08 December, 2016

Slipper conundrum

It's pretty well known that Japanese don't wear their outdoor shoes inside their houses. It's one of the big cultural things to get used to when you first come here. I've always liked the idea, but sometimes it is a challenge if you don't have shoes that are easily removed. 

I remember hosting a visiting OMF doctor for a brief visit (just an hour or so) one time. She'd never lived in Japan and was on her way to the airport at the end of a trip to Japan to do medicals for missionaries. She blustered into our apartment and said, "You don't mind if I don't take my shoes off, do you? I'm tired of doing that."

It is something we even do in our own house in Australia when we're there.

But I've got one exception to the rule. When I answer the door I usually go out in whatever I'm wearing: slippers or bare feet. You can't answer our door without stepping into the "outdoor" zone that you can see in the photo. The dark-coloured place where outdoor shoes go. The accepted practise is that you don't step on the "outdoor" floor area without outdoor shoes on. Which means, sometimes, tricky manoeuvring if the area is full of shoes. I took this photo when all four of my guys were at school. Once they're home it is harder to get a "parking spot" close to the "indoor" part.

Usually there is no problem and people don't pay much attention to what I've done when I answer the door. But in the last 10 days I've had Japanese people freeze in this area, not knowing what to do with their shoes. That's really unusual. Taking shoes off in an area like this is as natural as breathing to Japanese.

The reason they've faltered, I'm guessing, is not so much because we're foreigners, but because my big, furry indoor slippers (Ugg boot lookalikes) look like outdoor shoes to them. And because I've worn them into the "taboo" area for slippers as I answered the door then worn them back into the house.

So, what should I do? Take the extra moments I need to change my shoes to answer the door? That seems especially inconvenient when it is usually a salesman or postman at my door.


Caroline said...

This has got me thinking, do Japanese people ever spend time outside barefoot? I think one of the joys of childhood where I grew up was running around barefoot outside. Admittedly I did get used to not doing it for three years when we lived in an area with a significant funnel-web population which concerned my mother (probably with good reason) but it's hard to imagine never doing it.

Wendy said...

Thanks for dropping by Caroline. No, they don't go outside barefoot, generally. Once when one of our boys was little he had a bike accident and took a lot of skin off his ankle and foot. We were on holidays and just let him walk around without a sandal on that foot. We were rebuked by some elderly Japanese people!