Shoes and Slippers
Here’s a Japanese habit that is very different from the West. When stepping into a guest’s home, you’ll want to avoid doing so with shoes on.
In Japan, people remove their shoes before entering a home. (So do many Americans, but it’s not as formalized.) Most Japanese homes have entryway areas called genkan (玄関) where people remove shoes. The genkan is a step lower than the main floor of the house. Turn your shoes so that they face the outside of the house. Think about investing in some new socks before coming to Japan, as holes can be pretty embarrassing.
You’ll find slippers near the genkan for guests to put on while inside the house. The Japanese tend to have small feet, so don’t be surprised if their slippers are always too small. They still work. Wear the slippers until you leave. But if you enter a room that has tatami (畳) mats, remove the slippers too. Never walk on a tatami while wearing slippers. On tatami, you can be barefoot or in socks.
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.
Slippers and Bathing
Japanese bathrooms usually have a special pair of slippers for bathroom use only. If you are already wearing a pair of home slippers, make sure you slip them off and slip on the special pair before entering the bathroom. To avoid horrified looks from your hosts after responding to the call of nature, don’t forget to take off the bathroom slippers and put on your normal ones as you leave the bathroom.
Slippers in Fitness Centers
If you intend to enroll in a fitness center in Japan, make sure you have a pair of sneakers that is exclusively worn indoors. If you fail to bring a pair, gyms and other fitness centers often provide sneaker rentals. Again, though, there is the size range difference.
You are probably getting the gist of this custom of removing shoes in Japan. The key is to keep the grime and dirt outside and keeping indoors clean at all times. And guess what–it makes for a cleaner house!