Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Some of the comments on my slipper post a couple days back were about what handicapped people, or people wearing special shoes do in a society where shoes and slippers are removed at every other door. Can't say that I'd ever thought about that problem but I thought I'd post about what I've observed.

First of all, yes, all houses have a large step up at the entryway that makes a good place to remove shoes and leave them before stepping into the house. In my own home I might just sit down on this big step to tie my shoes, but when out visiting I politely balance on one foot or the other while trying to put my shoes on. (No buckles on shoes in Japan though sports shoes have to be tied.) A very bad habit that parents try to break children of (and which I am very guilty) is the smashing of the shoe heels just because it is too much trouble to get the foot completely inside the shoe!

Families with older people living with them will often have a bench or chair just inside the door so that someone can easily sit down to slip shoes on or off. Entryways are often so small though that this convenience isn't common. Tetsu's mother is considered handicapped since she was injured during the war and she walks with a prounounced limp and with a cane but still she wrestles with her shoes whenever she goes out. She considers herself very ungainly since she has to stoop over every time she puts on her shoes and so she dislikes going to places where shoes have to be removed. I remember one Japanese restaurant we took her to where shoes were supposed to be taken off but the waitress, realizing my mother-in-law's difficulty waved her in, shoes and all (but we weren't walking on tatami mats. I don't think that would have been allowed!)

Tetsu works at a convalescent home and so there are a lot of people going in and out that are in wheelchairs or have trouble with taking shoes on and off but according to him, the custom is the custom, and everyone takes their shoes off. If someone should ask to go inside wearing shoes because of a physical disability, then probably any institution or home would make an exception (so see, anyone wanting to visit Japan who needs special shoes need not be overly concerned!) but the person would be offered a rag so that the soles could be wiped before entering.

Going barefoot outside in summer is not an activity that Japanese children have experienced. One just does not bring outside dirt into a home no matter what. Even dogs who live in the house and go for a daily walk are used to the custom of stopping at the front door after the walk and having their feet wiped before they enter the living area.

Yesterday Choco spent the morning outside and when I went to bring her in in the evening I was met with a muddy dog! The snow is melting around her doghouse and she was wading around in the mud! Unfortunately Choco does not like to get her feet wiped and ususally I'm not too fastidious but yesterday I picked her up (heavy dog!) and deposited her in the tubroom to give her feet a rinse before she was allowed back in the living room. Maybe I should have given her a complete bath!


Quilt Pixie said...

your reflections about how this custom is dealt with for handicapped people remind me of a conversation I had with an acquaintance who is wheelchair bound. His concern/quandary was about serving the Eucharist (he's a priest) while constantly touching the "dirty" wheel of his chair to maneuver around...

Elaine Adair said...

I must have not been the only one, who must wear orthotics, and had questions! LOL

Thanks again - you are a wealth of information. I love hearing what you have to say about these customs.

atet said...

I love hearing about Japanese customs from you. Maybe my friend's mother wasn't so strange when she insisted everyone who came into her house wear a pair of white socks she provided. Maybe she was embracing Japanese culture? (um, I'm trying to give her the benefit of the doubt here rather than think it had something to do with the white carpet)

I was so sorry to read about Lemi's passing. I know how hard it was for you -- losing a pet is never easy. My heart goes out to you.

I'm trying to catch up on my blog reading so this comment is looong :0). Love those blocks you are working on for the bazaar quilt -- very pretty :0).

Clare said...

I'm a great one for treading down the heels of shoes. Just pure laziness.

Carry on with the traditions. I love reading about life in Japan.

Marilyn R said...

I love wearing Crocs, I don't have worry about breaking down the heels! *G*

meggie said...

We had a visit yesterday, from our friend's daughter, who spent 2 months in Japan. She was telling us about the pit beneath the table, where your feet go, & how it is heated. She said her little 'sister' would get down into that warm space, if she didn't want to see something scary on TV.
She knew all about the slippers for the house, & the bathroom! She really loved her time over there, & would love to go back.

Mary said...

My favorite pair of shoes don't have a back but while I wore them year round in Georgia, with all the snow and ice here I have to have something that won't slip off or cause me to fall.

We try to take our shoes off in the entry way of the apartment so we don't track mud and slush but there's no where to sit so I have a wall full of hand prints.

If we buy the townhouse we're looking at, there are steps to sit on and that will be much easier.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I spent two months in Japan last year. It was a most wonderful experience.

I think the custom of removing shoes is excellent. I dedicated an entire blog to this subject:
Shoes Off at the Door, Please

Anonymous said...

we remove shoes at our house. i insist on it. :) however, not every relative is very compliant. i've had to "remind" MIL several times and she'd always have some excuse. thankfully we now have a bench in the entry way to encourage people to sit and take their shoes off. ^^