Why do you Have to Take Your Shoes Off in Japan?

Japan has 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 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 safety and 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 into their home and fall, hurting yourself and perhaps breaking something!

Do you have to take your shoes off everywhere in Japan?

No, you do not have to take your shoes off everywhere in Japan.

However, removing them is polite 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 beforehand!

In some parts of Japan, including Tokyo and Kyoto, there will be temples that insist visitors remove their shoes before entry, which should be done respectfully rather than just walking barefoot over tiles.

If you have to wear your shoes in an establishment, it is polite to wear them near the entrance so 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 seated in somebody else’s place.

This shows respect and consideration for people not wearing their shoes; if you just leave them on the floor, everybody else can trip over them or 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 possible that they simply haven’t noticed because shoes are everywhere in Japanese homes.

What if I accidentally wear my shoes inside on purpose?

It might seem harmless, but it’s considered terrible manners in Japan to wear your shoes inside deliberately.

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 theirs; 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?

Again, this is terrible manners when visiting somebody’s home. You should just follow what they do, and if you want to know, then ask them respectfully, but only if 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, 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 comes from when people wore wooden or straw sandals rather than the modern-day footwear you are probably wearing right now.

These were dirty even after a short walk, and they weren’t something you could remove quickly without pulling your socks off too; instead, you had to take them 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.

There are Japanese houses where you’ll find a traditional area at the entrance with a special mat 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 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.

You will only want to take off your shoes inside somebody’s home 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, changing your shoes before entering is polite, 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).
  • 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, you should do so.

“Going with the flow” is an essential aspect of Japanese culture, so if someone tells you to keep your shoes on while inside their house (or inn, temple, etc.), it is probably ok.

However, if you are in a 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 customary 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 an old woman, to go around barefoot. (Needless to say, children going around barefooted is also frowned upon in Japan.)

Even if customs do not require you 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 you must 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 remove 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 take off their shoes after you, doing this will help prevent the floor from getting muddy.


FAQ:


What happens if you don’t take your shoes off in Japan?

Most of the time, you will get dirty looks from locals. (Depending on where and who you visit, 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 you are visiting. (People still prefer to take their shoes off in some places with no tatami rooms.)

Some people don’t care about the floor and just walk in with their shoes. Other times, the look on the person’s face tells you everything.

What about my socks? Do I leave those outside when taking my shoes off?

No. You should take your socks with you wherever you go. You should leave your socks with your shoes even if it is a bathhouse. 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 customary to take off your shoes when entering any Japanese-style restaurant. You can leave them by the door or a designated area, depending on the size of your visiting place.

Other weird Japanese rules?

Some temples and shrines require you to take off your shoes when entering. Some places even need socks.

There is also a rule that says 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.

Originally posted on July 24, 2021 @ 3:31 pm

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As a lifelong traveler and founder of lovefortraveling.com, I, Alex Deidda, have always been driven by my passion for exploring new places and cultures.

Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to live in various countries, each offering unique perspectives and experiences.

My love for traveling led me to create lovefortraveling.com, a website and blog dedicated to helping people plan their trips.

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