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March 2018

Cultural Article

Do you take off your shoes inside of your house?

by Tatsuya Izumi


I take off my shoes at the entrance of my house. I even request that repair people and others take off their shoes when they enter my house. This is because I don't want to get germs or dirt that is clinging to the soles of people's shoes into my house.


I think that this custom is fundamentally based in Japanese culture. Far back into Japanese history, Japanese people have believed that the outside ground is unclean or unhallowed, while the inside of house should be kept clean and separate. The entrance of a Japanese house is always a step up, in other words there is a small level between the ground and the floor of the house. The gap is recognized as a kind of sacred boundary to prevent unclean things from coming into the house.


 Putting your shoes neatly together is one of the important etiquette when you visit a Japanese house.


This custom supposedly originated because of the humid and warm climate in Japan. In the ancient era, Japanese people lived in primitive pit houses before houses with an elevated floor were developed. They quickly became popular and widely used because people were able to stay relatively cool in the humid and warm weather thanks to the ventilating capability of such houses. Along with the spread of this type of house, Japanese people supposedly started the custom of taking off their shoes, and even washing their feet, before entering the house in order to keep the floor clean.


These customs helped Japanese people maintain a hygienic house in the warm and humid atmosphere, which is rather germ-friendly. It also fostered the development of tatami culture. As a result, you can enjoy lying directly on tatami floors, without a couch or a mat, in a house in Japan.


However, this strict separation of inside/outside facilitates Japanese culture in keeping things extremely clean these days. Also, there is a risk to badly hurt your pinky toe by hitting the leg of a table or a corner of a wall, and you can get cold very easily on hard floors such as marble, tile, and wood-all of which are very common in the U.S.


You can enjoy a sense of release with your feet on Tatami floor, but you should take care not to hit your pinky toe at leg of table. It hurts very badly!


Given the weather and what I have heard is the custom in the U.S. regarding shoes, I should maybe consider changing my mind and keeping my shoes on in my house. But I would have to ask my family before starting this new habit or I will definitely get in a serious trouble...

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