Visitors to traditional Japanese homes, ryokan (inns), and shrines typically remove their shoes and leave them at the door.
All well and good for brief visits, but what happens when you need to answer the call of nature during a shoeless time?
These special slippers sit at the entrance to the bathroom (or, more accurately, the “toilet room” – since few traditional Japanese buildings house the toilet in the same room as the bath or shower) for visitors’ use.
When entering the toilet, you slip on the toilet slippers (and leave any other slippers you might be wearing in the doorway, to retrieve when you return).
Use of toilet slippers furthers the purpose of not wearing shoes indoors – they keep the bottoms of people’s feet or socks clean, and (at least in theory) confine toilet germs to the toilet area.
With a little practice, it’s simple to turn around and slip them off on the threshold, with the toes pointing back into the toilet room, enabling the next visitor to slip them on with ease.
For those who might find the custom of sharing slippers with strangers a little odd: visitors normally do wear socks or indoor slippers while walking around inside a ryokan, temple, or other traditional Japanese building, meaning that your feet do not directly touch the inside of the slippers – unless you choose to do otherwise.
Entering the toilet room without the slippers is considered rude, and not customarily something a visitor should do. But given the choice of walking around a toilet barefoot or wearing slippers designed for that purpose . . . the slippers seem like a much better option (to me at least!).
Have you ever used toilet slippers? What do you think of the idea?