08 Mar 2017 in Discover Japan
Confused by which shoes or slippers to wear in which situation? We unpick Japanese shoe etiquette so you’ll always be wearing the right footwear in the right place.
Japanese shoe etiquette can be baffling to first-time Western visitors, with different indoor zones requiring different footwear. But by following a few golden rules, you’ll avoid making any footwear faux-pas during your stay.
If you stay in a ryokan, eat in a traditional restaurant or enter a person’s home, your rule of thumb should be that outdoor shoes are never worn indoors. On entering a traditional establishment, you’ll immediately arrive at the genkan – the entrance area where shoes are taken off and, more often than not, slippers are put on.
Depending on the genkan, you may simply leave your shoes on the floor, put them on a shelf or place them in a numbered locker. In upscale ryokans, an o-genkan-san will collect your shoes for you and put them in your locker. At HOSHINOYA Tokyo, the o-genkan-san is always there ahead of you, thanks to a special sensor in the room key that sends a signal to staff as you enter the hotel.
Once your shoes are off, you have symbolically left behind the “dirty” outside world. If you are offered slippers (often positioned on a raised area above the genkan), you should put these on. If not, simply carry on inside in your socks or bare feet.
So far, so simple, right? The next challenge is to decipher the different types of indoor slippers. In ryokans, such as Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko, you’ll be offered several types of footwear.
– Ryokan slippers are provided for wearing around the ryokan in shared areas such as the dining room or onsen. Be warned that any zone with traditional woven straw tatami should be slippers-free: enter in socks or bare feet only. At Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko, intricate tatami flooring is featured in all rooms and in the corridors.
– Bathroom slippers are special footwear for the toilet area. You’ll find these slippers in the bathrooms of traditional restaurants and ryokans. They’re usually emblazoned with the word “Toilet” or with restroom icons. No other footwear should be worn in bathrooms and bathroom slippers should never be worn anywhere else!
– Geta are wooden sandals for short walks outside the ryokan. At Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko, you’ll be offered a pair of Nikko Geta, a type of geta specially designed for the region’s mountainous terrain. It’s the ideal footwear to complete your ryokan experience as you wander out of the hotel and around the banks of Lake Chuzenji, admiring views of the volcano Mt. Nantai on the skyline.