a lower area where people remove their and leave their shoes. The elevated area is typically made from a different type of flooring which marks the beginning of the indoor living space. It is considered proper etiquette to avoid stepping onto the elevated area with outdoor footwear, don’t step on the lower area in your socks and remember to always make your removed shoes face towards the door.

Slippers are usually provided by the host. Entering a home barefoot is not considered good etiquette. Remember to wear socks when slipping on the slippers provided for guests. These can be worn anywhere around the home except in rooms with tatami flooring where slippers must be removed before entering. Different slippers are provided for toilet or washrooms. Don’t forget to remove toilet slippers when going to a different room.