The first thing to notice
So you have come to Japan or seen a movie about Japan and notice something strange, at lease for westerners. Beyond the vending machines seemingly everywhere, the fashion of Harajuku and the abundance of pocket tissue the think most foreigners notice first is shoes. Now, why shoes you ask – do Japanese people have the most fantastic shoes in teh world, are they self lacing, do they make you jump higher?
Well, the answer is no. Japanese people actually have shoes that are just the same as anyone elses. The big difference you will notice, especially woith teenagers is that the heel of the shoe has been crushed in, or there are even some companies that make shoes with collapasible heels. Why is this you ask, well it is a long time honored tradition that is slowly being lost.
So what tradition could lead to shoes being treated this way? It is the tradition of taking your shoes before entering a building (unless told otherwise). This is a long tradition that spans centuries back, actually no one knows when this tradition first started but many Japanese people I talk with have told me that it has been around since the Japanese settled down in permanent housing structures (So after the Jomon and Yayoi periods).
So why do they do this? Well according to web-japan.org (Housing explained) the tradition started because Japanese traditionally use tatami mats and sleep on roll out beds called futons so the tradition began in order to keep the floor clean. This echos the opinions of many Japanese people I have met and what they thougth the meaning of the removal of shoes meant.
Another theory about this is that most Japanese over history were farmers and didn’t have paved roads so their feet would be very muddy. I can attest to this because I live on a farm and no matter how much I try I always track in dirt and my wife gets angry at me, even if I take off my shoes at the entry way. So taking off your shoes to prevent mud from tracking in is another valid thoery.
No matter what the reason this is a tradition that is slowly dying out. Many newer homes are being built with western stlye entry ways and many younger Japanese don’t even bother taking off their shoes in the house. This could come from the constant prescence of westerners and their cultural influences on the young or just a the Japanese mind set changing with time.
So what do you think? Do you take off your shoes at your house? Why do many younger Japanese not take off their shoes? Share your opinion, I would like to know.
[Sorry I couldn’t find any pictures of shoes in my library… So enjoy this instead!]