How Much Do You Know About Japanese Slipper Culture?

The Japanese people are known for their unique customs and deep reverence for tradition. One of the ways this reverence manifests itself is in the use of slippers. Japanese house slippers come in a wide range of styles, fabrics, and patterns.

An entire culture has been built up around the slipper. It's important that anyone thinking about visiting Japan become familiar with this slipper culture prior to embarking on their journey. If you have a deep understanding of slipper culture, you will be better able to honor and respect the traditions of the Japanese people during your visit.

The Genkan

The first place you will likely encounter Japanese slippers is in specialized rooms known as genkan. The primary purpose of the genkan is to contain the dirty footwear worn outdoors to the entrance of an establishment.

The way that a genkan is set up will vary from one establishment to the next. Some places will have a series of cubbies in which you will find numbered slippers for indoor use. In other genkans, slippers are simply lined up near the door and you are expected to leave your outside shoes on the other side of the door.

The genkan plays an important role in Japanese slipper culture because it is an area where you leave behind "dirty" things and enter into a space of mutual respect.

The Toilet Slipper

You may be surprised to discover that you encounter a secondary set of slippers once you are inside a Japanese establishment. The concept of maintaining cleanliness extends to the restrooms within a facility. It's not considered proper to wear one's room slippers into the bathroom. Instead, specialized toilet slippers must be used.

Public establishments make their toilet slippers very obvious, which can be helpful in differentiating between regular slippers and bathroom slippers. You will usually see the word 'toilet' written on bathroom slippers, or you may see both men's and women's restroom signs printed on toilet slippers.

Be sure that you change out of your room slippers and into your bathroom slippers before using the restroom. It's also important to change back once your trip to the restroom is complete. Many tourists have become the butt of jokes by wearing their toilet slippers at the wrong time.

Slipper Etiquette

There are certain etiquette standards that are associated with the wearing of slippers in Japan. First, you will notice that all slippers at the entrances of public facilities are pointed toward the door. This is a symbol that all are welcome. When you swap out your shoes for slippers, you will place your shoes with the toe facing away from the door as a sign of respect.

You should always use the first pair of slippers that you come across when entering any Japanese building. In Japan, it's important that all slippers are the same. This means that slippers come in one universal size.

It may take some doing to get a large foot into a small slipper, but you won't find a larger pair among the slippers offered at the entrance of a public facility. It's considered poor manners to try on multiple slippers, so avoid this faux pas.

Although slippers are a must for indoor areas, there are certain rooms where even slippers are not allowed. Japan is famous for its tatami floors, which are covered with an expensive woven rush. A tatami floor is so delicate that even slippers could damage it. Only socks are allowed in tatami rooms to prevent any long-term damage to these delicate traditional floors.

Slipper culture is very visible in Japanese society. The more you know about Japanese room shoes, the better prepared you will be to embrace this unique culture.