Most Japanese people don’t wear shoes inside. Apartments and houses typically have a small, lowered area just inside the door for removing shoes and a cabinet by the door where shoes are stored. This keeps the indoor spaces clean and undefiled – and it has been the custom in Japan for many hundreds (if not thousands) of years.
However, this doesn’t mean all indoor spaces are barefoot-friendly.
Japanese homes customarily separate the toilet from the bathing and shower area–toilets are dirty, and bathing areas are customarily kept clean to the point of sacredness. (Hotels, especially Western-style hotels, still combine the bath, shower, and toilet, but ryokan and temple lodgings normally follow the separated layout.) Many people (and ryokan) take this even further, by providing special slippers for guests (and family members, in private homes) to use in the toilet area.
The slippers come in many different colors and sizes, and some have cute designs on them as well – like this toilet angel:
The slippers ensure that any germs (or spills…) remain in the toilet area rather than getting on people’s feet or socks and being tracked throughout the home, hotel, or ryokan. It’s a lovely, sanitary custom that also keeps your feet from getting cold on the toilet room floor at night.
But toilets aren’t the only place Japanese people wear special slippers.
Many temples also have slippers in the entry for guests to use while touring or visiting the interior portions of the temple grounds. While similar in design to toilet slippers, these aren’t for use in the latrine. Instead, they protect the temples’ wooden floors from scuffs, dirty socks, and sweaty feet.
Taking off shoes in favor of indoor slippers may seem strange to some people initially, especially when it comes to the toilet slippers, but in reality it goes a long way toward preserving interior spaces and keeping them fresh and clean. I appreciate not having to walk on the area around the toilet, and happily do my part to preserve the sacred temple floors.
Have you worn toilet slippers or temple slippers? What do you think of the idea?