Why Do People Take Off Shoes in House in Japan?


Even if the shoe fits, take it off inside the house

When going in the house, we take off shoes almost unconsciously. It’s very natural for us, like breathing. I’ve never even thought why that is, but it seems there are many curious people trying to find out the reason. 

According to them: 
1. It’s because the climate of Japan is high temperature and humidity; 
2. It’s because of the Japanese unique culture to divide the world into in- and out-group; 
3. It’s because of the Japanese unique culture to sleep on the floor. 

The first one doesn’t answer why that is peculiar to Japan. The second one sounds reasonable but is remotely related. The third one has aroused my interest most. According to the third reason, we take off shoes inside the house to keep the floor clean because we sleep on the floor. My intellectual curiosity is stimulated, and I started to make another research on why we sleep on the floor, and finally found the answer. It was very simple, as is common with everlasting truth.

In the entrance of a Japanese house, there are some zo-ri (Japanese traditional shoes) are aligned.

Why do we sleep on a Japanese futon on the floor?

We sleep on the floor because houses are made of wood, warmer and softer than those of stone. As I wrote in my last article, about 70% of the land consist of forest in Japan. We have used abundant wood to make houses, and not been motivated to invent beds. In addition, spreading and folding bedding is more space-efficient than placing beds. Space-efficiency is more prioritized in small houses in such land that is occupied by forest.

Two dining chairs are aligned: standard and higher type.

I believe we are fastest in putting on and taking off shoes in the world, but bragging about our secret skill is not the point of this column, of course. The no-shoe culture affects our standard heights of chairs and tables — slightly lower than the global standard. We propose our customers to take off their shoes and try our chairs and tables in our shops in Japan. You don’t have to worry even if you don’t adopt a no-shoe policy in your house. We offer higher types in all of our collections.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.