Published on June 18th, 2013 | by Japan Snowtrip Tips0
Japan toilet etiquette: please don`t wear your poo slippers in the kitchen
Regardless of how culturally adaptable you are, you`ll still likely make some `cultural mistakes` on your journey through Japan. Wearing your toilet slippers outside the designated toilet area — to the disgust & dismay of local Japanese — is one cultural mishap that even skilled travelers will probably commit at least once.
For most people, removing shoes at entrances to homes or even some places of business (e.g. sento/onsen or private eating areas in izakaya) is a custom easily understood & adjusted to. In essence, it`s nothing more than keeping the dirt accumulated on the bottom of your shoes outside and preserving the cleanliness of the interior. For the Japanese, the same premise holds true between the toilet area floor and the other interior flooring of the home.
Toilet slippers are to be worn only in the toilet area (i.e. an interpretive `unclean` space). Every toilet room in private homes, as well as many businesses/restaurants, will have a pair of slippers sitting inside the entrance. Simply remove your house slippers (if wearing them) and put on the toilet slippers.
Remembering to slip-off your house slippers and slip-into your toilet slippers upon entering the toilet area doesn`t take much mental effort. But believe it or not, remembering to slip-off your toilet slippers and slip back into your house/indoor slippers is the one step of this culturally significant process that can trip you up.
After a while it`ll be like second-nature, but the first few times might leave you standing in the kitchen smiling with your poo slippers on, not understanding why everyone is staring at you with a mixture of disgust, slight anger and pity for committing such a disastrous cultural faux pas.
Toilets are for “1 & 2″…baths aren`t
The bathing area in Japanese homes (and sento/ onsen) is separated from the toilet and is an extremely revered, hygienic place. Under no circumstances is it considered acceptable to wear toilet slippers in the same space as the bath tub. Bathing for the Japanese is still often considered a purification ritual. “Dirty” toilet slippers in contact with the floor around the clean bathing area is a major No-No. The same goes for any other part of the interior.
I`m wearing the poo slippers in the kitchen…now what?!?
If — more likely, when — you slip-up once or twice by not slipping-out of your toilet slippers (presuming someone else sees you), simply bow courteously and say, “sumimasen (excuse me/pardon me)”, then return the toilet slippers to their rightful home inside the toilet area.
You wouldn`t be the first to do it and you won`t be the last. The Japanese know as much and for the most part will shrug it off with a smile and continue making you feel like a welcome guest as they normally do.
If no one saw you, consider it a kharmaic victory and do it right the next time. Trust us, you won`t always escape the stares of shock & horror if you continually forget to take-off your toilet slippers in the toilet room.
Toilet Slipper Snowtrip Tips
Snowtrip Tip 1: Make it easy on the next person…
Although not imperative or expected upon exiting, it`s courteous to place the toilet slippers inside the doorway in a convenient spot for others to easily & comfortably slip-on when entering the toilet area. Likewise, placing them in the proper direction so the next person can step directly into the slippers is a nice habit to get into.
Snowtrip Tip 2: Don`t wear your poo slippers in the kitchen…or the onsen.
The onsen is one of the most likely places (especially for westerners) that the “toilet slipper fiasco” can occur. The fact that you`re completely nude in front of strangers — many of whom are already blatantly staring at you because of your pasty white, hairy skin — while trying to sort out the rules of Japanese onsen etiquette might make you feel a bit nervous, ultimately making you forget to leave your toilet slippers behind before stepping into the changing room or even worse, the bathing area itself (Don`t ask us how we know this…oops). Stay relaxed during your visit to the onsen and always keep in mind that public bathing is embedded in Japanese culture and does not carry any of the western notions of shame concerning baring it all in front of others.