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Japan is a country with an incredibly diverse culture and history, all of which can be seen in the many different things about Japan. One such thing would be etiquette.
In Japan, it’s not uncommon to see people take their shoes off before entering someone’s house or even going into a restaurant.
There’s actually more than one reason for taking your shoes off when you enter somebody else’s home or business:
- Firstly because Japanese homes tend to have tatami mats instead of carpets, so you don’t want dirt from outside getting everywhere, but also because removing your shoes feels respectful and polite.
- Another reason is that the structure of shoes in Japan is different from those in other countries. They are more likely to be made of cloth or leather and maybe a little bit slippery, so it’s better for your own safety, as well as everybody else’s, not to wear them indoors.
If you have your shoes on, then people might think you’re disrespecting them, not to mention they will also be a bit scared that you might accidentally slip in their home and fall, hurting yourself and perhaps breaking something!
Do you have to take your shoes off everywhere in Japan?
No, you absolutely do not have to take your shoes off everywhere in Japan.
However, it’s polite to remove them when going into somebody else’s house or business and sometimes even at bus stops. The real key here is that if you want anything from the shop, restaurant, or person living inside, it is better to take your shoes off without being asked, regardless of whether they are dirty or not beforehand!
In some parts of Japan, including Tokyo and Kyoto, there will be temples that insist on visitors removing their shoes before entry, which again should be done respectfully rather than just walking barefoot over tiles.
If you do have to wear your shoes in an establishment, then it is polite to wear them up near the entrance where they won’t get in the way. It is also considered polite to move your shoes out into a corner or underneath a chair when you’re seated at somebody else’s place.
This shows respect and consideration for people not wearing their own shoes; if you just leave them on the floor, everybody else can trip over them or have to step over them; it’s just inconvenient and disrespectful.
What happens if I wear my shoes inside on accident?
As long as nobody says anything, then there should be no problem. Just don’t do it again! If somebody asks about your shoes, it is polite to apologize without justifying yourself; after all, you’re the visitor, and you don’t know anything about their home.
It’s also entirely possible that they simply haven’t noticed because there are shoes everywhere regarding Japanese homes.
What if I accidentally wear my shoes inside on purpose?
It might seem like a harmless thing to do, but it’s considered terrible manners in Japan to deliberately wear your shoes inside.
People will probably not get angry at you, but they will be very disappointed that you haven’t respected their rules; the place might also give you a dirty look!
However, it’s worth pointing out that this doesn’t apply if there is already what appears to be a pair of shoes on display near the entrance. You should look at the sole of your shoes and then compare it to their shoes; if yours are noticeably cleaner than theirs, you might want to remove them or wear them discreetly under a coat.
If you’re my friend from out of town, isn’t it ok for me to ask?
No, again, this is just bad manners when visiting somebody’s home. You should just follow what they do, and if you really want to know, then ask them respectfully but only if it is necessary; there are many shoes in the home of any Japanese person, unclean or otherwise!
If you have a foreign friend who isn’t aware of this rule, though, then let them know before going inside; they may not know that they are supposed to remove their shoes.
The history of taking shoes off in Japan.
The history of this rule actually comes from when people used to wear wooden or straw sandals rather than the modern-day footwear that you are probably wearing right now. These were dirty even after a short walk, and they weren’t something that you could just remove quickly without pulling your socks off too; instead, you had to take them all the way off.
Even today, Japanese sandals are made from reeds and straw that will likely get in the way when walking around indoors.
That might sound strange to you if you’re used to wearing leather shoes as most people do in the United States, especially considering that it is usually just as easy to take them off as it is to wear them. In fact, there are Japanese houses where you’ll find a traditional area at the entrance with a special mat specifically for sandals so you never even have to put your shoes on or off!
Where do you need to take your shoes off in Japan?
The only place that you’re not allowed to wear shoes in Japan is inside somebody’s home or business. This applies regardless of what type of shoes they are, and it doesn’t matter if the homeowner happens to be out; it is rude for both visitors and residents alike. The only time that you would want to take off your shoes inside somebody’s home is if there are exceptional circumstances.
For example, it might be highly muddy outside, and you would otherwise leave a mess, or you have dirty shoes from working in the garden. In these cases, it is polite to change your shoes before entering, but not everybody will mind if you don’t.
The following are customs in Japan, where you need to take your shoes off before entering:
- The entire house and surrounding area (except for tatami rooms which may not have any flooring at all).
- Public bathhouses
- Hot springs (but only some with communal baths – most hot springs have gender-segregated baths)
- Before entering someone’s house (in which case you can just put them at the entrance).
- Private homes where people live
- Schools and kindergartens where there is tatami flooring. (This may vary by school, but I think this applies to elementary schools in Japan.)
- Private homes with tatami rooms (which may not have any flooring at all).
Why do they have to take their shoes off in public bathhouses?
The reason for this custom is that it may lessen the chances of bringing in any outside bacteria into these places. Also, because people sweat a lot while bathing, it makes sense to let the dirt and grime fall onto a dirty floor instead of a clean tub.
However, it is essential to note that the custom in Japan does not require you to take your socks off.
What are the rules for taking shoes/socks off inside someone’s house?
There are no hard and fast rules to this custom in Japan, but the general rule is that if there are other rooms in the house where you can walk around with your shoes still on, then you should do so.
“Going with the flow” is an essential aspect of Japanese culture, so if someone tells you that it’s ok to keep your shoes on while inside their house (or inn, temple, etc.), then it probably is ok.
However, if you are in residence with tatami rooms or floors yet still require people to take off their shoes outside the door before coming in, making an effort not to track dirt into the place would be helpful.
Are there any other custom rules regarding shoes?
It’s custom in Japan to always try to replace someone else’s shoes if they are missing or misplaced (such as when you find a shoe at the door of the house). This is because it would be awful for someone, especially old women, to go around barefoot. (Needless to say, children going around barefooted is also frowned upon in Japan.)
Even if you are not required by custom to take off your shoes before entering a place, I would recommend doing so for practical purposes (such as the bathhouses). It’s not like Japan has spotless streets that you need to protect your feet from.
When you visit someone’s house, it is also custom to leave your shoes by the entrance. If you would like to wear socks inside, then they will provide extra slippers for you to wear inside.
How do I properly take off my shoes? Should I point the toe or not?
The easiest way to take off your shoes is with the heel facing up.
This will allow you to insert your foot into the shoe and slip it out more quickly. It also makes it easier to turn out the toes when you want to wear socks. If other people are taking off their shoes after you, doing this will help prevent the floor from getting muddy.
What happens if you don’t take your shoes off in Japan?
Most of the time, you will get dirty looks from locals. (And depending on which place you are visiting and who you are visiting, you may be asked to leave.)
Do Japanese people take their shoes off before entering a tatami room?
It depends entirely on the person and where it is that you are visiting. (In some places with no tatami rooms, people still prefer to take their shoes off.)
Some people don’t care about the floor and will just walk in with their shoes. Other times, the look on the person’s face tells you everything. (There’s a big difference between someone who has their shoes professionally taken off for them and someone who left them outside the door to take off on their own.)
What about my socks? Do I leave those outsides when taking my shoes off?
No. You should take your socks with you wherever you go. Even if it is a bathhouse, you should leave your socks with your shoes. If you can’t find the house owner or inn, leave them in a specific place to be seen again later.
Is it rude not to take your shoes off?
If the location you are visiting requires shoes to be left outside, it would be considered rude not to comply with that rule.
Do you take your shoes off in restaurants in Japan?
It is custom to take off your shoes when entering any Japanese-style restaurant. You can leave them by the door or by a designated area, depending on the size of your visiting place.
Other weird Japanese rules?
There are some temples and shrines that require you to take off your shoes when entering. Some places even need socks.
There is also a rule that says that it’s rude for the owner of the inn or restaurant not to serve their guests their meals themselves. This means that if you are eating at a ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) or high-class restaurant, the owner of that place will be the one to serve you your meals and drinks.