As you may have heard, Japanese people are very serious about cleanliness. In the movie ‘The Last Samurai’, when Tom Cruise gets captured and taken to the village, he makes a big faux pas by walking into the house wearing his dirty muddy boots, and quickly learns one of the most basic ground rules of Japanese culture — you never, ever, wear shoes inside.
Nope, you don’t wear shoes — you wear slippers! And lots of them!
Allow me to explain.
When I come home, I remove my ‘outside shoes’ at the door, and put on my ‘inside slippers’.
Then, inside the house, of course you do normal housey things, like liming in the living room and drinking wine. These slippers are fine for this purpose.
However, if I need to go outside onto the balcony, I remove these slippers, and put on these ‘balcony slippers’, which are only ever used for the brief moments when I step outside to hang up laundry. These balcony slippers, since they have been outside and are dirty, must never come inside. They have been banished to the balcony to live a life of isolation.
Then, when it comes time to cook, it’s time to change slippers again. These are the ‘kitchen slippers’ which are used just for cooking, since oil and food and bits and pieces of edible things fall on the kitchen floor during the cooking process, and you would not want to drag all that crap all over your beautiful clean tatami floors, now would you?
But wait, there’s more! You’d think by now we would have covered all the basics — indoor slippers, outside balcony slippers, and kitchen slippers. Let us not forget the bathroom slippers!
You put these plastic bootie thingies on your feet when you go into the shower room to clean or prepare the bath. They are actually to protect you from getting your feet wet. No, you don’t have to wear these in to the bath. What, are you crazy? That would just be ridiculous!
Actually, there should be one more in this set of slippers — toilet slippers to wear in the pee-pee room. In hotels and restaurants, there is ALWAYS a specific set of toilet slippers which you must put on. And rightfully so. Would you want to step in some drunk dude’s shake-off? No, didn’t think so!
If you think all these various use-specific slippers are a bit weird, I can tell you about one slipper that is even weirder — the gym slipper. Since gyms are indoors, you are not allowed to wear your favourite Nike running shoes inside if you’ve been wearing them outside. So most people wear either slippers in the gym, or change into ‘indoor gym running shoes’ which have literally never touched the filthy ground outside. I once saw a dude on the treadmill running in his socks! Guess he forgot his indoor running shoes at home?
Anyway, I for one like the shoe rules, and have been implementing it for years. When you think about how much nasty crap you walk around in all day, why would you ever bring that into your house? Now when I go home to visit Trinidad, I always have a pair of indoor slippers, and I am sure my family thinks I am barking mad.
But I don’t mind. I have happy feet. Happy, and clean.