Please take off your shoes!

Many of us have probably heard of this Japanese custom: to take off your shoes at home. All Japanese homes, as well as Buddhist temples and other buildings where you are to remove your shoes have a space provided for this: it is a sort of vestibule at the entrance called the “genkan”. It might sound strange to Westerners, but this small space designed for shoes is an integral part of Japanese architecture.

This custom goes back to the Heian period. At the time, there were genkan in all Zen temples: by taking off our shoes, we agreed to obey the Buddhist precepts. Then over the years there were genkan in almost every home in Japan, even in samurais’ habitations.
Taking off your shoes at home is not a typically Japanese ritual. There are actually lots of other countries in the world where we do not wear shoes at home (this is the case in most Arabic countries). Even in France, many people rather take off their shoes before entering, for health reasons.

However, having a genkan at home is characteristic to Japanese people. This is one of those little things that make Japanese culture all the more interesting.