Things I don’t understand about Japan: Bathroom Slippers

Bathroom Slippers in Japan

Bathroom Slippers in Japan

What are they?

Like the name suggests, bathroom slippers are slippers for the bathroom.

Why I don’t understand it:

One of the first things foreigners learn about Japan when they visit is the fact everyone takes their shoes off in the genkon entrance of the house. Wearing shoes inside is a big no-no in Japan. I actually can’t think of anything more socially unacceptable than forgetting to take your shoes off when you enter someone’s house.

But that’s public knowledge.

I’ve never broken the rule; I’ve never even met someone who has broken that rule either.

The second thing you learn is the fact that when you remove your shoes, you are usually expected to wear slippers inside. One of the first purchases I made for my apartment was a couple pairs of “guest slippers” for when my friends came to visit.

Japanese Genkon Entrance

Japanese Genkon Entrance

Slippers in Japan are great. In the winter they keep your feet warm; in the summer they stop your feet from sweating and sticking to the floor (but be careful, you are not supposed to wear slippers on the tatami mats inside a traditional Japanese house).

And then there are bathroom slippers. Bathroom slippers are exactly what they sound like: slippers in the bathroom. Most traditional restaurants, community centers, or Japanese schools will have these little plastic shoes for people to change into when they go inside the bathroom. This is supposed to keep the bathroom mess, well, in the bathroom.

Homes also have toilet slippers. The toilet slippers in most Japanese homes are a comfortable, fuzzy cloth that feels great. But it is still confusing.

Imagine this. I’m at my friend’s house, wearing a pair of their guest slippers. I have to go to the bathroom. I open the bathroom door, step out of the guest slippers, arrange them neatly outside the bathroom door, step into a pair of bathroom slippers, shut the door, and do my business. As soon as I flush, I open the bathroom door and walk outside.

But oops, I forgot to take off my bathroom slippers.

I always forget that step. Maybe it’s because the typical bathroom slippers are leagues more comfortable than Japanese guest slippers. Every time I visit one of my Japanese friend’s houses, it a complicated ritual of slipper exchanging. I can’t wear house slippers on the tatami mat or bathroom; I can’t wear bathroom slippers outside the bathroom.

Sometimes I just give up and walk around the house barefoot (offending everyone). It’s complicated.

Socks are so much easier

Socks are so much easier

Why I kind of do understand it:

Like I said before, bathroom slippers keep the bathroom mess in the bathroom. I think that’s great – especially in elementary schools where little Japanese boys haven’t quite learned how to aim yet.

Or girls. Because aiming like this is hard work.

Or girls. Because aiming like this is hard work.

I was teaching English at a community center in Japan a couple years back. We already had to change shoes at the entrance of the community center; I taught my lessons in plastic orange slippers two sizes too small. Every time I went to the bathroom, I had to switch from my plastic orange slippers to identical plastic orange slippers with the words “toilet” written across the toe in Japanese. I thought it was ridiculous.

However, one day there had been some sort of leak in the bathroom. Or maybe kids had some sort of a water fight earlier that morning. Or maybe a toilet had exploded. In any case, for whatever reason, the floor was damp. It was a bit nasty.

I really appreciated the toilet shoes that day. If wear wearing normal shoes, I would have ended up tracking all sorts of mud and gunk into the classroom. Japanese bathroom slippers are fantastic.

 plastic slippers in Japan

Final thoughts:

I always forget to change my house slippers for bathroom slippers. It’s rather embarrassing. I really need to fix this problem (lest all my Japanese friends judge me).

Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele

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9 responses to “Things I don’t understand about Japan: Bathroom Slippers

  1. Pingback: Cheap ways to improve your Japanese apartment: DIY for living in Japan | Texan in Tokyo·

  2. Pingback: 6 Cultural Mistakes I make no matter how Long I’ve been in Japan | Texan in Tokyo·

  3. The amount of thought this would require of me seems pretty impossible. I guess I get it in a public setting, but at home…?!

    • I actually don’t have bathroom slippers in my apartment – some of my friends have expressed disgust with the fact I don’t have specific bathroom slippers (I guess I’m just lazy).
      It’s weird.

      I’m trying to get used to it, but it’s taking a bit of time…

  4. Wow, that’s…interesting. I could never visit Japan. I’d get so frustrated. But I kind of enjoy experiencing it second hand and like you said, I can see why they think it makes sense — just too much work! Lol

    • I think it’s a bit frustrating living here… but also very rewarding. It depends on the day (some are better than others).
      And I think living here makes me a better (and easier to adapt) person!

      • Oh yeah, absolutely!!! Living in other countries makes you much more aware of and open to other traditions elsewhere that you just wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate otherwise.

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